It’s no secret that cold brew coffee has taken the coffee world by storm. So what exactly is it, and what makes it so unique? Cold brew is a way of making coffee in cold water for 12+ hours for a rich, smooth-tasting drink.
One in five Americans drink cold brew once a week thanks to its low acidity, full taste, and strong caffeine content. It’s also my go-to summer drink, and I’ll review everything you need to know along with a simple recipe. The recipe is forgiving and easy to make. All you need is a French Press, coffee beans, filter, and a grinder, and you’re all set to make this specialty drink in the comfort of your own home.
So, what exactly is cold brew coffee? And how is it different from iced coffee and other brewing methods? Let’s start with the basics or go straight to the recipe.
What is Cold Brew Coffee?
Cold brew coffee is just another way to brew coffee. With typical brewing methods (like making an espresso drink or a standard cup of hot coffee), you run hot water over the beans, extracting those delicious, dreamy coffee flavors.
Cold brew coffee is an entirely different brewing process. Instead of running hot water over the beans, baristas steep coffee beans in cold water for twelve hours or more. The beans slowly release flavors over this long steeping period to create a powerful, robust, and delicious coffee drink.
Sure, it takes much longer to brew coffee this way – but the results are worth it. The lack of heat prevents high acidity. As a result, the coffee has a more smooth and full-bodied taste.
Although you may think that cold brew is a relatively new venture, it is actually a brewing method that dates back to the 1600s (it turns out Japan was way ahead of its time). Thanks to marketing powerhouse and coffee conglomerate Starbucks, cold brew has become incredibly popularized in the last five years, throwing this stellar coffee beverage front and center into the spotlight.
Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee – The Differences
Coffee drinkers often confuse cold brew and iced coffee. Cold brew is a different way of brewing coffee that creates a unique flavor profile. Meanwhile, iced coffee is simply regular coffee poured over ice.
There are a lot of strong words thrown around between cold brew coffee and iced coffee – which is better, which is superior, and if cold brew coffee really is worth the $5 (personally, I think it is).
Debate aside, cold brew and iced coffee are just…different. Neither one is better than the other. Here are the significant differences between cold brew coffee vs iced coffee.
The taste is probably the most significant difference between cold brew coffee and regular coffee. So how and why does it taste different than regular coffee? It comes down to how water temperature extracts coffee flavor.
The cold water takes much longer to extract coffee flavors. We know that already from measuring how different water temperatures affect brewing. The cold water temperature also affects what kind of flavor gets extracted from the coffee bean. Cold brew extracts different flavors from the coffee beans than hot water.
Cold brew coffee is much more smooth, rich, and mellow than regular coffee. There’s also less bitterness and far less acidity in cold brew coffee.
Iced coffee tastes like regular coffee because it fundamentally is regular coffee. The flavor profile depends more on the initial brew method. Iced coffee will taste different than regular coffee because colder temperatures bring out more flavor. The water from the ice will dilute some of the coffee taste.
When health gurus make bold claims cold brew has 70% less acidity than regular coffee, it’s easy to raise eyebrows. But there’s science to back it up. When coffee is brewed at high temperatures, beans release oils into the coffee that are more acidic.
During the cold brew process, however, that doesn’t happen. Those oils which contain acid are never released, making cold brew much less acidic. As a result, a cold brew is an excellent option for those whose stomachs can be irritated by regular coffee.
Typically, cold brew coffee does indeed have higher caffeine content, typically about 155mg per serving. but this isn’t because beans have higher caffeine content. When you brew cold brew, you’re using the same beans you would make any other type of coffee.
So, why does cold brew coffee have higher caffeine? When you brew cold brew, you use a higher ratio of coffee-to-water than you usually would. When you brew hot coffee, the caffeine and flavors come quickly and easily, and we typically brew the amount we want. The cold brew process is much longer, and cold brew coffee recipes almost always make a concentrate.
When comparing cold brew concentrate to a regular batch of regularly brewed coffee, cold brew tends to have more caffeine, often almost double. However, most cold brew drinkers will dilute the concentrated brew with water or milk.
The result? A cup of cold brew usually contains a little more or about the same caffeine content as a cup of hot coffee.
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Proper Coffee-To-Water Ratio For Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew coffee uses a higher coffee-to-water ratio than hot coffee. Use a 1:8 coffee-to-water ratio for a cold brew concentrate. This ratio is twice as much coffee as regular hot coffee. Use a 1:12 ratio for cold brew coffee that you can consume straight away. A 1:4 ratio produces a strong concentrate, and it’s a good ratio to make more cold brew coffee.
The proper coffee to water ratio depends on personal taste. If you like your coffee stronger (and more caffeinated), you can experiment with adding more coffee. You can also dilute the concentrate more or less at the end.
Make sure to grind your beans extra-coarse before using them for cold brew coffee. Coffee grounds that are too fine will over-extract flavor and make the cold brew batch bitter.
Best Coffee Beans For Cold Brew Coffee
What makes a good coffee bean for cold brew? Something with a lot of flavor, power, and potency. You want quality beans because some of the flavors can wash away with such long brew times.
As a result, the best coffee beans are the ones that are the most robust. I’ve found dark roast beans mesh well with cold brewing. Espresso roasts are excellent coffee beans for cold brew coffee. They are roasted longer, so the oils are more soluble, which works well with cold brew’s slow extraction. Espresso roasts add more body and highlight the cold brew’s smooth taste.
PRO TIP: use old coffee beans for cold brew. Cold brew doesn’t extract volatile compounds that tend to dissapate quickly in fresh coffee, so you can use those old beans instead of throwing them out.
How To Make Cold Brew Coffee (Using A French Press)
It’s easy to make cold brew coffee at home, as you’re really just letting ground coffee and water sit for 12 hours. Cold brew coffee is a forgiving brew process. Nothing needs to be exact here, from beans to steep time.
All you need to make cold brew is coffee, a filter, and a brew chamber. The brew chamber is where the coffee steeps and there are plenty of options, from purpose-built devices that make filtering really simple (like a Toddy or a Holar device) to a plain mason jar. We’ll use the French press as the brew chamber for the cold brew. I recommend a French press because 1) the plunger filter makes it easy to strain the concentrate, and 2) most of us have one.
Step One: measure coffee beans and water
This recipe will fill one standard-size French press (32 ounces). Use a 1:8 ratio of coffee-to-water. Measure out 600 grams of water and 75 grams of coffee. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, measure out 2 ½ cups of water and one cup of coffee. Or, use one ounce of ground coffee (six tablespoons) per one cup of water.
Step Two: grind coffee
Grind your beans to an extra-coarse setting. Use the coarsest setting possible on the burr grinder. The ground coffee should look like peppercorns and chunky. After you grind them, pour the ground coffee into your French Press.
Step Three: add water
Next, pour the cold water over the beans. Tap water temperature is acceptable and filtered water will taste better. Stir your coffee around in the water until all the coffee is saturated. Dry coffee won’t add any flavor!
Step Four: steep for 12 hours
Place your French press in a cupboard. Store the brew in a dark place (light decays the coffee and its flavor). Let the brew sit for 12 hours.
You’ll find a lot of discussion around steep time. Starbucks steeps their cold brew coffee for 20 hours, but they brew big batches. A single French press at room temperature doesn’t need more than 12 hours. Steep a refrigerated brew for 20-24 hours. The steep time is a balance between more time = more flavor and too much time = bitter flavor.
Step Five: plunge the brew
After the time is up, press the coffee down with the French Press plunger. You don’t need to go all the way down. The French press filter makes the next step easier.
Step Six: strain into a mason jar
You’ll need to filter the brew into a different container to remove the fines. The fines are the tiny bits of coffee in the brew. They’ll add a sharp, bitter flavor to your cold brew coffee.
My method is to filter through a cone-shaped filter into a large mason jar. The Chemex filter is great because it holds easily and catches all the fines. Another method is a regular drip coffee filter placed on a sieve. Use whatever you have on hand: cheesecloth and handkerchief work well too.
The final cold brew will yield about ⅔ of the original water and makes four cups of cold brew coffee.
Step Seven: pour, dilute, and enjoy!
Pour out the cold brew over ice and add water to taste. Remember, the cold brew concentrate will be strong. I mix the concentrate with 1 part coffee and 1 part mixer (water or milk) for a perfect cold brew coffee ratio.
How Long Does Cold Brew Last?
Most cold brew coffee lasts 7-10 days in the fridge when properly sealed. That’s a lot longer than regular coffee, which you shouldn’t keep for more than one day.
However, if your cold brew coffee spoils within five days, this could be an indicator that your brewing equipment may need some TLC. Old coffee oils are the culprit to making your brew go bad faster; if you have leftover coffee beans stuck to your grinder and this gets in your coffee, the oils can speed up the spoiling process.
When your coffee spoils quickly, it’s a sign the equipment needs to be cleaned. Coffee will last longer and taste better when the gear is clean.
Always clean your grinder, French press, and other coffee equipment after each use. If your equipment has different parts, you may want to do a deep clean once every couple of weeks. This not only helps keep your coffee tasting as fresh and delicious as possible but also helps keep your equipment in better shape so that it lasts longer.