Make Your Best-Ever Glass of Cold Brew Coffee with Our Expert Advice
Skip a trip to the coffee shop and make your favorite caffeinated beverage at home.
Now that summer is upon us, one of our go-to beverages on a hot day is cold brew coffee. Cold brew coffee is a variation on iced coffee, but generally has a sweeter and more mild flavor due to the extraction process. In short, iced coffee is essentially chilled brewed coffee; as it cools, the bitter, acidic flavors of the coffee become more pronounced. By contrast, cold brew is made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for up to one day.
So, what's the benefit of this low-and-slow brewing method? The cold water is less harsh on the grounds and helps to slowly develop the flavor found in the beans. "Imagine cooking a pot of stew—would you prefer all the ingredients to simmer together to bring their flavors forward, or adding water just before serving?" explains Samantha Rounds of Dillanos Coffee Roaster. Ahead, we explain how to make cold brew coffee at home, including how to choose the best beans and how to store your cold brew.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee
To make cold brew coffee, coarse coffee grounds are immersed in water for a minimum of 12—and up to 24—hours (unlike drip coffee where hot water passes through the coffee grounds, dissolving the coffee and water together as it falls into a carafe), explains Rounds. "Hot water tends to pull out more of the acidity in coffee, while cold water will not. Keeping the water cold during the whole process [of making cold brew] means that the coffee will take much longer to dissolve (or brew) but will produce a less acidic, sweeter, and richer coffee," says Rounds. The best kind of water to use for cold brew coffee will be one that has plenty of minerals in it in order to help the coffee extract; tap water generally works well: "Whatever you do, don't use distilled water, which contains no minerals," says Jessica Easto, author of Craft Coffee: A Manual ($19.75, bookshop.org).
Cold brew coffee can be made directly in a mason jar or using a French press, but if you want a specific cold brew system, Easto and Rounds are both fans of the Toddy Home Model ($39.99, bedbathandbeyond.com): "Their equipment is easy to use, clean, and incredibly affordable," says Rounds.
So, What's the Deal with Cold Brew Concentrate?
Although they're both used to make a glass of cold brew, there's a big difference between cold brew coffee and cold brew concentrate. "[Cold brew concentrate] is simply a very strong solution of coffee solubles (the stuff that imparts flavor and texture) and water. It's too strong to enjoy as-is, so when it's time to drink it, you dilute the concentrate with fresh water to taste," explains Easto. Most of the cold brew options that you'll find in the grocery store are concentrate, such as Grady's New Orleans-Style ($9.99 for one-quart, target.com).
If you want to make cold brew concentrate, Easto recommends using a ratio of one part coffee to six parts water.
Choosing the Coffee Beans
While a French press or pour-over method may shine a spotlight on high-quality, single origin blends, cold brew may not. This style of making coffee requires a large amount of grounds (far more than a regular cup of Joe). "I recommend choosing a less expensive blend that has dark, warm, or earthy notes, such as chocolate, warming spices, or nuts," says Easto. If you're in a pinch, she's even a fan of combining leftover beans, or beans that are past their prime in terms of freshness. "One of the great things about cold brew is that it's very forgiving. It's probably one of the best ways to optimize less-than-stellar beans," she adds.
How to Store It
Once you've finished brewing cold brew coffee, it should be stored in an airtight container—such as a sealed mason jar—and consumed within three days for optimal flavor. If you purchased cold brew concentrate from the store, read the label to see the manufacturer's recommendation for storage and use.