In 2005 I experienced my first cold brew coffee. Not from a barista or coffee shop, but served from a vending machine, ice-cold, in Japan. You can get anything from a necktie to Buddhist charms from any of the over 5.5 million vending machines in the country. I sipped my Japanese cold brew as I walked through a quite suburb of Tokyo, the warm night air filled with the chirping of a million cicadas.
Cold brew has a long history in Japan and dates back to at least 1609. Over the centuries prior to Japan’s opening to global trade in the mid-19th century, the Dutch introduced the country to numerous memorable innovations (including chocolate and photography) and some less memorable ones (badminton). It’s thought that they also brought cold brew…
Why couldn’t I get cold brew like this in the U.S? And why couldn’t America have a political leader with iconic wavy hair like Koizumi?
Invited into the homes of my Japanese friends a decade ago, I was surprised by the coffee and tea brewing techniques, which seemed more refined than what was available Stateside at the time. A few times that summer I was offered a cold brew coffee to accompany an afternoon lunch and a discussion of Japanese Prime Minister of Junichirō Koizumi. Such afternoons often left me with two questions. Why couldn’t I get cold brew like this in the U.S? And why couldn’t America have a political leader with iconic wavy hair like Koizumi?
I wasn’t the only one who spotted the gap in the market. HARIO, a Japanese company well known for its high quality tea, had already made the trip to the U.S. and seen the clunky, poorly designed coffee makers on sale. Cold brew coffee was mostly unknown in the US outside the Mason jar chugging hipsters. HARIO sent a team to develop a home use modern cold coffee brewer with a stylish aesthetic.
It has been said that if Americans are impressed by size (Super Bowls and Big Macs) than Europeans are impressed by complexity (Swiss watches and continental philosophy). In Japan, the cultural emphasis is on simplicity (the Haiku). Which is not to say that the Japanese aren’t also impressed by large spectacles (think Sumo). It was Japan’s minimalistic design tradition that influenced HARIO designer Shiro Watabe to create a stylish looking, high quality cold brew coffee maker: the HARIO Mizudashi, (more formerly known as the MCPN-14R/CBR).
HARIO’s design sensibilities have not gone unnoticed – a decade later, the HARIO cold brewer is available for purchase at MoMA. It’s fitting: at one point the Ming Vase was to classical Chinese civilization what the Coke bottle is to Americans. And the HARIO looks infinitely better than the French press used to make more traditional cold brew coffee.
Leaving it to brew for 12 hours, I was pleasantly surprised and prefer it that way
Other than a plastic lid and the coffee filter, the HARIO Mizudashi is made of glass – a material the company has expertise with. Back in 1921 it was primarily a glass manufacturer, crafting high quality lab equipment. By 1949, the company was making everything from musical parts to automobile headlamp glass.
The HARIO doesn’t just look good, it works perfectly. Cold brew coffee creates a drink with roughly 65% less acidity than “regular” coffee. If you want a lighter drink, leave it overnight to brew, or for up to 24 hours for a deeper flavour. I’ve found that medium to coarse coffee grinds work best. While HARIO recommend 80 grams of coffee, I experimented with a little less than 60 grams recently. Leaving it to brew for 12 hours, I was pleasantly surprised and prefer it that way. Bay Area coffee shop Ritual Rosters suggest the opposite – 115 grams per litre. Whatever the combo, it’s always pleasing to pull a pitcher of cold brew coffee from the fridge on a hot day. C