Two years ago, GE blew the french doors off the appliance world by introducing a brand new refrigerator feature: hot water. The innovation helped the GE Café CFE28TSHSS become our top-scoring refrigerator, taking home an Editors' Choice award and winning our award for 2014 Best Refrigerator of the Year. By adding hot water dispensing, GE gave its fridge the flexibility to fully act like a standalone water cooler.
The next evolution of this concept has arrived for 2015, and it's one that finally lets the Café series live up to its namesake. Partnering with Keurig, GE's latest Café CFE28USHSS (MSRP $3,300) cuts out the middleman and brings single-serve coffee and tea to your refrigerator.
Design & Usability
Building on a successful design
There's a reason why we loved the Café CFE28TSHSS when we reviewed it, and it's not just because it can dispense hot water. GE designed the heck out of this fridge, including many advanced features and making it configurable and flexible to fit most Americans' needs.
The most prominent feature on this stainless-wrapped fridge is its control panel. Featuring a small color touchscreen, you'll also find buttons for ice and water dispensing. The hot water dispensing feature is controlled by a knob that you need to push in and twist—a feature included so that users can't accidentally dump scalding water all over their hands.
On the inside, it's the same clean layout we've come to expect from the Café series. LED illumination has been designed so that everything is lit evenly, but not aimed towards your face. So, you won't be blinded by the light every time you reach for the milk. The shelves that line the doors are similar to previous Café models, with removable trays that add grip and make spill cleanup quick and easy.
A highlight feature comes in the form of a wide drawer in the fridge's main compartment. With selectable modes, this drawer can be used for citrus fruit, drinks, produce, meat, or cheese.
Moving to the bottom-drawer freezer, you'll find two smaller pull-out compartments, and a large storage cubby in the base of the drawer. A sliding divider makes this big space customizable, so you can fit anything from smaller bags of frozen veggies, to big bulk bags of frozen hamburger and other Costco staples.
A useful extension of hot water dispensing
Building coffee brewing into a refrigerator is such an obvious idea that it's surprising that it hasn't happened sooner. While the individual parts and pieces have existed for decades, sometimes it takes a maverick vision to throw them all together, and that's what GE has pulled off here.
You've been able to get filtered water and crushed or cubed ice from a refrigerator since at least the 1970s, but thanks to systems like Keurig's K-Cup, individual servings of hot drinks are possible. Throw it all into a refrigerator, and something really neat happens.
With the GE Café CFE28USHSS, you get all the perks of a standalone Keurig, without many of the little hassles. Since this fridge supplies and filters its own water, you never have to refill anything. Moreover, the K-Cup brewing mechanism is all stored externally and is detachable, so you can wash it in the dishwasher. Like a standard K-Cup maker, you have three quantity options for most drinks that are compatible.
The only quirk to brewing coffee with the GE Café is the warm-up time. The refrigerator takes up to 4 minutes to bring water up to the temperature necessary for brewing a hot cup-o-joe, so it's not exactly instant gratification. That said, using the Café's WiFi and matching smartphone app, you can tell the fridge when you want hot water any time of day, even scheduling a recurring time for your hot water needs.
Like we've seen in prior GE Café series models, it's not just about hot and cold water. Using the refrigerator's Precise Fill feature, you can fill containers with just as much liquid as the recipe calls for, without measuring it yourself.
We can't say that a coffee-brewing refrigerator will bring about peace in the Middle East, but it's a really well-done convenience that you can't get anywhere else. As a value proposition, this model isn't bad at all, considering that last year's Café CFE28TSHSS cost all of $3,100. So, for the cost of a standalone Keurig, you can buy one that's built into your new, premium refrigerator.
We'll have to reserve judgement for when we can get one into our labs, but based on the performance of past GE Café models, we're pretty confident that the Café CFE28USHSS is a refrigerator that's well-built and will be worth looking into when it's available this fall.