Cold brew coffee is a hot topic. It just seems so unlikely that you can capture so much taste and such a beautiful balance of flavors by using cold water to brew the coffee.
I love cold brew on a hot summer morning. When you awake with that sticky feeling, and the air is all muggy hot coffee is the last thing you need. Cold-brew served over ice is a game-changer as you still get the refreshing coffee buzz but also a wonderful cooling sensation.
Did you know you can also warm cold brew up and enjoy it hot? It may seem counter-intuitive but it’s actually a really easy way to enjoy that unique taste sensation, even when the weather turns cooler.
So how is it possible that you can get so much taste out of coffee beans without having to heat the water? What’s the secret to this mysterious brew method?
The answer is it takes time to allow the full extraction of all those delicious coffee flavors. You need to steep cold brew for at least 8 hours to extract the majority of the flavors but if you leave it for 12 hours it will taste even better.
Now let’s get back to basics and look at everything you need to know to become a cold brewing barista from the comfort of your own kitchen.
What Is Cold Brew Coffee?
Cold brew coffee is a brew method that uses cold water and a long steep time to brew fresh coffee. It’s a really easy way to make a large amount of coffee without having to put in a load of effort. The cold brew process means the coffee never ends up burnt and bitter in taste. As long as you don’t mind waiting a while, you end up with a really delicious cup of coffee that you can drink cold or heat it up and enjoy it as hot coffee.
What Makes it So Special?
The cold steeping process brews a coffee that’s low in acidity and sweet in flavor. This makes the coffee truly delicious to drink and perfect for anyone with a sensitive stomach. It can be enjoyed cold over ice or you can gently heat it in the microwave or on the hob and you have hot coffee in no time at all.
It’s really easy to make and doesn’t require any specialist equipment so is a great option for those who are new to the world of coffee. You can brew a large batch in one go and store it in the fridge so you have coffee that’s ready to drink whenever you fancy it.
Cold Brew Steep Time
The length of time it takes to steep cold brew coffee is a bit of science and a bit of art. You need to leave the mixture long enough to allow the full extraction of all those delicious coffee flavors but if you leave it too long then the coffee will end up over-extracted.
Most of the coffee is extracted in the first 8 hours so it’s important to let the coffee brew for at least this long. Longer than 18 hours will start to give the coffee a bitter taste. Some people like to let their coffee stew for up to 24 hours and this is down to personal preference.
I’d recommend 12-18 hours as the sweet spot. 12 hours is usually my go-to as it’s an easy time to manage. I set the cold brew up the night before and by the morning it’s ready to drink.
The next, important consideration when making cold brew coffee is the coffee itself. Here is everything you need to know about your fresh coffee to ensure you brew the best cold brew possible.
Always choose whole bean coffee. The flavors and aromas are way more pronounced when coffee is freshly ground up compared to coffee that has been ground up for a while. The beans lock in all those delicious flavors so only grind up the amount you plan to use for each batch of coffee and you’ll always end up with the freshest tasting java.
Medium to dark roast coffee beans suit cold brewing best. The bold single-note flavors stand up well to the cold brewing process and they’re lower in acidity, to begin with. If you’re not sure of the roast, opt for beans that are intended for cold brew coffee, french press, or even whole beans that are roasted for espresso coffee makers.
As with all coffee brew methods, the grind size is really important. All cold brew recipes require coffee that is ground up to a very coarse grind. Coarsely ground coffee has a smaller overall surface area so will not release bitter notes too quickly.
A good quality burr grinder is super important as these ensure an even grind, unlike blade grinders. If you don’t have a grinder at home you can ask your local coffee shop or coffee roaster to grind the beans for you (of course only do this if you’re buying the beans from them otherwise you may make yourself unpopular!).
Fresh Is Best
The best coffee comes from beans fresh out of the roaster but they do need 7-10 days to mature in flavor. Buying your coffee from a local roaster means you can be sure it’s as fresh as possible and this also helps support local small businesses.
The water you use to make cold brew impacts the coffee more than you may realize. Tap water contains hard minerals and impurities that can leave a bitter taste to your java. It’s not just the flavor that’s compromised but the minerals also affect the extraction process leaving a thin and weak cup of joe.
The best way to avoid this issue is to use filtered water when you set out to brew your own cold brew. You’ll end up with a rich-tasting cup of cold brew that’s full-bodied and satisfying.
When you brew cold coffee the water doesn’t have to be ice cold. You can also use room temperature water if that’s easier. The brewing time isn’t affected by how cold the water is so you can choose if you prefer iced water or not.
Coffee to Water Ratio
The water to coffee ratio is really important when brewing any kind of coffee and although there’s a recommended ratio, this is another thing you can adjust to suit your taste preferences.
It’s a good idea to make cold brew in a concentrated form, also known as cold brew concentrate. This means you brew the coffee way stronger than you need it to be and you dilute it to suit your taste preferences. It makes the coffee easier to brew and saves storage space in the fridge.
To make cold brew concentrate you want to add coffee to water at a ratio of 1:4 but you can tweak this value depending on how much you plan to make and how strong you like your coffee. If you wanted to make 600ml of coffee then add 150g of coffee to 600ml of fresh, filtered water.
You can top it up with cold or hot water once it’s ready until the dilution tastes just right, or even add some frothy milk to the concentrate to make lattes.
Cold Brew Ice Cubes
A really great tip to remember is to make some cold brew ice cubes once your coffee is brewed. Simply add some coffee to an ice-cube tray and pop it in the freezer. This way your coffee won’t end up watered down when you serve it over ice. Really simple and completely worthwhile.
Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee
If you’re a fan of cold coffee then chances are you’ve seen iced coffee on the menu at your favorite coffee shop. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between this and cold brew then I’m here to help you out. Iced coffee is regular coffee, so that’s hot brewed coffee served over ice. It’s usually an espresso-based coffee but you can make it with a similar alternative like Aeropress or Moka pot coffee.
The downside with iced coffee is it can take on bitter flavors as hot brewed coffee tends to and the ice can water down the coffee flavor (unless you stick to coffee ice cubes!)
Cold Brew Guide
To make a batch of delicious cold brew coffee simply follow these steps.
1. Get a mason jar or large pitcher ready as a brewing vessel.
2. Add cold filtered water and coarse ground coffee at a 1:4 ratio. Give it a stir.
3. Let it sit overnight or for 12 hours in the fridge or at room temperature.
4. Pass the coffee through a cheesecloth, strainer, french press, or coffee filter to remove the grounds. A drip coffee or pour-over setup like the Chemex also works well for this as the paper filters catch the grounds really well.
5. Dilute the coffee to taste and enjoy!
Cold brew coffee is a sweet and delicious way to enjoy fresh coffee. It’s really easy to make and doesn’t require much specialist equipment so as long as you don’t mind waiting a while you’ll be rewarded with a bold and balanced mug of java. The steeping time should sit somewhere between 12 and 18 hours but any more than this can lead to over-extraction.
Best of luck with your next batch of cold brew, trust me, it’s worth the wait!