Now Steeping: The Softbrew Coffee Brewer


[Photo: Liz Clayton]

What a fine mesh you've gotten us into! After a slow buildup of intrigue on these shores, we at last got a hold of the high-design Sowden Softbrew ($50 and up at various retailers). It's an intriguing infuser that looks more like a tea-steeping pot than the coffeemaking carafe it is. But we like surprises, and this full immersion strainer-basket brewer has potential.

Like an infuser teapot, the Softbrew (what about this is soft? It's porcelain!) gets the job done using a strainer insert fitted into the pot (available in 4-cup, 8-cup and 12-cup sizes), which is then filled with hot water and allowed to steep to preferred brew strength. We were most curious about the mesh filter itself: the superfine perforated stainless steel is finer than Sowden's Scandinavian cousin, the Cafe Solo, and much much finer than the American-built KONE filter insert.

Like a French press, or any metal-mesh filtration method, this type of screen will always let in a slight amount of silt and sediment as fine particles escape through into your coffee. (Permanent metal screens may never have the clean-cup power of a paper filter, but you'll never run out of what you need to make coffee first thing in the morning, either.) You'll want to play with grind here, steering away from the French press-ingrained ideas that bigger (coarser) is better, and attenuating to the fineness that's right for you. (The manufacturer's instructions offer an experimental, lenient range of ideas on how much coffee or at what grind you might like—and a steeping time of "a few minutes"—but you can find a number of recipes and suggestions on the web.)

What the Softbrew offers in terms of the benefits of full immersion brewing—the believed added sweetness and better aromas of the brewing process—it adds to by improving upon the French Press. Besides being arguably more handsome and easy to clean, the Softbrew can act as a true serving carafe at tableside: rather than allowing your grounds to continue extracting within the vessel, the filter chamber is fully removable, leaving only the coffee and a lovely white pitcher for you to bring to the table with your friends.

You're also encouraged to make cold brew coffee overnight in the Softbrew, though as with most cold brew recipes you might best enjoy a second pass through another filter or fine cloth. But until summer's in full swing, we're going to spend time perfecting our hot-brew method of full-flavored coffee through this charming little white pot.