If you’ve been anywhere near a happening Third Wave coffee shop in the last 5 years you will not have missed the phenomenon that is Cold Brew coffee.
It seems like every independent coffee house worth their salt is offering their own trademark Cold Brew. A single origin Costa Rican plucked from the shade of the tallest mountain in Central America, delicate notes of honey and hazelnut. You get the idea.
Coffee is a fickle mistress at the best of times, but when you make a perfect hot brew then pour it all over a load of ice then the flavor takes a serious hit. With your own cold brew system, you get the ease of grabbing an ice cold bottle from the fridge and being out the door, coffee in hand. And it tastes damn good. This way of drinking has some serious advantages.
Cold brew coffee must definitely be the hottest thing in the coffee world right now. Or the coldest. Whatever.
What does Cold Brew coffee taste like?
Firstly, the flavor. Most iced coffee is made by brewing coffee using another method and pouring it over ice. The most common in my experience is a pour over where the equipment is set up to drip down over an ice-filled glass. Brewing with water that’s near boiling point then immediately putting it onto water (ice!) below freezing point does impact the taste of the coffee while also watering it down.
Cold Brew uses a steeping process similar to that of a French Press. It’s done in a refrigerated environment which means the extraction takes a long time. We’re talking 12-36 hours in most cases and that’s with a coarse grind.
This process results in a remarkable taste. Cold brew is well known for having extremely low bitterness and extremely low acidity. The inherent flavors of the coffee bean are somewhat muted, but still present themselves in a very smooth tasting brew. You drink cold brew black, with ice and perhaps a slice of orange as a garnish. You don’t need milk or sugar, the taste is that smooth and balanced.
And if you have problems with stomach acidity, this is for you. Cold Brew brewing is famous for its ability to leave no trace of the acidic notes of a coffee.
What type of coffee beans should I use?
A follow on point from above. Cold brew’s slow extraction results in a uniquely smooth and balanced taste. Flavors are muted, acidity is muted, bitterness is muted. This means this method of making coffee is very forgiving for poor coffee beans.
The biting sourness or harsh bitterness that you get from using low-grade coffee beans is dulled. That’s not to say you should use low-quality beans – the stale bottom shelf grocery store beans are not going to hold a candle to a top-tier Yirgacheffe SO, but you can if you need to.
It’s a great method for the beginner, it’s practically impossible to mess up the brew!
This forgiveness really is one of the more pleasing aspects of Cold Brew.
Do you drink Cold Brew by itself?
You make Cold Brew with much more coffee than other methods, a 1:4 coffee water ratio instead of 1:18, for instance. This results in a very strong concentrate which is designed to be added to ice, water, milk or whatever takes your fancy. This avoids the trap of other iced coffee methods where the ice you use to cool the drink just dilutes the flavor and makes it taste weak.
This is a seriously convenient morning drink
With a solid Cold Brew coffee maker you can set it up and get the coffee steeping then come back to it and pour it. If you keep it in bottles then your morning coffee is ready in as long as it takes you to pick up a bottle out the fridge!
On a personal note – I love the fact that I can set my alarm 5-10 minutes later when I’ve got Cold Brew in. Throw some in a travel mug and you’ve got a refreshing drink on your walk to the subway – perfect for those summer mornings! You’re probably not quite as bad in the morning as me though.
No, no, I’m worse than you. Seriously. No, I am!
Don’t use a French Press or Jar
If you’re here I’m going to assume you have decided against using a French Press for this task – good call. If not, don’t fall for this common trap. The brewing process will work fine in just about any container so long as you put it in the refrigerator. The issue is the filtering process, the models I’ve listed have paper and wool filters that remove sediment and protect the cold brew’s trademark taste.
If your mind is already made up on using the cheapest option, then I’d at least spend the $15 on a Coffee Sock which is a cloth filter that will still give you the trademark cold brew taste.
A quick note about the choices
At its simplest, cold brew coffee is putting ground coffee and water in a fridge. You can do it with anything. The reason I don’t recommend using a french press or a mason jar is that it’s easy to mess up the filtering process. The filters these devices use make sure you’re getting the smooth taste that cold brew is known for and the design makes the process easy.
I’ve chosen three cold brew coffee makers that all do the job well. The Toddy is the old man of the scene having been around ages, the filtron has a double filter system and the OXO just looks great. They all work. You find the best iced coffee maker that works for you.
|Filtron||Toddy T2N||OXO Good Grips|
|Strengths||Very easy, double filter||Large size, cheapest, wealth of resources on internet||Beautiful to look at, choice of mesh or paper filter, easy draining process|
|Weaknesses||Cheap handle, plastic carafe||Awkward draining process, doesn’t fit easily in fridge||Most expensive|
|Capacity||32oz (about 1 litre)|
|Filter||Paper + Wool|
This is a clean looking container that feels sturdy. The main brewer is 32 oz (or 1l) and it comes with a 50oz (1.5l) carafe for pouring into when the coffee is brewed. The carafe is plastic though, I know some people who would glass for something like this.
The Filtron set up is really easy to make great tasting Cold Brew. It’s the most simple of all Cold Brew coffee makers I’ve tried. Despite its simplicity, the process can seem a bit daunting at first what with the filters and the numerous parts to arrange and this is the one that makes it seem easiest. You’ll be hard pushed to make a bad batch!
This cold coffee brewer uses a large paper filter and a smaller wool filter. The company claims that between them, it completely eliminates any trace of sediment. This is true but you’ll find it of any cold brew coffee maker in my experience. The extra filter will trap more of the thicker coffee oils in the brew leaving you with less body and a cleaner tasting coffee.
A drawback to this Cold Brew coffee maker is its handle. It feels flimsy and doesn’t lock properly so you never feel 100% confident that you are holding the carafe securely. You can make Cold Brew with no problems without the handle, so I’d recommend not even using it.
|Capacity||52oz (about 1.5l)|
The Toddy T2N follows in the trend of the Chemex pour over that was invented over fifty years ago and has experienced a resurgence lately. As if you weren’t already nostalgic for the time of free love and great music, well they had Cold Brew as well. It’s safe to say that as the oldest name in the Cold Brew coffee world, this comes with some prestige. One nice advantage of this is the wealth of resources – FAQs, recipes, troubleshooting guides – that can be found here on their website [http://toddycafe.com/cold-brew/recipes]
The Toddy T2N has two parts as you will see on the picture on the right. The large, wide white container is where you put the ground coffee and water and you leave this in your fridge for a day or so. This model is flat and wide which means it’s useful for those who have a free shelf in your fridge rather than the inside door. On the other hand, I can’t see how it would fit into anyone’s fridge door or most fridges without removing a shelf. I certainly have to remove the top one from mine.
When your coffee is brewed after 12-36 hours, take the white container out the refrigerator and put it over the carafe and carefully remove the rubber stopper to let the coffee flow down. Now you can lock the top container over the carafe and let it do its work. The process requires a small amount of dexterity – the Filtron is the one for you if you care about ease of use.
The Toddy also includes an airtight cap on the carafe that allows you to store your Cold Brew for up to two weeks without any flavor changes. I’m not sure if it actually makes a difference, but the way it neatly suctions the opening of the carafe makes me feel a lot better about keeping the coffee for up to two weeks or so. The carafe is made out of solid-feeling and strong boro-silicate glass. In fact, the carafe is just all round fantastic.
You will be leaving the wide top open in your fridge – some people are funny about things like that. You can just put a plate over to cover it but it won’t feel like the most elegant setup.
If you really pushed me, I’d go with this one. Its only real drawback is that removing the rubber stopped while holding the brewer full of coffee is a little awkward.
|Capacity||32oz (about 1 litre)|
|Filter||Mesh (Metal) / Paper|
First impressions with the Good Grips are that it is a nice looking piece of kit. It looks at home in a modern kitchen, unlike certain other Cold Brew coffee makers that would look more at home in a sewage processing factory. It’s made entirely out of plastic, including the carafe, unfortunately.
The Good Grips uses a patented ‘Rainmaker’ extraction lid that spreads the water thinly over the coffee which they claim helps reduce those looming bugbears of coffee making – over and under extraction. The Cold Brew coffee it produces is very good but I couldn’t distinguish a notable increase over the others. It makes sense. Logically, I can’t think of a reason why you can’t get an even distribution by giving your mix a good stir.
Included is a metal mesh filter which is reusable although you can buy disposable paper filters separately. The mesh filter will have a more full-bodied taste than the paper filters which filter out more of the thicker coffee oils. It’s personal preference which to go for, neither is better than the other. Either way, it’s nice to have the option.
This Cold Brew coffee maker has the simplest end to the process – flip a switch and the brewed coffee will pour into the carafe below. This saves the hassle of maneuvering a 2L vat of coffee around as you have to with the Toddy!
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