Cold brew is exploding. Sure, people have been brewing coffee by letting grounds sit overnight in room-temperature water since the days of the Bishop and Mrs. Proudie. But it’s only recently that contraptions specially designed for cold-brewing coffee have hit the market, all of them claiming to produce better-tasting cold brew than the old “mix it all in a bucket and let it sit” method. There’s the Bruer and the Filtron.
There’s even the decades-old Toddy, itself little more than a bucket into which you mix grounds and water—proving that no matter what heights of preciousness the hipsters of gadgetdom attempt to elevate the cold brewed cup of coffee, the old zero-fuss methods still work just fine.
But now OXO, the giant of the household gadget industry, makes a cold-brewer. It’s a smartly designed, mostly plastic $50 kit that you can find on a shelf at big department stores. And this is OXO we’re talking about, a company that specializes in designing products for a mainstream audience. The fact that such a big name is now in the cold brew game marks a turning point. Your little cult just crossed over. This is your indie coffee’s major-label debut.
OXO’s brewer comes in five easy pieces. There’s the main tub where the brewing happens, and it’s suspended on a built-in stand. The whole assembly is about a foot and a half tall and sort of hourglass shaped. Atop the brewing chamber is a concave cover with small holes in it. You pour water into this cover, and the water sprinkles down onto the coffee in the chamber below (OXO calls this perforated lid the “rainmaker”). Beneath the brewing chamber, inside the stand half of the hourglass, is enough room to slide the 32-ounce borosilicate carafe. Once you’ve finished brewing, just flip a switch at the bottom of the brew chamber and the coffee runs through a filter and into the carafe. The carafe goes straight into the fridge, and you top it with a plastic stopper. The stopper has both a silicone ring to seal the carafe, and a 2-ounce fill line for measuring out your cold-brew one dose at a time.
Brewing is simple: grind your beans, dump them into the main chamber, pour in the water, and let it sit for 16 to 24 hours. Actually, it’s more complicated than that, but I wasn’t aware of this at first. And I’ll admit I didn’t even read the instructions. I just dumped in 10 ounces of coarse grounds and 40 ounces of water all at once, stirred it with a spoon, then let it sit overnight. The results were tasty, but boy was it robust. Because you’re not using heat, the chemical reactions are different in cold brewing. You’re supposed to get a more delicate extraction: a bright, floral drink with very little acid. Also, what comes out of a cold brewer is a coffee concentrate, so you can prepare a drink that’s a little mellower just by mixing in more water. You’re supposed to mix water with the concentrate at a ratio of 4:1. But no matter how I futzed with the ratio of my first batch, there was no hiding its bitterness or chalkiness.
Then I read the instructions. You’re supposed to start with just 8 ounces of water, pouring it onto the rainmaker so it showers gently over your grounds. You let that sit for one minute—coffee wonks call this “the bloom.” Then, you pour the other 32 ounces of water into the rainmaker and let that dribble down. (This is the point where I realized why the carafe only holds 32 ounces even though the recipe calls for 40 ounces. The water should be poured in two batches, the larger of which is 32 ounces. So what I assumed was a design flaw was just my own arrogance.) Once all the water is in, you do not stir. The next day, you flip the release switch and your cold-brew rushes through the filter and into the carafe.
So did all that fuss actually produce better coffee? Yes! Noticeably better. It was downright perfect, with those floral and grassy overtones you’d expect, yet less acid. After two perfect brews, I experimented a little. I tried different grinds (coarser is better). I also tried older beans from the bulk section of the supermarket. For regular drip brewing, I buy lighter “city roasts” that are less than 5 or 6 days old, and I buy directly from the roaster. But what I discovered is that a good cold brewer can bring all sorts of delicate tastes out of older or more darkly roasted beans. This is great news because these beans are cheaper—usually $10 a pound, compared to $15 for 12 ounces of the fancy stuff.
I also discovered the joy of sweet iced coffee drinks: Vietnamese and Thai iced coffee, the mighty New Orleans Iced, and my new favorite, cold-brew concentrate mixed with brown sugar and almond milk. Possibly the best part: that first batch I made, even when I had little idea what I was doing, was better than most of the “iced coffee” I’ve made by sticking hot coffee into the fridge.
So while cold-brew is publicized as a dead-simple method for making coffee—just replace heat with time, as the saying goes— it does taste better if you have the patience to study the particulars and learn how to do it right. OXO’s contraption may designed for the mainstream, but you still have to get a little precious to arrive at the best results.