Stop giving coffee shops all your money this summer
Though I'm a sucker for a cold coffee in the summertime (or anytime, really), I'm sick of spending all of my money on cold brew. And that frustration is, in a nutshell, why I became obsessed with learning how to make cold brew coffee at home. What I've learned in my research is that making cold brew at home is way simpler than I thought it was. But I've also learned that there are quite a few different ways to make cold brew. The easiest is the immersion method, in which you let coffee grounds steep in cold water, as you would with tea, for about eight hours—or until you have coffee. You could use a traditional French press to make cold brew in this style, but there are also a few cold brew-specific devices available for this singular purpose.
Another way to make cold brew coffee at home is with the slow drip method. To make coffee this way, you need a special slow drip coffeemaker, which harnesses the power of gravity and slowly drips cold water through coffee grounds below.
But sometimes, you don't have time for cold brew, and just want to make iced coffee by brewing hot coffee and cooling it down. And, much to my surprise, I've discovered that there are even devices designed to do just that.
So I decided that it was time to stop giving all of my money to a coffee shop and instead figure out which of these at-home cold brew coffee making methods was the best. I tested four different coffeemakers—a standard French press, Blue Bottle Coffee's Cold Brew Bottle, DRIPO Slow Drip Cold Brew Coffee Maker, and the HyperChiller Iced Coffee Maker—and graded them based on ease of use, total brewing time, and final taste of cold brew (or, in one case, iced coffee).
Best for Beginners—Immersion Method #1: French Press
Bodum 1918-133B Caffettiera Coffee Maker, $22, amazon.com
Ease of Use: Easy right up until storage and cleanup; beware of spilling coffee grounds
Brewing Time: Eight hours, or overnight, for about three servings
Taste: Watery but totally fine, not worse than store-bought cold brew; 3 out of 5 points
If you already own a French press and know how to use it, you're well on your way to making cold brew coffee. The only difference between making regular French press coffee and cold brew coffee in a French press is that you're using cold water instead of hot—and you let the press sit for at least eight hours before deploying the plunger and pressing those grounds down. The result is a coffee that's pleasantly smooth like iced tea, though mine came out a little watery. (That's probably because I didn't use enough grounds, which is totally on me.)
There are a couple of issues with using a French press as a cold brew coffee maker, though. Sure, you can make a big batch of cold brew all at once, but you really need a second container to store it. And cleaning the grounds out of the French press is always a pain, and for that reason, it gets docked on the ease of use. So this cold brew coffee brewing method is best for beginners, who maybe want to try making cold brew but aren't yet ready to commit to a cold brew-specific device—or folks who just don't want more coffee makers in their lives.
Best Overall—Immersion Method #2: Blue Bottle Coffee Cold Brew Bottle
Blue Bottle Coffee Cold Brew Bottle, $38, bluebottlecoffee.com
Ease of Use: Super easy, from start to cleanup
Brewing Time: Eight hours, or overnight, for about four servings
Taste: Mellow, easy-to-drink coffee; 4 out of 5 points
The Blue Bottle Coffee Cold Brew Bottle is technically optimized for Blue Bottle coffee beans. However, I, the rebel that I am, used it with non-Blue Bottle beans because that's all I had on hand—and the results were still fantastic. All you need to do is put grounds in the filter, fill it up with water, and pop the whole thing in your fridge overnight. This immersion cold brew coffee maker has a filter built into the lid that easily screws in and out, so dumping the grounds at the end is super easy. And once you take out the filter with all the grounds inside, you can store the cold brew in the glass bottle. That's why this cold brew coffee maker wins for overall convenience and flavor.
Best for Flavor—Slow-Drip Method: DRIPO Slow Drip Cold Brew Coffee Maker
DRIPO Slow Drip Cold Brew Coffee Maker, $34.95, getgosh.com
Ease of Use: Straightforward from brew to cleanup, but needs new paper filter with every use
Brewing Time: Two hours, according to the instructions—but really closer to three hours—for one serving
Taste: Strong, coffee-forward flavor that's almost too bold; 3.5 out of 5 points
There are three parts to the DRIPO Slow Drip Cold Brew Coffee Maker. The water goes in the top third, which screws off the device and is easy to fill (though the hole at the bottom does drip, so be warned that you shouldn't walk a far distance between filling and re-screwing). The coffee grounds go in the middle, covered by a little paper filter to help the grounds get evenly wet. And the cold brew comes out at the bottom, after about two hours of dripping.
I will say that the cold brew made with the slow-drip definitely packed more of a punch. If anything, I could've diluted the cold brew, which also would've been a good way to get more coffee from a single brew. And that was probably my biggest complaint with this specific device. It really only brews one cup of cold brew at a time, though you might be able to get two if you dilute it. I also didn't love that you need a little paper filter for the device, especially since you need to use a new filter for each use (though the directions do say it's optional). You also need to plan at least two hours in advance each time you want a new cup of coffee, which could end poorly if you're in a rush. So though this method gets high marks on taste, the convenience is admittedly low—especially those with little-to-no patience.
Best for Science Experiments—Hot-to-Cold Method: HyperChiller Iced Coffee Maker
HyperChiller Iced Coffee Maker, $29.99, hyperchiller.com
Ease of Use: Difficult, because pouring hot liquid into a small hole has a very high burn potential and the whole freezer storage thing
Brewing Time: Two minutes, plus however long it took you to brew the hot coffee in the first place plus however long it took you to freeze the HyperChiller, for one serving
Taste: Acidic, burnt taste but drinkable; 2 out of 5 points
I know, I know. Technically, the HyperChiller Iced Coffee Maker does not make cold brew coffee. That's because the HyperChiller is a little device that takes brewed hot coffee and cools it down in about 90 seconds. You basically fill the HyperChiller with water and let it freeze so that when you pour hot liquids into the container, it cools them down.
So the cool part about the HyperChiller (pun intended) is that it works. My scalding hot coffee was cold in under two minutes, for sure. But the HyperChiller is not convenient at all. The device needs to be kept in the freezer in order to work, and it was hard to pour hot coffee into the hole at the hop without spilling it on myself. You also need to make hot coffee in the first place in order to have something to cool down, at which point, you might as well just make cold brew in a bucket. And the taste of the coffee itself was OK at best. It's great for impressing your friends, though!