Kitchn Love Letters

This $76 Japanese Glass Coffee Tower Makes the Best Cold Brew

published May 7, 2021
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Iced Coffee Pour
Credit: Stocksy | Emily Triggs

I suspect that anyone who owns and actively uses multiple pieces of coffee brewing equipment has a proclivity for tinkering. Pour over funnels, French presses, Chemexes, cold brew pitchers — they’re fun to play with, and the end result is (almost always) good coffee.

Perhaps the king of coffee tinkering contraptions is the Kyoto cold brew tower. With its vertical assembly of glassware, it looks more like a science experiment than a home cold brew station, but it’s become one of my favorite pieces of equipment for making strong, smooth coffee. I’d say it’s perfect for summer, but, let’s be honest: I use it year-round.

Credit: Nicholas Dekker

First, a quick primer: Kyoto-style cold brew has Dutch origins, but was perfected in Japan. It’s time-intensive, producing a slow drip coffee concentrate. The resulting strong, clean-tasting coffee is typically served in smaller amounts over ice, almost like a breakfast lowball.

Kyoto cold brew towers come in a variety of sizes, and at some coffee shops you may see ones measuring three to four feet tall. And while the process and the equipment sounds complicated, it’s really quite easy to do at home; we’ve enjoyed years of caffeinated fun using this simple $76 NISPIRA Kyoto cold brew coffee tower.

It’s pretty straightforward: The upper chamber gets filled with ice water, which slowly drips through ground coffee in the small central chamber over the course of eight to 12 hours, eventually filtering through to the bottom carafe. Like a standard immersion cold brew process, you’re giving the coffee time to dissolve slowly in cold water, avoiding the bitterness that results from heating and then cooling coffee. It takes longer, but it’s more rewarding and, yes, more appealing to the tinkerers.

Credit: Nicholas Dekker

The real nuance comes through the types of beans you choose and the grind. I prefer a local light or medium roast — especially a fruity Ethiopian bean (I find that darker coffees impart too much bitterness). As for the grind, I aim for a medium-coarse grind, like breadcrumbs; too coarse and you won’t dissolve enough of those delicious oils, and too fine and it will clog up the contraption. But overall your main point of control is the valve at the bottom of the ice chamber. It takes a little tweaking to find the right drip and I usually try for one drip per second. Any slower and the coffee takes forever to steep, but if it’s too quick it could flood the beans and then overflow.

The NISPIRA is easy to clean, and comes with a packet of circular filters (you can also cut out your own from regular filters). The only downside is its thin glass, which can break if handled too roughly. But its lower price tag makes it an easy buy (other coffee towers go for hundreds and hundreds of dollars). And the great coffee makes it more than worth it.

Do you have a favorite cold brew gadget? Let us know in the comments!