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Cold Brew Coffee Makers

Published July 2015

How we tested

Caffeine nerds have long touted the advantages of brewing coffee with cold water. The process, which calls for steeping ground coffee in cold water for several hours (or overnight), is largely hands-off; produces a smoother, less acidic brew than does conventional hot-water extraction; and yields a strong concentrate that can be stored in the refrigerator and diluted to taste with hot or cold water (or poured over ice) to make instant hot or iced coffee.

One device, the Toddy Cold Brew System, has been around for decades and earned our recommendation in the past, but the recent influx of cold brew coffee makers compelled us to see if anything better has come along. We tested seven models (priced from about $25 to about $75), including the Toddy, to single out the best maker—one that produces a smooth, mellow concentrate and that is easy to set up and clean. We also compared those dedicated cold brewers to our DIY method using a French press. We brewed batches according to each model’s directions, using our favorite medium-roast coffee (Peet’s Cafe Domingo, about $14/lb.), and tasted the coffee cold and black, without ice. We added water, if instructed, according to each model’s suggested ratios (when there was a range suggested, we chose the middle).

Tasters preferred our French press method’s “rich, chocolaty, intense” brew (see for the recipe)—and for good reason. The concentration of coffee is very high: We use 3 1/2 cups of finely ground beans to produce just 2 cups of concentrate. The downside of using all that coffee is the cost, which shakes out to about $2.00 per cup of coffee, which is more than we want to spend. The method is also a tad fussy and takes 24 hours with some hands-on work.

Our preference for a high ratio of coffee carried through the results. The three models that produced “weak, watery” brews were relatively small capacity devices: tall, slim pitchers with narrow cylindrical mesh filters that limited the amount of coffee we could add and kept water and grounds segregated. Of the four brewers that made acceptable coffee, two were fussy to use. One of those is a standard French press that (despite its name) came with no instructions for cold brewing and required a separate container for storing the concentrate (you can’t remove the grounds that are pressed to the bottom of the pot under the mesh filter, and if left in place, they will keep extracting, making the coffee increasingly bitter). The other, a pricy model, took roughly 7 hours to produce just 20 ounces of coffee—not concentrate.

The two finalists, work similarly. You add coffee grounds and water to the plastic bucket, let it steep for 12 to 18 hours, and then pull out the rubber plug over an included carafe, letting the coffee drip through a thick felt filter pad set inside the bucket. Each yields a generous amount of concentrate at a comparable price (about $0.50 per cup of coffee). In the end, we recrowned our old favorite for brewing slightly milder, smoother coffee (an independent lab confirmed it has fewer dissolved solids and less acidity than our other finalist).

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.