While there is scarcely a simpler method of brewing coffee than for a batch of long-steeped full-immersion cold brew, there are still many different pieces of equipment from which to choose.
In the filtration subcategory, options such as metal, paper, nylon and a variety of fabrics all have their plusses and minuses. Entering the scene now is the Alto commercial cold brew filter, which is not quite any of the above, and may allay several of the primary concerns associated with other filtration media, according to its maker. Alto claims the filter to be stronger than nylon mesh, more effective and less flavor-impactful than paper, and more convenient than metal.
The Alto filter is made from a disposable, biodegradable paper-plastic hybrid material. “It’s non-woven, in the sense that it’s almost spun, like cotton candy. It lays down like in a cloud, and then it’s compressed,” Alto Co-Founder Matt Bushman said. “It has the strength of a mesh bag, and it has the filtration of a paper filter, combined into one disposable product.”
Bushman contends that paper filters often impart a paper taste to the brew because to rinse them the way people do with pourover brewing would make them more liable to rip during either agitation or removal. They will also occasionally rip anyway, potentially ruining a batch and necessitating a time-consuming cleaning ritual. Nylon mesh bags and metal filters can be tedious to clean, according to Bushman, while potentially sending an abundance of costly and environmentally unfriendly detergents down the drain. Alto filters, the company contends, are rip-resistant, flavorless, disposable and biodegradable, and heat-proof enough for a hot bloom should the brewer prefer.
Co-founders Bushman and Joey Ruiz set out to find an improvement over existing filters while experiencing the need for one themselves, in the midst of their own efforts at developing commercial cold brew products for roasting companies. They first discovered the hybrid, non-woven filter material in use for tea bags, and then embarked upon an extensive search for companies with access to that material and the ability to manufacture a product out of it by Alto’s specifications.
“It’s not necessarily a brand new material; it’s just not widely used, and especially not for the application we wanted to use it in,” said Bushman, who found resistance among potential manufacturers to the idea of larger brew-bags specifically for coffee. “Our feeling on that whole thing was, we’re not actually asking for your opinion; we just want you to make it for us and we’ll determine if we can use it for that.”
Alto commercial cold brew filters are available for purchase through the company’s website — for $59.99 plus shipping for a 50-pack of filters, with volume discounts available — as well as through distributors in Southern California, while the company is also exploring nationwide distribution opportunities and anticipates a more formal launch for the product next month. A complete immersion brewing system is also currently in beta testing. The system currently consists of a 7-gallon bucket with a spigot at the bottom and a strainer shelf at the top where users can rest a filter bag to let it strain. Personal-size small-batch Alto filters are also in development.
Bushman, a civil engineer by trade, recognizes that full immersion in a filter bag is but one among many ways of making cold brew. While Alto is entering the market with a cold brew filter bag as its inaugural product, the company’s aim isn’t just to improve cold brew filtration and efficiency, but to boost the entire category of cold brew, and to promote its embrace by the industry as the potential gateway to traditional hot brew that Bushman contends that it is.
“It’s what got me into specialty coffee,” said Bushman, who recalls cold brew as his first taste of coffee that didn’t require dairy or sugar to be palatable. “The reason I did my pourover this morning was because I tried cold brew, and that introduced me to ‘this is what coffee could be,’ and it was the most approachable way for me to bridge that gap… We do not want to be a filter company. If we end up never selling filters again at some point, that’s fine, we just want to be in cold brew, growing it and being a part of its development.”