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Review: Can the Fellow Duo Improve Upon the French Press?

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A major improvement to the French press.

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Fellow's Duo coffee brewer.
Fellow's Duo coffee brewer.
Matthew Kang

I admit that I own five different home coffee brewers, and I'm only talking about the manual ones. Ever since the third wave of coffee hit back in the mid-aughts, aficionados have searched for that perfect home or office brewing method. The Fellow Duo ($99), officially released last June, aims to change the game for home brewers around the world. Offering smart innovations on the ubiquitous French press, the Duo is capable of brewing two large servings of hot coffee, and can even make iced and cold brew coffee, too. Despite all the fancy pour-over setups and even automatic brewers, French presses are still one of the world's most popular coffee brewing devices.

... the Duo caught my attention mostly because it refined the notion of a full-immersion French press and updated it for the 21st century.

The French press's popularity makes sense because it's dead simple: throw in coffee, pour in hot water, cover, plunge, and drink. The Duo, built by coffee tech company Fellow, hit Kickstarter in 2014, and founder Jake Miller and his team went on to raise over $192,000 to finance the project.

One of the newest coffee brewers out there, the Duo caught my attention mostly because it refined the notion of a full-immersion French press and updated it for the 21st century. (A full immersion brewer essentially steeps the coffee versus a pour-over, which brews coffee using a steady stream of water.)

First Impressions

The Fellow Duo's components
Matthew Kang

Upon deconstructing the Duo, I immediately realized the device's size. It's almost a foot tall on the counter, and about as wide as a Folgers coffee cannister at the base. Designed with several components, piecing the brewer together took more than a few head-scratching minutes. The base was simple to understand, and resembled half a glass Hario kettle or Chemex. But the upper chamber is composed of three main components that require some fiddling: a lovely stainless steel vessel that encapsulates an inner brewing chamber, and finally a conical mesh filter. It's best to read the one-sheet setup guide, instead of trying to jerry-rig the thing like I did.

The Brewing Process

Adding 40 grams to the Fellow Duo

After assembling the Duo, I brewed my first batch of coffee using freshly roasted LocoL beans (a production from Tonx), priced at just $8 for 12 ounces. This isn't really top grade specialty, but that's the point. It's even cheaper than a wholesale-priced bag of specialty coffee, which often runs $8 to $12.

The Duo's directions call for 40 grams of coarsely ground coffee, followed by approximately 600 grams of hot water, which filled the top of the brewer to about a half inch below the brim. The instructions don't specify a water amount, but conventional brewing wisdom calls for around a 15:1 water to coffee ratio, hence the 600 grams. After exactly four minutes, I initiated the filter by gently twisting the top counterclockwise.

Fellow recommends filling the top chamber just short of the brim, which comes out to about 600 grams of hot water (195 to 205 degrees Farenheit) with a scale

Et voila, the coffee magically flows to the glass kettle below in about 10 seconds flat. Twist back the top to lock the filter mechanism in its original location, then pour the newly brewed coffee directly from the brewer. It feels a bit tenuous when you pour, but a plastic cap secures the grinds in the top brewing chamber. When I first tried to pour the coffee using the entire device, I was hesitant. The brewer is quite heavy, and I was afraid it was going to fall apart (more on that in a bit). But on the first brew, the LocoL blend performed beautifully: balanced and sweet with a hint of acidity, though not necessarily long on the finish. It's the kind of morning brew that anyone can get behind, and the texture of the coffee very much resembled that of a French press.

Fellow Duo Filter Initiation

Initiating the filtering process on the Fellow Duo

The coffee's consistency is precisely what Fellow hoped to achieve when they designed the Duo. There's a slightly oily sheen on the drink's surface, followed by a small amount of fine ground dregs (fines) that sit on the bottom of the cup. I'm going to come out right now and say that I tend to prefer paper-filtered coffee, though I might pine for a French press-style cup every blue moon. So, I was a little skeptical when I took my first few sips. But, almost everyone that tasted the batch immediately remarked on the delicious brew: crisp, fresh, and almost completely smooth (except for those fines, which I think most people would forgive).

While the Duo is also designed to make cold brew and even a Japanese-style ice coffee (the latter of which brews a stronger coffee then mixes it immediately with ice cubes), I didn't try these methods because the point of this review is to uncover how well the Duo can produce a hot cup.

Pros and Cons

There's one immediate takeaway from the Duo: it looks impressive. With a tightly machined stainless steel upper chamber and clean glass base, it's a triumph of industrial design. The gentle rubber middle and base gives it a premium feel, while the entire device seems sturdy enough for years of use. Plus, the mesh filter obviates the need for paper filters, in case Amazon's delivery can't reach your doorstep, or you're inconvenienced by picking up a box of Melitas or Hario V60 filters. Or perhaps, you're just trying to be a little more eco-friendly. Either way, the Duo is an appealing counter addition.

Pouring the brew

... the brew itself is remarkably consistent

In addition, the brew itself is remarkably consistent, so long as you're using a quality burr grinder, filtered water, and specialty-grade beans. The recipe is pretty intuitive, assuming there's a kitchen scale to ensure a proper bean to water ratio, and the output of about 21 ounces of brewed coffee is large enough for two servings.

Those points are usually more than good enough for a successful coffee brewing device, but I still did discover a few issues with the Duo. First, assembly can be a bit tricky for coffee newbies. My parents, who use a Clever brewer every single day, would probably balk at trying to assemble the Duo for daily use. Second, the cleanup is arduous—almost as annoying as trying to clean off the grinds from a standard French press. Finally, the locking mechanism (as mentioned earlier) can be wonky because the counterclockwise motion could accidentally separate the glass base from the heavy, coffee-filled steel top. I had one brew whereupon the kettle-base fell completely off and spilled all of my coffee (that rubber lip probably saved it from cracking), and I nearly burned my ankles pretty badly.

Final Thoughts

For just under a hundred dollars, the Duo is a competent brewer that doesn't require the pourover skills of a Hario V60 or Chemex, and it's large enough to make two cups of coffee simultaneously. I found that the unique filter chamber was superior to a standard French press, with fewer fines than one might expect. And it's sure as hell easier to brew on a daily basis than an AeroPress. I'd still probably opt for the automatic Bonavita BV1800, which costs about $30 more, and the plugin machine can brew up to eight cups at once. But for those who appreciate aesthetics and prefer unfiltered, full-immersion coffee, the Duo is a great addition. Because we all know that true enthusiasts never have just one way to brew a great cup of coffee.

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