Review: Field-testing the Toddy T2N cold-brew coffee system

By day Thomas "cmdln" Gideon works at the intersection of technology and public policy, on issues ranging from Internet freedom and network neutrality to copyright. In his spare time he is a home brewer and a podcaster. After he sent me this detailed review of the Toddy T2N, I asked him if I could post it here on Boing Boing, and he was kind enough to say yes.

On a recent trip to New York, Cory introduced me to cold brewed coffee for the first time. I don't consider myself a coffee connoisseur as such but I do gravitate towards the better offerings that can be had through local roasters. I've also upgraded my coffee kit to include a middle of the road espresso maker and a better than average though cost conscious burr grinder. In retrospect I am surprised I hadn't tried cold brewed coffee sooner. Less surprising is how much I enjoyed it once I finally did. I was raving about it so much that on my return my wife offered to get me a Toddy so I could make my own.

The main appeal to me besides the subjectively superior flavor is the drastic reduction in the acidity of cold brewed coffee, by some claims as much as two-thirds. I've been limiting my coffee intake to strictly before noon for years due to the effects afternoon coffee had on my stomach. Even selecting and brewing lower acid varieties didn't do much to help a situation often made all the worse by my lurching evening commute on Washington, DC's metro system. Cold brew offers me all that I enjoy about coffee without that one limiting factor.

For the uninitiated, cold brewing generally refers to a set of methods for soaking coarse ground coffee at room temperature for an extended amount of time then filtering the result to produce a very concentrated brew. The concentrate can be diluted with water or with dairy and is consumed both hot and cold. I especially like it cold, over ice, with nothing at all in it. In the US, the most common method for cold brewing is to use a Toddy, a bit of kit invented and exclusively sold by Todd Simpson.

When the Toddy my wife ordered me arrived, I was surprised at its simplicity. It reminded me of those single serving drip makers that accept a paper cone filter and sit on top of a mug but scaled up considerably. In this case, the mug is replaced by a glass carafe that holds about a pint and a half. The part that sits on it is reminiscent of a small plastic bucket with legs. The bucket part has a depression at the bottom that fits a scrubbing pad-like filter and has a small hole which you stopper with an included rubber plug.

To brew up a batch you carefully alternate pouring measures of coarse ground coffee and water into the plastic bucket. The goal is to wet all the grounds without stirring. The included, all too brief instructions repeatedly warn that stirring will result in a clogged filter. The whole affair is left to sit at room temperature overnight. The bucketful of soaking grounds are then placed on the carafe and the plug is removed to allow the concentrated results to slowly drain out. Keeping the filter from clogging at all is next to impossible but the instructions include some good advice to improve your results.

I will admit I did not read the instructions closely enough at first. The first two batches I made were far weaker than they should have been. Even these weak batches were tasty, they simply didn't stretch as far. I made my first correct batch just a few days ago. The instructions recommend twelve ounces of coffee to seven cups of water. I may go to a full pound of coffee simply to have my local shop do the grinding rather than enduring the mess I made grinding and measuring myself. One pound of coffee simply ups the water to nine cups which the Toddy will just barely hold.

I need to experiment a little further but I suspect the trick really is to fuss with the grounds as *little* as possible. For the most part they float and as they soak overnight they sink into the water on their own. If you can keep them sinking slowly, it should allow more of the concentrate to flow through the filter before the mass of grounds hits it. With my first proper batch I fidgeted with the grounds, trying to sink the mass of grounds more into the water. As a result, the liquid portion only half filled the carafe. I am sure if I leave the next batch alone I'll get more concentrate out of it. For all that I made less concentrate it was plenty strong. The instructions recommend diluting three-to-one but I've been making servings closer to four-to-one that still have an excellent flavor.

We'll see how long the full strength but smaller volume batch lasts. The two weaker ones didn't last long at all, only two or three days. Part of that was no doubt the novelty coupled with the desire to finish the batch to try further tweaks as much as it was how little they stretched since they required far less dilution. Having a batch in the fridge at all times is incredibly convenient, whether I want an afternoon iced coffee or as an alternative to the Americano I usually make myself in the morning.

In short, I am totally happy with the Toddy despite the learning curve. The instructions are packed with useful information including using the Toddy to cold brew tea and several recipes for drinks using the concentrate. I just wish they had been a bit clearer on the measurements and process though clearly it is nothing a little trial and error didn't solve. The flavor is excellent, exactly what I expected and very comparable to what I've had in shops. Aside from the effort of grinding and measuring, cold brew is very simple to make with this rig. The twelve hour steep demands patience but getting another vessel means I could rack up more than one batch back-to-back just like I do when brewing beer. I can easily see weekly cold brewing becoming part of our household routine.

Toddy T2N Cold-Brew Coffee System