Many devices promise to make smooth and refreshing cold-brew coffee—but which are reliable and easy to use?
Published July 19, 2023.
Brewing cold-brew coffee is traditionally a slow, mostly hands-off process. We tested both manual models and automatic machines. The Toddy Cold Brew System, a no-frills manual coffee maker, is our favorite. It is easy to use and brews well-balanced, fruity cold-brew coffee concentrate that can be diluted to taste.
Cold-brew coffee has attracted much fanfare and even converted non-coffee drinkers thanks to its smooth body and rounded taste. The traditional process of making cold-brew coffee is straightforward: Steep coarsely ground coffee in room temperature or cold water for 12 to 24 hours and then drain the liquid from the grounds. The result is a concentrated coffee that can be diluted in a ratio of 1 part concentrate to 1 to 2 parts water, milk or dairy alternatives, or ice. Compared to coffee brewed with hot water, cold brew tastes more floral and fruity and less sour, according to a study by the Coffee Science Foundation.
You can hack an at-home cold-brew maker with a French press, but using a dedicated machine will be easier and tidier. Cold-brew coffee makers come in a few main styles: drawdown, strainer, and electric. Each style varies considerably in size, shape, and design, so it’s important to follow the manufacturers’ recommended coffee-to-water ratios, as well as their instructions for how to add the water to the grounds.
Drawdown-style brewers feature a bucket-like container and a carafe. For most models, you seal the bucket with a rubber plug (or flip a switch), insert a reusable disk-shaped wool or felt filter into the bucket, and then add a paper coffee filter and the coffee grounds. To wet the grounds, you gradually pour water over them (alternatively, you can pour all the water at once and then stir the grounds); they ideally become fully immersed in water and have room to expand as they absorb it. Eventually, you dispense the coffee from the bucket into the carafe by pulling the plug or flipping the switch.
Strainer-style models resemble a teapot with a narrow, infuser-like basket for the coffee grounds. Instead of draining the coffee from the grounds—a hands-off but somewhat tedious step—you simply remove the brew basket, a feature that has made this style increasingly popular.
Lastly, electric models shorten the steeping process (which for all other machines ranges from 12 to 24 hours) by spinning coffee grounds at high speed. This method promises to produce cold-brew coffee in as few as 5 minutes for one model, which, alas, proved too good to be true (more on that later).
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Valerie is an assistant editor for ATK Reviews. In addition to cooking, she loves skiing, traveling, and spending time outdoors.