Can You Cold-Brew Coffee With A French Press?

A French press.

A French press.

A little while back, I posted a blog and video about using the Toddy Coffee System to make iced coffee. With the Toddy System, you steep coarsely ground coffee in water for 12 hours and then drain the coffee through a very fine, fibrous filter. The result is a potent coffee concentrate that is low in acid — you dilute it with water and can drink it over ice or heated in a microwave. Either way, the system does the trick. I tend to prefer Toddy-made iced coffee to most coffee shop iced coffee, since it’s less bitter but still seems to contain full caffeine content.

I was intrigued, however, when a few readers mentioned the idea of using a French press to “cold-brew” coffee in this way. With a French press, if you’re not familiar, you put coffee grounds into a central chamber, pour in hot water, and then after a few minutes depress a plunger that pushes the grounds to the bottom, leaving you with hot coffee. Substitute hot water with cold and let the grounds sit for 12 hours instead of three minutes, and, in theory, the French press should do the same thing as the Toddy system. However, after a few weeks of French press cold-brewed coffee, I’ve concluded that the Toddy system is better for cold-brewing coffee in two important ways:

1) It’s sedimentary, dear Watson - The round, tightly knit woven filters used in the Toddy system catch nearly every particle of sediment from the coffee grounds. The metal mesh filter of the French press, with its larger openings and imperfect seal with the sides of the container, allowed fine particulates to enter the final product, even with coarsely ground coffee. Not the end or the world, but if you’ve ever swilled a silty final draught of coffee from the bottom of a cup, you know how it can set your teeth on edge.

2) If a little iced coffee is good, more is better - I’m not one to go with quantity when quality is on the line, but in this case, the capacious brewing container of the Toddy system allows me to cold-brew a large amount of high-quality concentrate at once, meaning my supply lasts one to two weeks, depending on how frequently I need a coffee fix. My French press made less than half the concentrate of the Toddy, so I was making batches more frequently. If you have a massive French press (which you probably don’t), then I guess this isn’t a problem for you, and you have only a little sediment to worry about.

The Toddy System

The Toddy System

The verdict: If you’re an iced coffee lover and you plan to drink the stuff daily  (or if you have an issue with acid, which, according to Toddy, a lot of people do), then you should just bite the bullet and get the Toddy system, even though it costs $40. The high volume and low sediment make it superior to a French press for the purpose of cold-brewing coffee. Plus it comes with a nice, lidded glass carafe.

Important note: I don’t work for Toddy and I bought their product with my own money and of my own accord. I did, however, shatter the glass carafe and ruin a brewing container by trying to push the filter out with a butter knife, thereby nicking the drainage hole, which in turn ruined the seal with the rubber stopper. Replacing these items doubled the cost of the Toddy system. Still, I would recommend it, with the caveat that it’s kinda breaky…

Your comments go here

  1. Funny I have been talking about your Toddy post a lot recently with some others. I asked the people at Caribou how they make their iced coffee and was told the following…
    -Add 1/2 pound of coffee (ground to French Press consistency) to room temp filtered water in a gallon container. Let sit overnight, filter and serve. Basically the same as the Toddy system, only you have to provide the container (milk jug?) and filter (paper cone or fine sieve).