Diner's Journal | Cooking Tools: The Toddy Brewing System

In my mother's refrigerator, there is a container filled to the brim with a cloudy brown liquid that looks like motor oil, or the filtered contents of a mud puddle after a rainstorm. "Iced coffee" is written on the top in permanent marker. It's acrid and disgusting.

But there is a better way to make iced coffee: cold brewing, where the coffee is steeped for around 12 hours at room temperature. The resulting coffee is mellow, smooth and exceedingly drinkable. Explosively popular in respectable coffee bars over the last few years, it requires little toil or trouble.

While cold-brew coffee can be made with household kitchen tools - mason jars are popular - for the gadget lover there is the the Toddy Brewing system. It's convenient, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive, available for $30 on Amazon. The Toddy system, invented in 1964 and used by many coffeehouses to make cold-brew coffee, is simple: A plastic jug, a glass bottle, a stopper and a reusable fabric filter that resembles a thick facial sponge.

Before brewing, you need beans. Shotzombies.com's Mike White recommends a brighter coffee because it'll stand up better to the Toddy's acid-nullifying powers. I used Intelligentsia's Finca Malacara Los Inmortales, from El Salvador, which promises a "pristine acidity."

The beans must be ground. (Don't buy pre-ground coffee; it's stale before you open the bag.) An economical option, well-loved by coffee geeks, is Hario's Skerton hand grinder, which offers adjustable grinds for a variety of brew methods. (My personal grinder, and the fanciest coffee equipment I own, is Baratza's Virtuoso.) A very coarse grind with large particles works best for Toddy brewing.

The direct end product of cold brewing is a coffee concentrate that's good for one to two weeks in the refrigerator. So, the next step is to decide how much coffee you want to make. The standard Toddy recipe calls for 16 ounces of coffee to 72 ounces of water, a ratio of 1 to 4.5, so adjust downward accordingly. The yield is approximately 48 ounces of concentrate. Toddy suggests mixing the concentrate at a ratio of one part coffee to three parts water, but the result of that formula is weak. An even mix is more realistic for all the most sensitive of coffee drinkers.

Everything leading up to brewing is the complicated part. Now, it's simple. Place the stopper and the filter, lightly dampened, in the plastic jug. Add the ground coffee. Now, the trick is to slowly pour in half of the water in a circular motion, being sure to evenly saturate all of the grounds. After five minutes, add the rest of the water.

Resist the temptation: Do ... Not ... Stir.

It's how I ruined my first batch, clogging the filter. Toddy suggests lightly tapping the top grounds with the top of a spoon, to make sure they're saturated. Walk away for 12 hours. Return, pull out the stopper, and let the coffee flow through the filter into the glass bottle. (The filter is part of the Toddy's charm versus homier cold-brew methods. Rinse and store it in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator. It's worth 10 uses.) Pour, add ice, or water.

It tastes like summer, but in a coffee cup.

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