How we tested
Our tasting panel served six blind samples of cold brew to six panelists of varying coffee expertise, who rated the samples for flavor, body, and acidity. Video: 19 IDEAS
Testing for ease of use, we followed the provided instructions, noting any inconsistencies or complexities as well as how painful each system was to clean. We ran these tests with Trader Joe's Kenya AA Coffee—a well-liked, reasonably priced coffee. Brewed hot, this coffee has a sour bitterness without sweet or floral notes. As a cold brew, though, it tastes much better, with reduced acidity and a mellow but preferable mix of tannic and chocolate flavors.
Our next step was a tasting panel. For this round we switched to an upscale bean—Joe Bean Mexico Chiapas—and brewed a fresh batch with each system. We invited six people, including coffee professionals, coffee enthusiasts/nerds, and casual cold-brew drinkers. Tipico Coffee's Jesse Crouse and Public Espresso + Coffee's Clinton Hodnett brought their expertise, balanced out by other panelists who used fewer coffee-industry terms but knew what they liked. We followed each brew method's included instructions, which varied in the ratio of water to bean.
We presented the panelists with six cups of cold brew (one of them made with Trader Joe's coffee in a French press, for comparison), one after another in a blind taste test. The panelists ranked the cups on a 1-to-10 scale for taste, acidity, and body. The latter two measures were quantitative (as in, how acidic), rather than qualitative (as in, how much they liked the acidity). The tasters had water available for palate cleansing, and we left the cups so that they could compare them directly at the end with additional tastes if necessary. We didn't serve any with ice, so as to avoid dilution. We asked the testers to note which one was their favorite, and why, after they tasted all six cups.
Our pick, the Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer, is a little cumbersome looking, but it made the best-tasting concentrate. Photo: Michael Hession
The Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer consistently produced better-tasting coffee concentrate in our tests, with our tasting panel preferring its brew the most. Compared with nearly every other model we tested, it's far less fussy to set up and empty. The resulting concentrate costs less per cup than that of any other maker we tried. It's the choice home cold-brew maker of Blue Bottle and Stumptown, as well as many other craft-minded coffee shops. And although the Filtron doesn't look as stylish or pack away as neatly as our other picks, its black plastic is less likely to show coffee stains over time than the white Toddy or the clear-plastic OXO.
Stronger flavors, better looks
The OXO brewer makes strong concentrate and is designed a little better than our main pick, but our tasters didn't universally like the flavor of its coffee. Photo: Michael Hession
If you can't get the Filtron, we recommend the OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker. The OXO model loads up quickly and easily, and it looks much better sitting on your counter than any other system we tested. It's tall when fully set up, but it's pretty small when packed away. The coffee it produced in our tests was brighter and had a thicker body than any other cold brew we made. This model stacks up neatly for storage and doesn't require any paper or felt filters to use. Costing just a bit more than the Filtron, the OXO brewer is worth considering if you like its look and want to optimize your kitchen storage.
What about using a French press?
You can make good iced coffee in a French press, whether concentrated or ready to drink, but you have to work to get to the right recipe for your particular press, and the resulting brew will have more sediment unless you take the extra step of filtering. Cleaning up is trickier, too, as you must disassemble the mesh filter for thorough cleaning.
We averaged recipes from The Coffee Compass, The Kitchn, America's Test Kitchen, and a local coffee-shop owner, among others, to make concentrate in a 34-ounce Bodum French press. On our first batch, using Trader Joe's beans, it produced the most body and the strongest flavor among the brewers we tested. On our second batch, made using the same proportions but with upscale Joe Bean coffee, the French press received the worst rating from our tasting panel, earning a mere 3.5 out of 10 in every category. Panelists said the brew tasted "bland" with "tea-like under-extraction," and that it was like "cold diner coffee."
If you already have a French press, there's no reason you can't try a few test batches: Start with a 4.5-to-1 ratio of water to coffee, by weight, and filter it if you can through paper or cheesecloth. Then dilute to taste. If you're a regular cold-brew drinker, though, a dedicated brewer is a better option because it makes more concentrate, it offers easier cleanup, and it has a straightforward recipe specifically designed for it.
This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.