Zen and the art of cold brew coffee: Review of the Hario Cold Water Dripper
Posted on August 2, 2012 by Brandon
I’ve been fascinated with cold brew coffee since I read about it a couple years ago. Being a caffeinehead in Singapore means drinking a ton of iced coffees – the weather is often too hot for regular coffees or espressos, even in the air-conditioned comfort of my office – and I’d always felt that the conventional method of simply pouring steaming hot coffee over ice compromised the flavour profile of the beans somewhat. The cold brew method, which favours a slow steeping process over the shock therapy of adding boiling water, seemed a lot more elegant; but I’d never been able to find a product that satisfied both my vain predilections and my cold caffeine curiosity. That is, until I discovered the Hario Cold Water Dripper.
The Hario Cold Water Dripper is the anti espresso-machine, a triptych of glassware and stainless steel. Comprising a large container for water, a beaker with a hollowed out base for ground coffee, and a pot for collecting the coffee – all housed in a transparent acrylic stand – it wouldn’t look out of place in a laboratory. It’s beautifully quirky, and exudes a playfulness that I don’t get from most other cold brew coffee makers. I’ve had to explain to everyone who walked by my desk that my new toy wasn’t a science experiment.
Two simple forces, gravity and diffusion, lie at the heart of Hario’s particular cold brew process. Regulated by a brass faucet, water drips down at a constant rate from the container into the ground coffee in the beaker, which then falls, drop by chocolate-brown drop, through a filter at the bottom into the distinctively shaped pot. The entire process takes about three to five hours, during which each drop absorbs the flavor and aroma of the ground coffee, resulting in a decadent concoction that retains the character of your beans without any of the trauma associated with high-temperature brewing. Long story short, you get a coffee that’s a lot less acidic and acerbic, perfect for drinking on the rocks or as a mixer for other coffee based beverages.
For my first batches of cold brew, I used the Organic Fair Trade blend, which has a sweet, cherry-chocolate flavour with a smooth finish, from the Graffeo Coffee Roasting Company. I drank the coffee unsweetened and on the rocks – and it was intensely addictive. Without the harsh bite of regular brewed coffee, a subtle honey-like tone, which I missed when I didn’t use the cold drip method, came to the fore, adding a whole new dimension to my drink. I don’t usually add sugar to my coffee, but the flavors of the cold brew were so harmonious, so perfect, that embellishing it with any kind of sweetener would have been downright criminal.
My colleagues, who probably would have murdered me in cold blood if I hadn’t offered them any of my cold brew, agreed, saying that they found the Hario coffee much more drinkable than their usual iced coffees. One even commented that he was getting a complexity and taste profile more akin to whiskey than coffee. I may have used the term “caffeine punch in a velvet glove” at some point.
Of course, I didn’t just take my own word for it. Inspired by the aesthetics of the Hario, I decided to conduct a little experiment of my own. One afternoon, I brought a pot of freshly brewed, cold drip Graffeo Organic Fair Trade coffee to my favorite café in town, which uses the same blend in their drinks. (I must’ve looked slightly insane during the five-minute walk to the place, crossing busy roads and cutting across shopping malls with a glass jug of brown liquid cradled in my arms.) With the help of the (very accommodating) café owners, I prepared two glasses of iced coffee, one made with conventionally brewed coffee from the café’s coffee machine, and one made with my Hario brew.
The three of us agreed that the Hario iced coffee was softer and more palatable than the regular iced coffee; however, my two caffeine compatriots didn’t seem completely sold on the gentler taste of the cold brew coffee. There are times, perhaps, when one could use a bitter bite in one’s coffee.
But the Hario isn’t just about the coffee. It’s also about the brewing experience, which is both primitive and peaceful. By actually scooping out my own coffee, moistening it to ensure proper permeation of water, and then waiting for hours on end before I could have a taste, I started to feel ridiculously rustic, even atavistic.
And then there was the dripping. Observing the slow pitter-patter of water, which Hario recommends calibrating to one drop a second for optimal flavor, onto the coffee, is strangely therapeutic. It was like having the coffee machine-equivalent of a Zen garden on my desk. Since bringing the device to the office, I’ve found myself gazing at the machinations of the small faucet, asking profound questions in my head as I pondered the mysteries of life. That is, until I drank the coffee and turned into a hyperactive monster.
The Hario Cold Water Dripper isn’t for everyone. If you like your coffee steaming hot; if you’d rather not have to start brewing at 10am for an after-lunch drink; or if you just don’t like the taste of cold drip coffee, you may have to stick to the many, more conventional machines on the market. For me, though, the Hario is a refreshing, low-tech change from the oodles of coffee-capsule espresso machines that are all the rage today. It’s a shimmering oasis that rewards patience with a pot of delicately brewed serenity.
Many thanks to Lauren and Bei Jia of Kooka Café on Purvis Street for putting up with my weird experiments and caffeine-induced ramblings!