too many words by laura lemay

cold brew coffee, a review

MAKE Blog mentioned the Toddy Cold Brew coffee system yesterday{.broken_link}. As it happens I spent some time earlier this year experimenting with cold brew coffee and had been intending to write something about it, so now is as good a time as any.

A friend mentioned the cold brew coffee system to me back in January when I was moping over my stomach problems and having to give up coffee. OK, moping is a bit short of the truth; I was in full-on whinge at the time. Cold-brew coffee apparently has way less acid than regular coffee, so its easier on the body.

I was skeptical at the time, being somewhat of a coffee snob. But then, I drink my coffee drowned in nonfat milk and with a big dose of chemical sweetener, so who I am I to sneer. In any case I figured any coffee was better than no coffee so I ordered The Toddy System from Amazon.

The System is a tub with a hole in the bottom, a plug for the hole, a thick poly filter, and a glass carafe onto which the tub fits. You coarse-grind a pound of coffee, add it and 9 cups cold of water to the tub, wait 12 hours, remove the plug from the bottom of the tub, and coffee drips down through the filter into the carafe. That’s it. That’s the process. You end up with about eight cups or so of coffee “concentrate” that will keep for about two weeks and that you can dilute and heat up in the microwave or use in cold coffee drinks.

The most important question: how does it taste. It tastes eh. Its definitely way less acidic than regular coffee. That’s the first thing you notice, that it has a really smooth, almost creamy taste without any bitterness or bite to it. It doesn’t taste at all like great coffee. Not even close. With really truly superior coffee beans it is drinkable, though, and I was desperate. The problem is that with not so superior coffee beans it tastes really, really nasty.

I should note, however, that there is the dilution factor to think about. The cold brew instructions explain that the coffee you get out of the system is a concentrate, and that you’ll have to dilute it significantly to get really great tasting coffee. I found that if I diluted it at all I got really pathetically weak coffee so I drank it straight. And I note that the people who rave rave rave about the system on amazon and elsewhere are all diluting the concentrate — so I’m wondering if that’s perhaps a general coffee taste difference there. I like strong coffee and espresso to begin with, and I wonder if the cold brew system just doesn’t work as well at strong coffee concentrations.

My second problem was with the system itself. With the filter and the plug in the tub its supposed to be easy and convenient. There’s a picture in the manual of the coffee concentrate flowing in a stream out of the bottom of the tub. It doesn’t happen that way. After the coffee is finished “brewing” you pull out the plug and then the coffee drips. slowly. out. the. bottom. If you scrape the filter it drips. a little. faster. urrrggghhhh. There were warnings in the manual about how you had to arrange things right when you filled the tub with water and coffee and not to stir or you will plug the filter and I followed the directions and I tried it three times but it never did more than just drip for me. I got incredibly frustrated with The System. Personally I suggest if you want to try cold brewing: put a pound of ground coffee into a big bowl with nine cups of water and let it soak overnight. Then drain the result through a sieve lined with a regular coffee filter. It’ll probably take less time and you’ll save the $28.

Third: it uses a lot of beans for not that much coffee. The docs for the system argue that with regular coffee you end of making a pot and then throwing out the leftovers because they go bad. With cold brew, because it keeps, its more economical. Well. Not so much. I can get a lot of coffee out of a pound of coffee beans, even with the thick black coffee I make. A pound will last me a week, week and a half if I make a lot of coffee at home. With the cold brew, I get eight cups. Which for me is about a day and a half at best. And since I have to buy the really good coffee in order for it not to taste like ass, its just way too much money to pay for really bad coffee. I am offended by the economics. If I want to pay way too much for bad coffee, I can go to Starbucks.

In summary, cold brew was not for me. What ended up being my solution to the coffee acid problem was a two-week dose of Prilosec OTC, which cleared up my acid reflux. Now I can drink real coffee again, and my life is saved.