I am reeeally behind on this, as my acutely scientific research has Cold Brew Coffee hitting major media more than fifteen years ago. However, I never said I was a bleeding edge food trendsetter. Oh, sure, I hear about food fads and trends all the time. I just don't really listen.
My personal introduction to cold brew was in the form of a dark, "stubby" bottle of Stumptown Coffee's Cold Brew only to be found in specialty shops and cafes at the time. Deep, slightly more intense than my usual morning cup of coffee. It was refreshing of course, it was, you know, good, but I didn't find cold brew all that much more extraordinary than just regular old iced coffee. That, of course, says nothing, because I'm a filthy whore for anything brown, bitter, and caffeinated.
What I did find extraordinary about cold brew was the slightly obscene-at-the-time $4.50 price tag for a 10-ounce bottle. Shocked as consumer, awed as businessperson.
The true revelation came when I got home and looked up "cold brew" online. Wow. There was so much information out there.
How had I missed it all? Of course, you could look up just about anything and marvel at how quickly google can return millions of result. Non-acetone nail polish remover for chihuahuas? 1.39 million sites in three-tenths of a second! You know, um, as an example.
It was finding out that cold brew is first and more often, something you make at home, and only very recently a store-bought product, that put the obsession in my head to make it myself.
(Wait. What? Packaged product that actually started at home? Isn't that, like, everything? Even pop tarts?! Yes, you sarcastic little parenthetical.)
What Exactly is Cold Brew?
Cold brewing coffee doesn't require any special skills, ingredients or equipment, not even a coffee maker, though there are products on the market specifically designed for making cold brew at home. About the only thing you need that might be hard to find is — pardon me for a moment while I conjure my inner Axl — patience.
Cold brewing is a process that takes time. I let my cold brew mixture of coffee grounds and room temperature water sit for almost 15 hours before having to pour it first, slowly over a few layers of cheesecloth, then second, even more slowly through a paper coffee filter.
For someone who can barely wait three minutes for the dregs of a paper shredder to "instantly" reconstitute into ramen, the process is excruciating (but obvs, worth it).
Health and Taste of Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee
So yes, you're probably wondering why someone would choose cold brew coffee over regular iced coffee or vice versa. It comes down to a couple of things: taste and health.
Taste-wise, cold brew coffee has a smoother, rounder taste than regular hot-brewed coffee. The slow steeping process pulls out less of the compounds in the coffee grounds that can make coffee taste acidic or bitter. It's also easier to control the flavor and strength of cold brew by diluting a concentrate with water, than trying to backwards calculate how strong to brew hot coffee so it dilutes to the right strength with ice cubes.
More importantly for some of us though, cold brew is easier on our digestive systems than regular hot brewed coffee. For the same reason the coffees taste different — cold brewing process pulls out fewer of the acidic compounds in coffee grounds — cold brew is less acidic and therefore less irritating to the stomach.
There's a trade-off though. Cold brew extracts less "stuff" from the coffee, which means less acid, but also less of the antioxidant compounds that can make coffee beneficial to our health.
What You Need to Make Cold Brew Coffee
As far as actual ingredients and equipment for cold brew, you do need:
- ground coffee
- filtered water
- large glass containers
- cheesecloth, paper coffee filters, or if you really want to MacGyver it, paper towels
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brewing boils down to — not literally obviously — only two steps:
- steep coffee grounds with water
- filter cold brew
I had a large enough glass pitcher to hold the coffee grounds and water whilst it cold-brewed, but that was it. To filter, I had to pour the cold brew from that big glass pitcher into several smaller glass containers and then wash the glass pitcher and then pour the filtrate — omg, that dirty word just took me back to AP Chemistry— through a paper filter back into the glass pitcher. I could have used plastic containers I suppose, but I am freaked out by freaky shit in plastics and other weird chemicals.
(Oh, right, not that I didn't sweeten my life with the white powder of hate and drink a 6-pack of Diet Cyanide every day for years).
Cold Brew Coffee Ingredients Resources
Coffee Beans. If you start with whole coffee beans, grind them to a coarse grind. Individual coffee pieces should be about the size of raw sugar granules.
Ground Coffee. However I will always encourage you to go the path of least resistance at first. So go ahead any use pre-ground coffee. Just steep the coffee for a shorter period of time so the cold brew doesn't get too strong. Whatever tf that means. I use organic, Italian roast (very dark).
Water. Use room temperature or cold filtered water.
Ice for Serving. After cold brew has been in the refrigerator, you can drink it straight up. However, something about adding ice to a glass of cold brew makes it taste better. Don't ask me why. Because the cold brew as it's made is a concentrate, you can serve with regular ice, which will melt and dilute the cold brew as you drink it. It's similar to the way a cocktail dilutes over time. If you're just waiting around for your cold-brew to brew and have nothing else to do, freeze coffee into coffee ice cubes to serve with your cold brew. Your cold brew won't dilute and you'll have a consistent taste experience all the way through your glass.
Sweetener. I drink all my coffee, hot, iced, cold-brewed or otherwise, pitch-ass bitter black. However, if you're not quite a replicant like me, use any liquid sweetener to sweeten your cold brew. Granulated sugars and sugar alternatives may not fully dissolve in a cold drink. Agave (plant-based), honey, and simple syrup are all great.
Plant-based milk or regular dairy creamer. Like I said above, black coffee for me. However, if and when I have to use milk or cream, I generally reach for oat milk, which has the heart-health benefits of oats, and also seems to blend into the coffee best.
So I'm a little behind in discovering this. And so I'm so slow to follow the fad that it isn't one anymore. So I'm a little late in the season to bring up something that is usually enjoyed on a patio in the full summer sunshine, but summer in LA lasts until October and sunshine lasts...? Forever.
Now, have you heard about these tiny versions of cakes called "cupcakes?"
Cold Brew Coffee Recipe
- 1 12-ounce bag medium-ground coffee a 12-ounce bag of grounds was roughly 2½ dry cups
- 7 cups filtered water room temperature or cold
To Serve Cold Brew
- ice cubes though I don't seem so behind on the giant ice cube fad, now do I, hmm?!
- simple syrup
- milk or cream
- In a large glass container, combine coffee grounds with 7 cups of water. Stir gently for a few seconds just to combine the coffee grounds with water (sometimes the grounds float, etc).
- Cover the container with cheesecloth and leave it at room temperature for 12-24 hours. The longer the coffee steeps, the stronger the cold brew will be. It goes without saying, I maximize the stteep-time.
- Line a large fine-mesh sieve with a few layers of cheesecloth, then place over another glass container. Slowly pour the cold brew over the cheesecloth to strain out the grounds. You can probably stop here, or you can punish yourself and filter the coffee again through something even "finer" like a sieve lined with a paper coffee filter.
- (The punishment isn't that you're filtering it a second time; it's that the paper filter takes forever. But hey, you waited this long to make cold brew so what's the rush anyway?)
- Discard the cheesecloth, any filters, and grounds (though I am now going to be exfoliating my face with used coffee grounds).
- To serve cold brew, dilute it with additional cold filtered water to desired strength. Serve over ice with simple syrup, milk or cream. I used none of the above because I'm a fucking full-strength boss.
- Cold brew will keep in your fridge, covered, for up to a week.
I have a Toddy, which I use to make cold brew every week. It's essentially a reservoir plus a thick filter, a rubber stopper and a decanter to do the exact same process which you've outlined here. Just wanted to mention that in the instructions for the Toddy, it says that the coffee concentrate can keep in the refrigerator for up to three weeks! That is--if it is in a sealed container (not that anyone could wait that long to finish drinking it!).
Have you made any iced coffee with Stumptown beans?
Sarah J. Gim says
I can't imagine that even a huge pitcher of cold brew wouldn't be consumed within days...! Thanks for the confirmation, though!
No, I haven't used Stumptown to make iced coffee...To be quite honest, the first (and few subsequent) times I tried Stumptown coffee (brewed and served), I didn't love it. (In fact, I kind of hated it) Something about the taste/texture just didn't do it for me. It was worse when I made Stumptown coffee at home. I tried the bottled cold brew just for fun that day, but am not sure I want to shell out $$$ for the grounds/beans to make cold brew given those previous experiences (even tho the bottled cold brew was good)...
Kings Road Cafe (LA) works pretty well :)
Thanks for the recommendation! I moved to LA about a month ago, and I'm trying out as many local roasters as I can! I just made a batch yesterday with The Coffee Roaster (Sherman Oaks); I'll try King's Road next!
These are some the most beautiful glasses of coffee I've ever seen & I seen em all.
Sarah J. Gim says
coffeelover: thank you! i got so lucky with the lighting and the ice cubes that day!
I love me some cold brew. I drink my coffee cold year round. I like to brew mine with a cinnamon stick sometimes...
Sarah J. Gim says
ellen: cold brew WITH something?! oh the possibilities...
Yah! Let me know if you think of other delectable add-ins! Just occurred to me a citrus zest could maybe work...
Ok, just did a batch with maybe half a lemon's worth of lemon peel(just long, pith-less strands, I didn't zest it) and twas good. Next up:ginger root.
Sarah J. Gim says
guessing it has the same sensory effect as that little lemon zest thing that accompanies espresso sometimes...? very curious to hear about what happens with ginger!!!
Christina G. Smith says
I was wondering how is a cold brew any better than making a hot one. Letting it get room temperature, or putting it in the fridge? Just using a cafe press to do it all.
Is there a difference in quality or taste really?
Sarah J. Gim says
christina: according to most of the more "scientific" (about coffee ha) articles and blog posts out there that i've read, something about room temperature/cold water extracts less acid from the grounds than hot water...the result of cold brewing is supposedly "smoother," whatever that might mean :) (i have no grounds - oh gawd excuse the pun - for making that claim as i've never side-by-side tasted the same coffee grounds brewed with the two different methods...)
I'm a fucking full strength boss is my new motto. Very pithy :). Will have to give this a gander. My coffee usually begins its life in my espresso machine and is not technically "coffee".
Great post. Solid recipe. I use a Fridge Barista because it brews, stores and serves all from the one container. And it is cheap. Cold brew is a lot different than brewing hot and then chilling because it changes flavor profile and the bitterness is not there.
Great tutorial! I love cold brew coffee from local shops. I will have to try this at home soon.
I spotted Stumptown's Cold Brew at Eataly in NYC, but since I'm a Montrealer, I'll continue to pick up cold brew fresh at my fave coffee shops...
Naomi ~ or make it! :) it is honestly, mostly passive effort of just waiting while it sits and "brews"...
I was going to take the lazy route, but you may have just convinced me! :)