Over the past two years, we’ve looked at 15 cold-brew coffee makers, analyzed dozens of at-home brewing methods and recipes, made concentrate for more than 300 cups of coffee, and served samples to a tasting panel that included expert baristas. And after all our testing, we found that the OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker offers the best way to make smooth, delicious iced coffee at home. It’s easy to use and well-designed, and in our tests it made cold coffee with balanced acidity, a stronger aroma, and a cleaner finish.
If you can’t get the OXO, we recommend the Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer. It’s physically larger than the OXO, but is just as easy to use and our testers like the coffee it produced. The felt filter is a bit of a hassle though (if you don’t store it right it can get moldy) and you have to buy paper filters.
Although we tested making cold-brew concentrate in a French press—and enjoyed some of the results—buying a French press just for this job is not worth it. More on that in a bit.
Much as we did for our guides to coffee makers and pour-over coffee gear, we looked at both preparation and final product to determine the best cold-brew choice. Two Wirecutter/Sweethome writers, both coffee enthusiasts, experimented with the makers and the DIY methods for nearly a month during the first testing, measuring and averaging out the results from the test gear and most of the at-home recipes you can find in a Google search for cold brew. We hosted a tasting panel with four enthusiasts (including writer Kevin Purdy, blind to his own samples) plus two experienced and opinionated baristas. We did not sway or soften their opinions; one of the panelists, though able to pick a favorite, told us that all our samples had “glaring issues.”
During the second testing, we took our coffee on the road, visiting with three coffee professionals (Clinton Hodnett and Sam Scarcello of Public Espresso + Coffee and Jesse Crouse of Tipico Coffee and Plume Coffee & Roastery) in their own shops and roasteries for taste tests. Our consistent-recipe batches tasted better this year, two of the professionals told us, but they were just as harsh on each sample.
Cold brewing makes better iced coffee than refrigerating hot-brewed coffee. When you add hot-brewed coffee to ice, it slowly dilutes, resulting in a weaker-tasting beverage. Cold brew, which generally starts from a concentrate, is meant to be watered down, so adding ice, milk/cream, and not too much water provides a stronger, more flavorful drink. Additionally, hot-brewed coffee over ice can taste bitter (some of those flavors are less noticeable when coffee is hot). Brewing with slow, cold exposure, instead of heat, extracts fewer bitter flavors, so you’ll get a sweeter, milder-tasting coffee that’s better for drinking cold.
Every cold-brew coffee method works the same way: Start with a lot of ground coffee (more than you’d typically use to brew drip coffee), add water, let the mixture sit between eight and 24 hours, and then filter it. What’s left is either ready to drink or, more often, a concentrate that you should dilute with water or milk.
We began our research with Cook’s Illustrated, which published its cold-brew coffee maker guide (subscription required) in July 2015. That guide’s results gave us a number of models to start considering, as well as some dismissals. We then turned to comparable reviews, including 2010 and 2012 guides from The Wall Street Journal, plus one from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, to find our testing models.
We started testing by following 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 coffee professionals, coffee enthusiasts/nerds, and casual cold-brew drinkers. Crouse and Hodnett brought their expertise, balanced out by other panelists who used fewer coffee-industry terms but knew what they liked. For this initial test, we followed each brew method’s included instructions, which varied in the ratio of water to bean.
Panelists ranked each sample 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). We didn’t serve any with ice, so as to avoid dilution. We asked the testers to note which was their favorite, and why, after they tasted all six cups.
Later, we conducted a second round of taste testing on our top models. We used medium-roast grocery-store beans from Wegmans, roasted one week to one month before testing. We brewed with a consistent water-to-coffee ratio (4.5-to-1), averaged from all three brewers’ instructions. We let the samples brew for 24 hours each, diluted the concentrate 3-to-1 and had a coworker serve us blind samples. This round’s results closely matched our original testing panel’s findings. It’s the brewers themselves, not their recipes, that make different cold-brewed coffee.
The OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker is the best-looking unit we tried, and it has the most thoughtful features for brewing and storing your coffee. It brings out more flavors from your coffee than other brewers we tried. Some panelists weren’t fond of certain flavors it brought out, but hey, that’s what cream and sugar are for (and you can always dilute it further).
Looks matter more for a cold-brew maker than some other kinds of coffee gear, because you must leave it out for hours at a time while your coffee grounds steep. The OXO is something we don’t mind leaving out on a counter. It’s a little shorter than the Filtron, our runner-up pick, when set up, standing 15 inches tall. It uses a reservoir-and-vessel system, but instead of resting directly on top of the carafe, the reservoir sits on a dedicated wide-base stand. The water pours through a perforated lid that distributes the liquid evenly and allows fresher coffee to “bloom.” When the time to drain the concentrate rolls around, you simply flip a switch, avoiding the slight mess on your fingers from pulling a cork. You can even flip the switch back up midstream to pause and to pour yourself some concentrate before it’s fully drained.
The OXO brewer’s vessel is more helpful than most, too. It has extensive volume markings to help you measure out water for brewing. It looks nicer than a plastic carafe or a blue-hued jug (as with the Filtron and Bod brewers), has a pouring spout, and fits better on a refrigerator shelf than the tall jug provided with many competing models.
Using the same beans as the other tested makers, the OXO produced the most flavorful cup of cold-brew coffee. This occurred both while using OXO’s suggested recipe and ratio (10 ounces of beans to make 24 ounces of concentrate, watered down 2.5-to-1) and using a standard recipe (4.5 parts water to 1 part grounds, watered down 3-to-1). The metal mesh filter, instead of paper, seems to bring forth a bigger flavor.
Whether our panel actually liked that bigger flavor is a different story. In our original testing, two panelists deemed it their favorite, but our coffee professionals were unimpressed. The barista who found all the cold brews to be wrong in some way determined that the OXO brew’s flavor was the strongest. The OXO rated the highest in detected acidity among panelists. The testers also found it to be “vegetal and earthy,” “much stronger,” and “kinda strong for a hot day,” and to have a “bigger body.” One panelist said the OXO brew was “tripping [them] out,” because they tasted florals in a cup that was “relatively low on the acidity scale.” Evaluating coffee is, of course, a subjective thing, but the OXO model seemed to create a brew that was more “punchy” than the mellow, smooth Filtron brew.
In our most recent testing, two of our three panelists gave the OXO coffee their highest marks. One called it “definitely my favorite,” and both expounded on the depth of the flavors the brew provided. Although we didn’t ask them to numerically rank the four samples, one did, and gave the OXO coffee his highest score, an eight out of 10. Our third expert tester didn’t like the OXO, and actually said it was the worst of the four, comparing it with cooled-down diner coffee. We respect his opinion, but there’s a lot of nuance to cold-brew flavor; all of our coffee experts, in fact, said they don’t particularly like it, and don’t drink it themselves. We think the OXO, on balance, produced the most consistent results, with the least amount of hassle.
We did experience one snag in brewing with the OXO unit. It is sold with a handful of optional paper filters, which you can use in addition above the reusable mesh filter. The company says these filters aren’t required but can help to create a smoother brew with less silt at the bottom. In our tests with the paper filter in place, however, this cold-brew coffee maker didn’t drain properly: It almost immediately slowed to a drip, and we got only a few ounces of concentrate because a silty mudflat of grounds covering the paper blocked its flow. An OXO representative confirmed a slower drain time with the paper filter in place but said he had never seen the stream completely stop as it did in our tests. A coworker who uses the OXO brewer has yet to experience blockage with paper filters.
The Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer consistently produced great-tasting coffee concentrate in all our tests, with most taste testers ranking its brew first or second. It’s not quite as easy to set up and drain as the OXO, but still simple, compared with nearly every other model we tested. The resulting concentrate costs less per cup than that of any other maker we tried (if you use the default recipe). 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 pick, its black plastic is less likely to show coffee stains over time than the white Toddy or the clear-plastic OXO.
The Filtron produced a smooth, mellow cup of coffee every time, regardless of the beans we used. Five of the six tasters on our first-year panel gave the Filtron cup their highest rating for flavor, and three named it their favorite overall. “Major aroma, yet oddly light color,” wrote one barista on the panel. “Mild body, flavor, acidity.” The other barista echoed that sentiment, noting that a “mild body gives way to well-balanced sweetness and acidity.” Another panelist wrote, “Best nose so far, very clean,” going on to say that it “finishes the best so far.” Two separate panelists noted the caramel flavors. The Filtron received almost no dings for acidity, strength or weakness, or body. Only one barista (who generally disliked the lot) found it to have a “short, ashy aftertaste.”
In our most recent tests, it was the runner-up in taste tests, making coffee tasting flatter and more typically coffee-like than the brighter, more exciting brews of the OXO. The Filtron still received relatively high marks, and is quite forgiving if your ratio is slightly off.
Next to the popular Toddy system, which calls for timed additions of weighted water and coffee, or the Coffee Sock or French press methods, the Filtron system is far easier to set up and empty out. (We still found the OXO easier, though). A felt filter and a rubber stopper fit into the bottom of a black plastic bucket with a handle, and an optional (but recommended) paper filter holds the grounds and water. You let your mixture sit for 12 to 24 hours (we brewed for a full day) in the plastic, after which you put the included carafe underneath it and pull the stopper, leaving it to drain about 30 minutes. Cleaning it means either plucking out a filter full of grounds or scooping and rinsing the bucket. After rinsing the felt filter, you store it in water in an included container in the fridge to prevent mold. That potential for molding is one of the biggest drawbacks; it’s easy to forget to store the filter properly. The OXO doesn’t have this sort of requirement. The Filtron’s large paper filters make its brews smoother, but are hard to find—they’re not commonly stocked at stores and are held in limited supply on Amazon.
The Filtron system makes 32 ounces of concentrate, which you then dilute with water at a ratio of 6-to-1. That’s enough for about 37 6-ounce servings of cold-brew coffee. The concentrate holds for two weeks in the fridge.
Using the Filtron to make cold-brew coffee, with the ratios its maker recommends, produced the lowest-cost coffee of any method we tested. Coarsely grinding 1 pound of $10-per-pound coffee produces 32 6-ounce servings of ready-to-drink coffee, at 27¢ per serving. The Toddy method produces 48 servings at 31¢ per serving, and the OXO model makes 24 servings at 45¢ each. It’s a few cents, but the savings grow as you use fresher, more expensive coffee over multiple batches.
The Filtron doesn’t look stylish, but it doesn’t look bad, either. It is large, standing 19 inches when set up to drip into the carafe. It stows compactly, taking up the space of a medium-size mixing bowl in a cupboard, but it doesn’t fit together as well as the OXO. You won’t have to treat the Filtron carafe as gently as the glass containers of other brewers, and the black plastic won’t discolor with long-term coffee exposure, as with other models. It is more susceptible to being knocked over because of the narrow carafe it rests on, but that’s relatively unlikely.
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.
The Toddy T2N Cold Brew System is similar to the Filtron in appearance, operation, and resulting coffee, but a little less appealing in each way. The white plastic bucket will take on coffee stains over time, and the glass carafe feels more prone to breaking. The Toddy system’s instructions are more complicated than the Filtron’s, asking for five weighted additions of water and coffee, with a five-minute wait before the final water, and then a light press with a spoon to wet the top of the floating grounds. The Toddy produces 48 ounces of concentrate, enough for 24 6-ounce cups. The coffee that it made in our tests was not bad, just not as flavorful or full-bodied as coffee from our main picks. We can sum up the comments from our panel as “nothing to write home about.”
BodyBrew’s BOD is a relatively new system. It’s designed like an asymmetrical hourglass, with one end holding the metal filter and the other a storage vessel for the concentrate. Except for a minor spill when we didn’t tighten the lid far enough, we liked the design and our testers were happy with the finished product. There just wasn’t a differentiating factor that made the BOD stand out above our picks at its higher price.
A Coffee Sock seems to offer an easy way to make iced coffee, but the cleanup is messier than you might anticipate, and the coffee in our tests was unimpressive. It averaged a 5.5 out of 10 in flavor and received the second-lowest rating for body, a mark of 4.3 out of 10. Depending on the size you buy and the container you put it in, the Coffee Sock makes a bit less than 32 or 64 ounces of concentrate, with no specified dilution. We tasted and adjusted to arrive at a ratio of 2-to-1. Tasters said its brew had “not much aroma,” and “less acid, but it suffers for it.” Having to empty the sock of grounds, and then turn it inside out and rinse off the stickiest granules, is not worth the effort with those kinds of results.
The Cold Bruer Drip Coffee Maker B1 earned a “recommended with reservations” tag from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s the most expensive system we researched (about twice the price of our picks), and it makes only 20 ounces of drinkable cold brew (not concentrate) at a time. We found it difficult to set it up to drip at the proper rate, and were annoyed that we could not estimate how long a brew would take. It might make a neat-looking gift for a coffee fanatic, but it doesn’t work as well as our picks.
The Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffee Pot uses a tall, cylindrical brew basket that we found to make more-watery cold-brew coffee. It takes more time to set up, as you pour water through packed filter baskets, and one misstep results in a mess.
Primula’s Cold Brew Glass Carafe Iced Coffee Maker is a similar setup, and we got similar results.
Like the Hario and Primula brewers, Takeya’s Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker just doesn’t make very good cold brew coffee because of its design.
Two of our taste-testers found the Broo Coffee Goods Coldbroo to make the worst-tasting coffee of the bunch, comparing the flavor with charcoal. Setting up and cleaning the Coldbroo maker was also a messy, time-consuming matter.