Let’s be honest, iced coffee is usually disappointing. Sure, enough cream and sugar makes anything tolerable, but iced coffee often lacks the sweetness and complexity we expect from a really great coffee. The disappointment transcends categories.
Iced coffee typically falls into one of three camps: cold brew, iced Americano, and Japanese iced coffee. For the purpose of home brewing, we can rule out iced Americanos. There are some solid consumer espresso machines on the market, but for most coffee nerds home espresso remains a dream. (And to be perfectly honest, even the best iced Americanos we’ve tasted have a certain aftertaste we just can’t shake.) Cold brew, perhaps the most divisive beverage in specialty coffee, is easy to make, but lacks the refreshing acidity most specialty coffee consumers crave. Japanese iced coffee, made by brewing double strength hot coffee over ice, is high in acidity, but the lower extraction lacks the complex sweetness of the best cups of coffee.
Is it even possible to enjoy an iced coffee that has the same complexity as the best cups of hot coffee? Until recently, many coffee professionals would have said no. Aside from a few mostly unsuccessful attempts at appropriating wort chillers to make iced coffee, most iced coffee makers simply embraced one of the short comings above.
Riding the Coldwave
That was, until the Coldwave Coffee Chiller came out this summer. While technically not a coffee maker, the Coldwave makes hot coffee cold without diluting your brew. It preserves the complexity of hot coffee while providing the refreshing coolness of iced. Perhaps most ingeniously, it works with any type of filter coffee, be it pour-over, Aeropress, or autodrip.
We were provided with a Coldwave by the manufacturers, which serendipitously coincided with a family beach vacation. After putting it to the test repeatedly for the last week, we’re going to make a strong statement: the Coldwave is the only iced coffee maker you’ll ever need.
Why it works
The challenges to making tasty iced coffee with hot coffee are manifold. For one, as anyone whose ever gotten the last cup out of an old airpot knows, hot coffee has a relatively short window to best be consumed. Even though double-walled carafes can keep liquid hot for days, most quality-focused cafés will only keep a pot an hour. Some researchers have found an increase in bitter quinic acid as the coffee sits. All we know is that coffee brewed hot and put in the fridge to slowly cool down tastes like sadness and abandoned dreams.
The Coldwave uses 90 frozen cylinders to quickly cool even boiling hot liquid. The rapid energy transfer preserves the coffee’s acidity, without diluting the brew like in Japanese iced coffee. Initially, the Coldwave needs to placed in the freezer overnight, but the recovery time on subsequent uses is faster.
Although the Coldwave is advertised to work with up to 16 oz. of coffee, we got the best results with 12 oz or less. Of course, most users will likely want to add additional ice after chilling, which is less problematic once the beverage is already cold.
We used the Coldwave with a variety of different coffee origins roasted by reputable companies. Each time we were surprised by the sweetness, lively acidity, and quaffable qualities. East African coffees tasted fruity and bright, South American coffees tasted balanced and sweet. In short, it preserved the cup characteristics we would expect with a high quality specialty coffee. For recipes, we would recommend using the exact same ratio and brew time you most enjoy for hot coffee (for us that’s 1:16 coffee to water, medium grind, and a four minute brew time.)
Perhaps the only short coming of the Coldwave is the aesthetic. We have to admit, the square plastic pitcher looks like something that came from the bargain bin at Wal-Mart. But a wise coffee consumer won’t judge this book by its cover. Aesthetics aside, the ColdWave is a very thoughtfully designed device, made for rapid and efficient energy transfer. While image-conscious cafés might be reluctant to have a Coldwave on their counter, lovers of fully-extracted iced coffee would be remiss to go without one.