/ Cory Doctorow / 7 am Sat, Sep 12 2015
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  • OXO's Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker

    OXO's Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker

    The $50 cold-brew maker makes some important design improvements over its pioneering competitor, the Toddy, but you get the same quality coffee with easier cleanup for $10 with my nut-milk bag method.

    Cold brew coffee is my passion and my downfall. By combining ground coffee with water at room temperature (or below!) and steeping it for 12-24h, you get a cup of coffee that can barely be described in its goodness. Here's the relevant passage from my novel Homeland:

    It's funny watching someone take a sip of cold-brew for the first time, because it looks and smells strong, and it is, and coffee drinkers have been trained to think that "strong" equals "bitter." The first mouthful washes over your tongue and the coffee flavor wafts up the back of your throat and fills up your sinus cavity and your nose is all, "THIS IS INCREDIBLY STRONG!" And the flavor is strong, but there isn't a hint of bitterness. It's like someone took a cup of coffee and subtracted everything that wasn't totally delicious, and what's left behind is a pure, powerful coffee liquor made up of all these subtle flavors: citrus and cocoa and a bit of maple syrup, all overlaid on the basic and powerful coffee taste you know and love.

    The dark secret of cold brew is that it's nearly impossible to mess up. Use a coffee:water ratio of about 1:2, grind it semi-coarse, leave it alone for a day, then strain.

    "Strain." Such an innocent-sounding word. Straining is the difference between all cold-brew methods. Because once your coffee has brewed, it is a suspension of gross, muddy, staining, drippy coffee-ground slurry and delicious concentrated coffee liquor. Separating these two is very tricky and often very messy.

    OXO Good Grips is justly synonymous with well-thought-through, human-centered design. Its Cold Brew system is a marvel of the designer's art, from the reversible mesh filter (you can insert it either way and it still works) to the way that each component nests, making it all into a neat package with the fragile glass carafe in the middle. The carafe itself has a lovely little stopper that can also be used as a measuring cup.

    You brew the coffee by putting grinds into a large, open-topped vessel, adding a "rainmaker" (a sieve) and pouring water through it to get a nice, even dispersal of water over the grinds. Stir a few times and go away for a day. Then, position the carafe beneath the dripper, click a little lever, and wait 20-30 minutes for the liquor to drain through the filter, then knock the grounds out over the trash and wash up.

    If you are considering buying a Toddy, I think it's worth spending the extra $16 for the OXO. It's more thoughtful, more thought-through, better looking, and easier to use, clean and store.

    But honestly, there is a better way. As I documented in this post, you can buy a $10 "nut milk" bag -- a mesh drawstring bag -- fill it with coffee, immerse it in a refrigerated pitcher of water, wait a day, squeeze the bag out, upend it over the composter/trash, and start drinking. Let the bag dry out and then brush the coffee residue off, rinse it and you're ready to go again.

    Not only is this 80% cheaper than an OXO system, but it's more compact, has much simpler cleanup, and brews in your fridge, so the coffee is ready to drink as soon as it's steeped (the OXO and Toddy both brew on the countertop and then you have to transfer their output to the fridge to chill).

    There is nothing wrong with OXO's method, but there's more right with a drawstring bag.

    OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker, Clear/Grey [OXO]

    Cold-brew coffee with a nut-milk bag

    Nut-milk bags [$10]

    (Thumbnail: cold brew experiment, Dennis Tang, CC-BY-SA)

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