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There’s nothing better than a sip of cold coffee on a hot, humid day. Even with fall approaching, iced coffee will never fail to hit the spot, so why not make it at home with an iced coffee maker? If you’re looking to save money by getting your iced coffee fix at home, this guide is a great place to begin.
We’ve sorted through the products out there, and we hope that these reviews will help to make your decision easier.
But What About Cold Brew?
In this guide, we’re specifically focusing on iced coffee, as opposed to cold brew. This might be surprising and confusing to hear, because many coffee drinkers tend to think of these two drinks interchangeably. We’ve all walked into a café and ordered “an iced coffee, please” just to be told, “Oh, actually we do cold brew.” In moments like that, this distinction may seem a bit pedantic – but there actually is an important difference between these two options.
As the name might suggest, cold brew is a preparation of coffee in which no heat is involved at all. To create cold brew, coarse grounds are left in water for a long time – at least 24 hours, but often for up to a week. The result is a highly concentrated concoction with flavors that have been slowly extracted from the bean.
Because this process is so slow, certain notes are able to be extracted which may otherwise linger in the grounds or be drowned out by sharper, more astringent notes. This is why cold brew is recognized as having a smoother and more chocolate-like taste.
Traditional iced coffee is simply hot coffee which has been cooled. This is a more traditional method of creating a summertime drink, and the result is often a brighter and more lively taste.
We want to focus first on the best ways to make this traditional preparation, but we do also look at two options for brewing straight cold brew.
|Cuisinart DCC-3200 14-Cup Coffeemaker|
|Cuisinart SS-10 Single-Serve Coffeemaker||3 years||4.55/5|
|Bodum Chambord French Press Coffee Maker|
(Best for the Money)
|OXO ‘Good Grips’ Cold-Brew Coffee Maker|
(For Cold Brew)
|Ovalware 1.0 Liter RJ3 Airtight||1 year||4.20/5|
Our top pick is the no-nonsense DCC-3200 coffeemaker from Cuisinart. We love this because it just works really well – and because it can easily create great hot coffee as well as iced coffee. It has most of the features you would expect: a large carafe, a hotplate, a gold-tone filter basket, strength options, and the ability to be programmed.
We recommend experimenting a bit with different amounts of grounds and different strength settings. Once you’ve discovered what suits you, make sure to take advantage of the programming. It’s easy to fill the reservoir and get your grounds all set in the evening, and wake up to freshly brewed coffee in the morning.
This machine provides you with the ability to toggle the hotplate on or off. This means you can set it to brew coffee hours before you’ll wake up, and then let the coffee cool so that it’s ready to be iced when you want to drink it.
A great way to speed things up is to remove the carafe and place it on a metal trivet or cooling rack. This will allow heat to disperse from all sides of the hot coffee, and this will help to preserve a smoother and more natural flavor.
We think this is a great choice, especially for a family or office, which may go through multiple pots of iced coffee per day.
As opposed to the previous Cuisinart model, which we think is a good choice for a family, the SS-10 is best suited for just an individual. However, thanks to its single-serving nature, what you’ll miss out on in terms of volume, you’ll more than make up for in customizability. With a handful of different brew settings, you’ll be able to tinker around and brew each cup precisely the way you like.
It stands out from our first option in that it’s designed to be used with K-cups. This makes it a great option for anyone who is loyal to the convenience of K-cups – but don’t worry, you can still use this machine with the coffee you have on hand.
In addition to its K-cup compatibility, this machine also comes equipped with a reusable filter cup. This allows you to pack your own grounds in for a single-serving brew.
We like this model mostly because it’s quick, easy, and works really well. But we also love that it is able to modulate the brew temperature. This means you can experiment with brewing at a lower temperature. If you like what you taste, that’s great – you’re one step closer to a cup of deliciously chilled iced coffee.
Next up is the Chambord French Press, made by Bodum. We love the simplicity of this option and we think it’s worth throwing into our guide, especially because this is such a good pick for the money.
As opposed to traditional drip coffee, French press brewing allows grounds and water to sit for a prolonged amount of time. This is, in some ways, similar to the process of brewing cold brew – but you’ll still be able to brew hot coffee in this French press and then chill it to create a proper iced coffee.
It comes in a handful of different sizes, ranging from 12 ounces up to 51 ounces. This makes it a good option for anyone looking to entertain a handful of guests. It’s easy to clean, and that may make it a good choice for anyone who wants to just keep moving in the morning.
Brew your coffee, following your preferred French press procedure, and then either pour it into a pitcher to cool, or simply let it cool in the press. The second option allows some extra extraction, and this will add some more chocolate notes to your coffee.
For those of you who want to make real cold brew, we took a look at the Good Grips from OXO. With its simple design, this machine does a great job of producing strong and chocolatey concentrate.
We love the look. There’s something a little science-fiction-like about this machine, and that is all the more accentuated because it brews directly into a carafe that’s stylized to mimic a lab beaker.
The OXO has an upper chamber which can be filled with grounds, ready to be steeped. It includes a “rainmaker” on top. This ensures that water is dispersed evenly over the grounds, and that extraction happens evenly.
Of course, like any cold brew process, the crucial element is time. We recommend letting the OXO steep for at least 12 hours, but even longer would be better. When you’re ready to release your concentrate, just flick the switch and let your finished product run into the carafe.
The RJ3 Airtight model from Ovalware is another great option for anyone who’s looking to brew bona-fide cold brew. As a bonus, it also doubles as a tea infuser.
Rather than letting the finished concentrate run out of the grind, this model actually lets you pick the grounds up and leaves behind a carafe of ready-to-go concentrate. This is a very elegant-looking system, and many users love how simple the process is. However, we’re not ranking this higher because of some potential issues with the brewing process.
The RJ3 doesn’t actually allow the grounds to circulate evenly through the water. They’re kept within the cylindrical filtering device, and this means some extraction is missed. At worst, this can lead to an uneven taste, with rich notes from the fully extracted grounds on the outer edge of the filter, and then sharp and under-extracted flavors from the grounds trapped on the inside of the cylinder.
Some users report frustration in removing the grounds. When you lift the filter, you’ll need to move carefully and quickly so you don’t drip cold brew over your kitchen floor on the way to the sink.
We do appreciate that the RJ3 is able to complete the entire brewing process in an airtight environment. This helps ensure that minimal oxidation occurs.
When deciding how best to get your iced coffee/cold brew fix, it’s worth thinking carefully about the differences between these two methods of preparation. Maybe you know that you’re just looking for a quick way to brew coffee to chill, but if you’re on the fence, here are some important factors to consider.
This is one of the most obvious differences between cold brew and iced coffee. Of course, it should be readily apparent when you sip a cup of either. In general, cold brew is richer and has more of a chocolate taste. Iced coffee can taste a bit sharper and often retains fruitiness.
This is because the cold brew process relies on long slow extraction. The result is that cold brew is able to harness the flavor compounds nestled deepest in coffee grounds: the darker, more bitter notes. Many coffee drinkers love this, but the downside is that the cold brew method can push away the more delicate flavor notes: the brightness, and the fruitiness.
If you’re looking to preserve these more delicate notes, iced coffee is the way to go. In fact, the more rapidly you can cool your coffee, the more lightness will be preserved.
While many of us may wax and wane endlessly about the unique flavors of coffee, there’s one fact that unites all coffee drinkers: we love our caffeine. If you’re constantly aware of your caffeine intake, you should know about the differences between cold brew and iced coffee when it comes to this factor.
Cold brew generally has much more caffeine than drip coffee. If you’re looking for an especially big pick-me-up in the morning, it may be a good idea to stick with the cold brew method. If you’d rather avoid the caffeine shakes, stick with traditional iced coffee.
We hope this guide has helped clarify some of the options surrounding iced coffee. No matter which product you go with, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a nice cold drink in the comfort of your own home.
To reiterate, our top pick is the DCC-3200 from Cuisinart. Following that, our runner-up is the SS-10, also from Cuisinart. And if you’re looking for a true cold brew solution, we recommend the OXO Good Grips.
Featured image credit: Mark Pazolli, Flickr
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