• Sowden’s press pot without press

    by  • June 11, 2011 • Coffee makers, Infusion coffee maker • 8 Comments

    Mr. George Sowden is an industrious man with a few hundred designs in his name. Now he has turned his attention to oldskool coffee makers, the result of which is the SoftBrew coffee maker.

    Sowden SoftBrew

    The first thing that struck me about the Sowden SoftBrew is its style. It does have a certain understated elegance. But there’s more to it than just appearances.
    The SoftBrew consists of a porcelain coffee pot, called the “Oskar”, with a large stainless steel filter, the “SoftBrew” part. The combination is similar to an old “sock pot” or biggin. These were early type infusion coffee maker, in which the grounds were put in a cotton sock, and submersed in the water to separate the two. The Sowden SoftBrew is different in that it uses a large stainless steel “sock”.

    Sowden - drawing

    The choice of materials has some pros. The porcelain not only looks good, it is also neutral, easy to clean, and helps keep the coffee fairly warm.
    The patented filter is made of fairly thin stainless steel that flexes a little under pressure. The holes are not punched, but presumably laser etched. Although the holes seem minute (the patent mentions an “ideal diameter of 0.15 mm”), the filter lets more sediment pass than the Coava Kone filter. I would rate the SoftBrew’s filter on par with a Swissgold filter.

    SoftBrew filter - Closeup

    The SoftBrew is basically a simple infusion brewer, much like a press pot, but without the “press”. All you have to do to make a good cup of coffee, is: 1. preheat the pot, 2. put ground coffee in the filter, 3. add water of the right temperature, 4. stir well, 5. let the grounds steep for ca. 3 to 4 minutes, and you’re ready to pour the coffee.

    Kevin Sinnott’s review includes some useful tips for getting the best out of the SoftBrew. He recommends using a fairly fine grind, what he calls a filter grind. Looking at my own experiments, I think that would be about right. Kevin prefers the Sowden SoftBrew for dark roasted coffees, whereas I like it best for light roasted, fairly bright coffees – probably a matter of taste. I’ve not tried his suggestion to heat the brew water by microwaving it in the SoftBrew’s coffee pot. It could give better results. Needless to say, you should remove the stainless steel filter, before putting the coffee pot in the microwave.

    In a side by side test, using the same coffee, equal grind and steep time, the Sowden SoftBrew and a press pot gave similar results. The amount of sediment in the cup was the same, and the flavour of the brew was almost identical. I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish between the two in a blind cupping. In coffee quality the Sowden is as good as a press pot.

    Sowden after brewing

    The Sowden pot does have a few benefits though. In a press pot, you need to separate the grounds from the brewed coffee by pressing down a filter. In the Sowden SoftBrew, the grounds are already separated from the start, and contained in the stainless steel “sock” filter.
    That makes the SoftBrew easier to use, because you don’t have to scoop off the floating grounds, and you don’t have to press down a filter. It also makes the Sowden easier to clean. Take the filter from the coffee pot, turn it upside down in the sink, give it a few taps and most of the grounds will come out. A little rinsing will do the rest.
    Lastly, it keeps the coffee warm for a while. Even after fifteen minutes the coffee was still at drinking temperature. I tried the coffee, and although I had expected a terribly astringent, overextracted cup, it actually still was quite tasty.

    Still, the SoftBrew does have some downsides. One issue is the lid, which is made of the same thin porcelain as the rest of the Oskar coffee pot. In addition, the lid sits rather loose on the pot. Unlike most teapots, there are no lips to lock it. On top of that, the porcelain lid does get pretty hot after a few minutes. That means that carelessly pouring the coffee might result in a broken lid. Many modern Japanese teapots, such as made by Zero Japan, use hinged stainless steel lids for this reason. I would have preferred one on the Sowden pot. Ideally, the lid would be insulated stainless steel, and easy to attach to, and remove from the filter.

    The thin porcelain makes the coffee pot fairly fragile, and doesn’t keep the temperature very stable. In a controlled experiment, a preheated pot filled with 500ml of water drops from 94°C to about 79 °C during 4 minutes of brewing. After 10 minutes, the temperature has fallen to 68°C, and after 20 minutes it is below 60°C. Extraction obviously does continue, but is significantly reduced when temperature gets below 85°C. That is partly why after fifteen minutes the coffee still isn’t horribly overextracted.
    Thicker porcelain would make the SoftBrew sturdier, and would also improve heat retention. Another option, one that I would like, is an insulated collar similar to the one on the Eva Solo coffee brewer.

    Sowden SoftBrew - parts

    The question then is, how do the pros and cons add up?

    One way to look at it, is to see the Sowden SoftBrew as a press pot for lazy days. It makes the same quality coffee, but it’s easier to use, and easier to clean. In that view, it certainly gets a thumbs up.
    If you prefer a more clearly defined, crisp cup, look at insulated brewers such as the Espro press, Bodum Columbia, or the Eva Solo coffee brewer. Or better still, try a siphon brewer.

    The bottomline, as a basic infusion brewer, the Sowden SoftBrew does a good job, and it’s very stylish to boot.

    Apart from home use, I can certainly recommend the Sowden SoftBrew as a coffee maker for use in more high-end restaurants. For customers, the stylish presentation and the quality of the brew are commensurate with the quality of the food – depending on the choice of coffee, of course…
    On the other hand, the SoftBrew is light on staff involvement. Setup and cleaning are easier than conventional press pots.
    The only possible downside, as far as I can see, is the issue of the lid.

    8 Responses to Sowden’s press pot without press

    1. Kathleen Maurer
      July 13, 2011 at 13:44

      You’ve taught me that a slightly finer grind works well in the Sowden Oskar. What you neglected to inform me of is: how many ounces in a cup for this method of brewing? How much coffee per cup did you use?
      Thank you.

      • Robert-Jeroen
        July 13, 2011 at 14:28

        Hi Kathleen, thanks for your comment. You’re right about the hiatus, sorry. In addition, the spoon that comes with the Sowden pot is a bit small, and the advice in the brochure is not quite right.
        Anyway, for other basic methods, including press pot and filter drip, you would use basically the same measure. The Sowden pot is no different. I’m using ca. 60g coffee per 1000ml water, or 15g per 250ml cup. That translates to just over 0.5oz coffee per 8.5 fl oz water. HTH!

    2. August 31, 2011 at 08:38

      The design reminds me a bit of the stainless steel iced water jugs used by catering services. Except that the Sowden is defintely more classy and has a simple luxury look. I agree with you that this may be suitable for high end restaurants or hotels that cares about the quality of coffee that they serve. It is definitely easier to clean than a french press and would be a better alternative to coffee that’s been sitting on a heating element. As you mentioned that the built quality is a bit fragile, then the only drawback I can see is the high incidence of breakages. If these restaurants or hotels can see pass that (knowing that the price charged for the coffee will easily offset the cost of the pot), then we may have a treat to better coffee at these establishments.

      • Robert-Jeroen
        August 31, 2011 at 22:05

        Totally agreed. In a good hotel or restaurant coffee shouldn’t be an afterthought. Whether it’s the first in the morning, or the last after dinner, it should be as good as the rest, and add to the experience. That includes the coffee itself, and the style and presentation. In the bigger picture, even the net cost of incidental breakage is secondary.

    3. May 5, 2013 at 06:38

      Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read even more things about it! Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Very helpful info specifically the last part 🙂

    4. August 12, 2013 at 16:11

      While I don’t tend to use the feature, I believe the loose fitting lid is available to be used as a drip catcher for micro filter. So if you’re brewing a cup of two for immediate consumption, you can remove the lid and turn it upside down on a table top and then remove the filter and place it in the upside down lid. The reservoir catches the drips coming out of the grinds.

      One thing that I like about the the Sownden is that you can do a very gentle immersion in this manner. If you remove the filter before serving, you can void pulling some undesirable flavor compounds out of the bed of grounds due to turbulence when pouring.

      I’ve never developed a taste for silty coffee, so I usually clarify my Sowden brews further by pouring off through a thoroughly washed paper filer. It’s sort of an ad hoc immersion/filter hybrid brewing process with less turbulence than a Clever dripper or similar, resulting in a sweeter cup.

    5. Amy R
      June 27, 2014 at 04:44

      I’ve come across one of the 4-cuppers at a resale shop, but without a filter. I’m actually having a hard time finding just the filter anywhere online, on the sowden website or anywhere. Do you have any suggestions or resources for finding one?

      • Robert-Jeroen
        July 1, 2014 at 01:13

        Hi Amy, I’ve looked at a few sources that I thought might have carried the filter, but couldn’t find one either. It seems retailers just don’t have any stock of the filter. One option for you is to ask the official site (http://www.sowdenathome.com/) if they can supply you with a filter. Second option is to keep looking on ebay. There must be people who broke the porcelain jar, and are looking to sell the filter…

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