Cold Brew Coffee Makers
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 CooksIllustrated.com/coldbrewcoffee 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).