How to Make Kyoto-Style Cold Drip (or Slow Drip) Coffee
Japan has a unique way of doing just about everything, and coffee is no exception. Not only does Kyoto-Style Slow Drip coffee come out complex, aromatic, and nuanced, but it also looks the coolest.
Don’t be put off by the complex visage of the Kyoto-style dripper. Tall, curvy, and ultra stylish, this unique brew method is nothing like anything you’ve seen before. It’s cold brew taken up ten whole notches and’ll make you look fancier than you’ve ever been before.
There’s a chain of command for coffee, right? Lowest on the totem pole is the cringe-worthy instant variety, which no, I will never stop harping on as Satan’s gargling water, after which comes a standard percolator, up to fancy varieties that can make espresso. Above those, we have the AeroPress and Moka pot, then even further up are pour-over methods, like the Chemex, and French Press.
Cold brew is pretty high up on the fancy brew methods list, which you can easily tell by the length of time it takes to brew. Cold brew also tends to bring out the more complex flavors of a bean, making it great for those coming from a unique origin.
The standard cold brew method is pretty no-nonsense, though, which is one of it’s highly attractive qualities. The coffee beans and water go into the same container, bada-bing-bada-boom, you’re solid for 12 hours.
While the principle for the Kyoto-style drip is similar, there are just a few extra bells, whistles, and stipulations— like how the goal is to have water pass through your coffee grounds at no more than 1 drop per second a half. (Yes, you read that right!)
It’s a sadly short backstory, in my humble opinion. For such an interesting contraption, the Japanese really refined it without much fuss. It goes that the Dutch brought over the idea of cold brewed coffee since it was easier to transport that way.
The Japanese said, “Yeah! Smart! Now let’s slow the whole thing down and really absorb the complexity of the beans by only allowing one drop through per second to mimic the quality of a finely distilled alcohol!”
I mean, obviously I wasn’t specifically there, but I’m pretty sure that’s how the conversation went.
Here’s a quick video that gives you a decent overview if you’ve never seen this method in action before.
Is it the simplest way to make cold brew coffee? No! Heck no! I never said that. It’s the coolest. Could you just dump a bunch of grounds in a container and leave it for 12 hours? Sure. Is it visually stimulating or will it get your creative juices pumping? Also no.
Here’s what you’re going to need:
There are a number of options on the market that are well-rated, including this one, this one, and this one. All three look markedly different, the Yama version being the fanciest looking and costliest, but the basic science remains intact.
We’re going to break this gadget down into three sections: the ice/water section (reservoir), the coffee grinds section, and the carafe (where the coffee winds up!).
Whole Bean Coffee and a Conical Burr Grinder
If you’re going to be waiting anywhere between 5 to 12 hours for your brew to drip, drop by little drop, you damn-well better get a fresh bag of whole bean coffee. Coffee starts getting stale the moment it’s ground. Freshness is required if you want a delightful brew.
The best way to grind it up right is with a conical burr grinder. Blade grinders pre-cook your beans, which can lead to a burnt taste. Additionally, blade grinder 'chop' your beans, which creates an uneven particle distribution. You want your beans to be ground, not chopped. Make sure to use a coffee grinder with either ceramic or steel burrs for a superior grind.
If you’re asking what brand or type you should use, I’d say that’s a fair question, but you should likely go with a brand and roast that you’re already fond of. Keep in mind that cold brew coffee is a great way to highlight origin flavors—tones and notes that are much more prominent in light roast coffees.
You can read about the different roasting scales here. You can also check out some of our favorite suggestions regarding light roasts in particular, organic options, and even some low-acid beans. We love our beans here at Coffee or Bust!
Measuring Glass and Kitchen Scale
This isn’t the kind of method that you make one cup and enjoy. It’s like a Costco and Sam’s Club run. You buy enough goldfish to feed a small army (or your three kids and partner/man-child) for two weeks. Or one. You never know.
What I’m saying is this: you need a lot of coffee. In this scenario, we’re going to make 500 ml of coffee and, to do that, we need 50 grams of coffee grounds. You’ll need to carefully measure both of these amounts, just like you would for any other higher-end coffee-making method.
The only downside is that you definitely do need a paper filter. I have yet to find a mesh version or way to not use paper products, unfortunately, but this seems worth it. You can either buy small, pre-made ones or you can cut up some old bigger filters to fit the cold-dripper. We’ll talk a bit more about the filter debacle later.
Ice (and Water)
You need… ice and water. Mostly ice, but a few ounces of water.
One Step, Two Step…
Is your contraption out of the box and on the counter? Do you have everything? Then let’s begin the science project!
Step #1: Grind the coffee. You’ll want it coarsely ground, in traditional cold brew fashion. Measure it using the kitchen scale to ensure that you’re working with the correct amount—this is a crucial element in setting you up for success.
Step #2: I’m sorry to make you make a decision without knowing, but there are two methods for this next part and I’ve found a pretty clear divide. It has to do with the filter. Some people put it at the bottom of the grind container, as you would typically assume. Dampen the circular paper to remove any paper-flavor-contamination and settle it in.
On the flipside, which you may have noticed in the video, some people put the grinds in first and then top them with the filter.
Why? I have literally no idea. It really doesn’t make sense to me. The filter is supposed to keep the grinds from getting into the carafe, right? Right! I vote the filter goes before the grounds. It’s what I do. I’ve spoken.
Step #3: Now, dump in the 50 grams of coffee grounds. To get the process started and ensure that the water mingles with the beans long enough, you can add a bit of water and use a chopstick or kabob to mix it all around. Don’t use too much, just enough to dampen the grounds.
Step #4: There’s a split in the water community when it comes to filtering. Many people say that they can’t tell the difference between filtered and non—I can tell the difference in a plain glass of water if I care to pay attention, but I’ve never noticed anything in my coffee.
This is totally your call, is what I’m saying. Fill the reservoir with some kind of ice cubes. Once you’ve done that, add a few ounces of water. This is another way to get the drip process started and steady. This’ll become more crucial in a moment.
Step #5: The key aspect to making a perfect batch of Kyoto-style cold-drip coffee is the drip rate, which is literally the whole thing. There’s a little nozzle under the reservoir that’s filled with ice. Slowly open it. You’ll definitely want to take a few minutes to monitor this in action because this is truly a steady-as-she-goes thing.
Ideally, you’ll want about 1 drip per 1 second. Some cold brewers extend this to 1 drip per second and a half—that will ultimately come down to your preference.
Step #6: You’re looking at about an 5 to 12 hour wait time, depending on the temperature of your house and size of the reservoir. Once all of the ice has melted and your delicious brew is all in the carafe, you’re all set to enjoy a cuppa joe! Serve with ice or dilute with hot water. It’s nicely concentrated, so there’s no wrong way to enjoy this caffeine.
Before we end this step-by-step, I’d recommend that, the first time you use the Kyoto-style cold dripper, you opt to start it on a Saturday morning. Overall, I’m a fan of letting it go overnight, but stoppage can happen.
Start it Saturday morning and check on it a few times throughout the day to make sure that the drip rate is consistent. After the first batch goes without a hitch, start that baby up right before you hit the hay.
You: It doesn’t taste super… strong. It’s supposed to right? That’s the point, right?
Me: Yeah. It is. Okay. So, there are a few options. It’s likely that the water dripping down isn’t mingling with the grounds enough. Did you dump enough water into the grounds and stir ‘em up real good? If the water is passing through too quickly, it won’t have enough time to absorb the good stuff.
Me: Don’t exhale breath loudly at me. This isn’t a five minute brew, okay? You’ll just have to go for it again.
You: Are there other reasons it might not be strong?
Me: If your water-to-grounds proportions are correct, then not likely. If you’re letting too much water drip through the grounds, it could be diluting it.
You: Well, how do I accurately measure ice?
Me: You’re just supposed to fill the reservoir. Take out a few cubes if you’re worried, but if you’re making the recommended amount by the device you’ve chosen, you should be just fine.
You: So, what about the filter?
Me: What about it? Did you have grinds in your coffee?
You: No. But are you sure it shouldn’t be on top?
Me: … I don’t…. I don’t know. I mean, you can give it a shot if you want? Supposedly you don’t need to dampen the grounds when you put the wet filter on top, so keep that in mind.
Me: You’re the neediest scenario I’ve ever spun up.
You: Why, thank you.
Me: You’re very welcome.
Kyoto-style cold-drip coffee is worth it for the entirety of the process. The elegant statement it makes on the counter coupled with the quality, caffeinated product it produces makes every waited moment worth its while.
It’s low acid, complex-in-flavor profile will help usher in summer with the perfect drink to clink on your back porch. Fingers crossed for no more snow so we can drink our iced brews in peace!