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Updated 3:18 PM EDT, Tue June 22, 2021
There’s something revitalizing about an icy glass of caffeinated brew. For many, iced coffee is the coffee of choice, regardless of season or weather. There are several ways to make a delicious iced coffee, from simply chilling leftover hot coffee or making double-strength hot and pouring it over ice, to adding freshly pulled espresso to ice or creating a fun occasion-worthy frozen coffee. But for some coffee lovers, their tried-and-true iced method is cold brew.
The sophisticated older sister of iced coffee, cold brew is an elixir that results from slowly steeping ground coffee in room temperature or cold water for a number of hours (generally eight to 24). The removal of heat from the brewing process yields a smooth, silky, less acidic liquid that goes down, we learned, quite easily. In trying to describe the difference between cold brew and regular iced coffee, one friend who tasted a couple of our batches likened it to the first time you taste higher-quality whiskey — aside from the nuances in taste, it feels softer in your mouth and smooth as it goes down.
As cold brew’s popularity has exploded, so too has the number of at-home cold brew devices. While it’s fairly easy to make top-quality cold brew at home using just a Mason jar or a French press, these cold brew-specific devices are intriguing, convenient, and — if you enjoy coffee experimentation as much as we do — a little more fun.
To bring you the best, easiest cold brew at home, we tested a range of devices using a wide set of criteria (outlined below), over several weeks. We measured, dripped, steeped, patiently waited and poured our way through a 5-pound bag of Stone Street Coffee’s cold brew reserve grind, which produced a rich, nutty, chocolaty concentrate. We tasted each brew on its own straight from the carafe, over ice and with as many different milks as we could keep in our refrigerator — and when we ran out of storage, we gave carafes to neighbors for their feedback. We drank a massive amount of cold brew, and we became converts.
Countless icy and quickly condensating glasses later, we settled on three standout brewers:
The industry experts we consulted about cold brew told us that a more expensive, complicated home device doesn’t necessarily make a better-tasting product. Ben Helfen, coffee education specialist at Counter Culture Coffee, for example, told us he makes cold brew at home in a Mason jar, then filters it through a paper filter into a second jar. After testing 11 commercial home brewers, we’re inclined to agree that in the world of cold brewing, simplicity is king.
Not by coincidence, then, the three top-scoring devices we tested were the most turnkey ones: The methodology of fill filter with grounds, add water to carafe, put lid on, and wait, appealed. There are also plenty of devices on the market that have more involved brewing processes, are more aesthetically artful, have more timing-control elements, make slightly bigger batches or have additional nifty features. We tested seven brewers that fell into this slightly more complicated category, with varying results — though not when it came to coffee taste. All seven of these, like our winning three, yielded a consistently strong, tasty, satisfying brew.
None of those additional features, though, outweighed the value of just making very good cold brew with very little work. This doesn’t mean we didn’t utilize and enjoy those additional features; we did, and we’ll outline them below.
But first, a rundown of our three highest scorers:
Overall, the Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffee Pot scored highest: This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4¼ cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second most affordable of our inventory.
Also pleasingly easy to use and a handsome visual addition to a breakfast table, the Ovalware Airtight RJ3 Cold Brew Maker narrowly lost to the Mizudashi only because its glass handle feels a bit more fragile and thus, slightly less user-friendly. As straightforward as any of the brewers, this was one of the most upscale design-wise, without feeling fussy.
The all-plastic Takeya Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker turns out 1.8 liters of fantastic cold brew — a greater volume than some of its simple-carafe brethren — and is the lightest, easiest model to throw in a weekend bag without fear of breakage for on-the-go brewing for a group or larger family.
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffee Pot
The beauty of cold brew coffee shines with this device, which falls at the intersection of function, style and affordability. And the system couldn’t be easier to operate, even if one had come to it never having made a batch of cold brew.
The Mizudashi arrives in a slim, sparsely designed cardboard rectangle, and it’s a perfect harbinger of the space-conserving, efficient experience to come. There are, of course, simple-but-precise directions, with helpful graphics, but if you’re more touch-and-go with your coffee, you simply fill the filter with grounds to the top of the mesh, place the filter back into the carafe, and slowly pour filtered water over the grounds until the carafe is full (even at a slow pour, this process takes maybe 60 to 90 seconds). There’s a mark on the filter that you align with a mark on the spout of the carafe before you replace the lid to keep the filter from coming out when you remove the lid. When the lid is on, put the entire thing in the fridge and wait eight hours or so, to your preferred cold brew strength, and you’ve got 1 liter of liquid magic: roasty, chocolaty, nutty, smoky, but smoother than any coffee we’d ever tasted. All the pluses of cold brew come through in this compact delivery system.
From the unboxing of this beauty on, design lovers will appreciate the tall, slender carafe, which could be proudly displayed on any table and will fit unobtrusively on kitchen counters or within most cabinets. The filter is constructed of a light mesh and plastic. The lid and handle, made from a durable plastic that easily screws on and off during brews and cleanup, make the whole glass setup less precarious for the clumsy among us. A plastic lid secures the filter, and, once the filter is removed after steeping is done, the remaining liquid in the carafe. And cleanup is easy, thanks to the bottom of the mesh filter unscrewing for easy dumping of used grounds.
This pitcher produced consistently robust coffee and looked great (in one of three colors, black, brown and red) doing so.
Ovalware Airtight RJ3 Cold Brew Maker
Equally aesthetically pleasing, and possibly even more user-friendly, is Ovalware’s Airtight Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker and Tea Infuser with Spout. This device — perfect for making cold brew for one or two, as it yields 1 liter (or about 4¼ cups) of delicious, smooth coffee with a solid punch — functions using an insertable metal filter that you simply fill with grounds to the top, then slowly pour water over until you reach the “MAX” line marked clearly on the thick glass carafe. The filter is bound at the top by a rubber ring that seals it in place; the metal lid also is equipped with a rubber ring to seal the whole pitcher during brewing and storage, and a third rubber ring fits around the bottom of the glass carafe to prevent breakage and slipping during use. The glass-metal-rubber combination all feels good in your hands, if you like a tactile kitchen tool experience. This brewer reads as more luxurious than the $30 it costs.
The RJ3 is designed in a conical shape, making it feel most organically like a coffee-brewing device. The carafe is clearly marked in cup and milliliter measurements, for users who may want to brew less than the maximum.
The primary reason this one came in as runner-up is because of the carafe handle, also made of glass, which we harbored some anxiety about breaking off during the testing process. If you’re a more cautious kitchen denizen and aren’t worried about small children or household pets disturbing the handle on this one, we wholeheartedly recommend it.
We like to think of the Takeya Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker as the S’well or HydroFlask of cold brewing: Fill it up, put the lid on, throw it in your bag and go anywhere with it. Well, not quite, but almost. This brewer is the height of low-tech and intuitive, and — bonus — it’s pretty portable!
The Takeya carafe and lid are made of a solid plastic, and the filter is mesh and plastic, which means the entire cold brewer is durable and pretty much unbreakable. The brew mechanism is the same as the two other winning brewers — fill filter with grounds, add water to carafe, screw on lid, sit quietly for a day — but the directions for this one specifically call for the user to shake the carafe a couple of times during brewing to mix and activate the grounds and the water. (Stirring or otherwise mixing the brew is a good idea, no matter which cold brew maker you’re using.) The lid is surprisingly secure, so there isn’t any leakage during shaking. The carafe is big and tall — it makes 1.8 liters, or 1.9 quarts, of cold brew — but the user is directed to turn it on its side in the refrigerator during steeping. During one of our test brews, a bit of coffee dribbled out, but during subsequent brews, we better secured the lid and didn’t experience any leakage. This was the most affordable brewer we tested, but it was as efficient and well-performing as any of the other brewers in our testing pool.
For a plastic brewer, the Takeya is quite nice-looking, though doesn’t provide as high-end a user experience as the glass brewers. Its minimal design makes it feel more sophisticated; however, because there are no measurement markings on the carafe, the coffee-brewing experience isn’t as precise as with the other models we tested. If you’re making less than 2 quarts, you’d have to measure out both your grounds and your water outside of this setup, but if you’re going for the maximum brew, you just add grounds and water to the top. Sort of as easy as refilling a Brita water carafe — you just stop when it looks full.
If that’s how you like to brew coffee, you want to spend less than $25, and you have a little more space in your fridge, this maker’s for you.
The testing process for these cold brewers was exhaustive, lasting more than five weeks. We evaluated each device based on criteria important to users, namely function, durability and design. We tested each device at least twice, using the same preground coffee from Stone Street. We took photos of each device’s unboxing, assembly and use, and we took notes in a spreadsheet about every detail of each of these brewers, from how they felt in our hands and how much counter space they demanded, to how they appeared during the brewing process and the liquid they produced at the end of that process. We became enamored with many of these brewers, as well as their end result: the sumptuous cold brew that became our morning’s mission over these summer weeks. We drank gallons of cold brew, and yes, lay awake at night thinking about the pros and cons of each of these devices. Read on for our evaluation criteria and their breakdowns.
Optimal taste: We tasted the cold brew from each device immediately after completing the recommended brew cycle, on its own, with ice, with added cold water, with different types of milks, and a day later. We rated each brewer based on the taste and perceived level of acidity of its cold brew. User-friendliness: We assessed how user-friendly each brewer is, both for someone who has never attempted cold brew before and for a regular cold brew consumer. We noted how easy each brewer was to assemble, how carefully each set of directions needed to be read (if at all), whether the markings on each device are easy to read and follow, and whether each device was intuitive or complicated to operate. Overall, we considered how easy it was with each device to produce a batch of cold brew, from the first opening of the brewer box through the first taste of cold brew. Volume yield: We noted how many ounces or liters each device can brew, and assessed how that capacity would enhance the overall user experience of that brewer — e.g., some users desire larger batches, others may be happy to produce less in one usage. Durability
Everyday durability/signs of damage: For this category, we observed how each brewer felt during setup, if the parts felt stable or precarious, and if any of the parts could be easily damag
This cold brew maker is a morning coffee game-changer
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