Cold Brew Coffee: The Ultimate Guide

Glancing at popular—and I mean world famous—coffee shops’ menus, you’ll see a new addition: cold brew coffee.

Cold brew coffee is becoming a must if you want to seem trendy and in tune with what customers want.

Cold brew coffee

Perhaps it’s because this brew is showing a new side of coffee that’s getting more and more popular.

Even if you’re not the coffee shop type of person you can even buy it bottled and take it home to enjoy at your leisure.

If restaurants and shops hopped onto the band wagon, shouldn’t you consider it too?

What is a Cold Brew Coffee?

This is not cooled down coffee.

Cold Brew Coffee is the result of grounds left in water—room temperature or colder—for over 10 hours.

Yes, this coffee is actually made with cold water and waiting all that time for it to steep is worth it because you’re left with an amazing brew.

Can cold water really give you excellent coffee? Yes!

I don’t think you realize how much flavor is packed into each coffee bean. Temperature, timing and texture all determine which flavors are extracted.

When you give cold water a chance—which is a longer, gentler process of extraction—you get to draw out acidity and the result is a sweeter aroma than you’re used to.

What is the Difference Compared to Iced Coffee?

iced coffee

A common mistake is to assume that a cold brew refers to iced coffee.

But it’s especially the brewing processes of the coffee that differs and therefore it will taste extremely different to coffee brew with heat.

When you make an iced coffee you pour coffee brew made with hot water over ice.

So yes, your coffee ends up cold, but the flavors extracted are those that reacted to the high temperatures.

In a cold brew your flavors are extracted with cold water. This unique process results in unique tastes.

Below we mention that hot coffee only tastes good for a short period of time.

Because iced coffee is made with this same type of brew you won’t always enjoy an iced coffee that stood for 24 hours. It’s quite different with a cold brew.

Read on to find out why.

What are the Benefits of a Cold Brew?

Why is this becoming more popular? In everything from taste to cost, this brew comes with some advantages:

  • Taste: You get to enjoy the sweetness of coffee and even though all the flavor is extracted the coffee won’t be bitter. Long brewing with hot water often turns coffee bitter, but here you only get the sweetness because bitter components are left behind.
  • Flavor: The process also extracts all flavor from a bean or granule. If you have a favorite bean, you can now enjoy an optimized brew with not only hints, but masses of its flavor. In professional terms it’s the characteristics (from different origins) of coffee that you’re tasting when you drink this type of brew.
  • Less acid: The bitterness in normal coffee is activated by certain oils and acids. These are water soluble, but only at high temperatures.
  • Timeless: Okay, you can’t keep this brew forever, but you can enjoy drinks from the same batch of cold brew coffee for a few days in a row. You know the hot coffee you made this morning definitely isn’t as tasty anymore by now. Chances are cold brew—if kept in the fridge—can still enthral two weeks after brewing
  • Budget friendly: Yes, you’ll use a lot of coffee grounds (see brewing method below). But do you realize how much coffee (hot brewed) you throw away because it got old or cold? Since you won’t be doing this anymore, cold brew coffee can actually help you save money on coffee beans and grounds.
  • Environmentally friendly: I salute you if you’re trying to help the environment wherever you can. Now you can do it while you’re making coffee because you don’t have to continually switch on the kettle for each cup. Since steeping can take place at room temperature, you technically don’t even need your fridge for this. Be eco-friendly without sacrificing your favorite drink.
  • Easy method: More about this below but this is an easy brew that anyone can do whether you’re a barista or a new coffee lover.

Cold Brew Coffee Recipe

You don’t need anything fancy to make this, so it’s easy for anyone to make this brew.

You only need coffee grounds and water. And don’t forget the time you need because it takes some time to steep.

So how will you do it?

Can You Make a Cold Brew with a French Press?

cold brew coffee with french press

Firstly it seems a French Press is a necessary utensil for any coffee lover.

Not only can it help you make a pretty decent espresso, but it’s the ideal way to make a cold brew.

Whether space or budget prevents you from getting the coffee maker you desire, a French Press is a very dynamic Plan B.

How to Make a Cold Brew Coffee at Home

Below we’ll share three different ways of making your cold brew at home.

Important! Before You Begin—Pick Coffee Wisely

Don’t start unless you have the perfect pack of beans or grounds.

A hot brew tends to hide the less impressive characteristics of coffee.

If it lacks flavor you may still enjoy a hot cuppa, but as a cold brew this will simply taste bland.

So start off with a high quality, flavorful coffee source.

It’s wise to rather visit your local coffee merchants than the corner store. Don’t let a mediocre brew put you off cold coffee forever. You’ll be missing out!

home cold brew coffee

What You Need

While most hot beverages’ outcomes are determined by machines or techniques, this brew is mostly reliant on the ingredients you use. You need:

  • Coarsely ground coffee: The grounds can’t be too fine, otherwise they’ll move through the filters you’re going to use to separate the coffee from the water. So if you grind your own beans, pick a rougher texture than you use for your espresso machine. Here are some great coffee choices specifically for cold brew you can try.
  • Filtered water: Don’t ignore the first word. Coffee aficionados specifically advise you to use filtered water because of the chemistry that’s going to take place. In filtered water the granules undergo more saturation compared to being placed in normal tap water. This results in more flavor that’s extracted.

That’s all you need.

Easy Steps

This is a long, but very simple process, no matter which of these methods you use.

With a Machine

The DIY processes are easy, but you may get an even better quality brew if you use a machine. And Cold Brew Coffee Makers are becoming more and more popular.

These ‘machines’ aren’t very mechanical, but they’re designed to benefit the steeping process and get the most out of your beans or grounds. 

Note that your coffee brew won’t necessarily be ready in a shorter time span.

These machines still require hours of waiting while the flavors are extracted.

They’ll benefit the process in the following way though:

Cold Brew Coffee Makers
  • The sealed containers ensure no flavor escapes and that other aromas in your home don’t affect your coffee.
  • They’re designed to keep the brew fresh so you can enjoy it for up to two weeks.
  • The brew gets to steep but when you pour it out it won’t contain any of the granules. You get a clear cup of cold coffee because filters or machine components separate the coffee from the grounds.
  • Some are made of plastic or stainless steel so you don’t have to fear breaking glass as is the case when using a French Press (see below).
  • The filters are usually reusable and washable.
  • Some of them allow for large quantities to be made, so you can cater for your entire family after just one brewing.
  • Some of these machines like the Yama Glass you can find on Amazon, are so aesthetically pleasing that they may serve as décor as well as being kitchen appliances.

They’re usually very user friendly. You simply add your grounds and water to specific reservoirs and voila.

Come back in about 24 hours (see more about timelines below) and your coffee will be ready.

These are handy units to have at home, but don’t feel you have to spend money to get the ideal col brew. A DIY way can be just as effective.

Exception to the rule: Some brands manufacture brewing machines that pump (circulate) water through the grounds. This movement shortens the necessary brewing time so much that you can have a decent cup of cold brew after only 15 minutes.

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee With a French Press

The machines mentioned above usually provide directions about ratios. Remember you can always customize it to your preference, but here’s a general guideline.

Cold Brew Coffee Ratios: For each cup of coffee grounds you use, use four cups of water. (The average French Press may only take two or three cups of liquid, so change accordingly).

Yes, that’s quite a strong brew even when compared with espresso.

But remember the chemical reactions and flavors will be much different than what you’re used to with hot brewing.

Now here’s what you do:

  • Place the coffee grounds inside the French Press
  • Add the cold filtered water to the grounds
  • Make sure everything is saturated by giving it a stir; you don’t want clumps to limit saturation and flavor extraction
  • Now you have two options (so it’s another area you can test and find your favorite option according to your palate):
  • Some coffee lovers leave it at room temperature
  • Others prefer placing it inside the fridge
  • Leave the brew to steep for 12—14 hours
  • Insert the plunger and press down to separate the grounds

You can now decant the brew or leave it in the press.

Because there’s no heat it’s not a problem that the liquid is still in contact with the granules. (This is a problem when you use hot water).

It may become stronger, but without heat it won’t go bitter.

A Must-Do Tip

Always cover your French Press completely when you place it in your fridge or even let it stand on your kitchen counter. You don’t want other food products’ aroma to draw into your brew.

DIY Cold Brew Coffee Methods

Don’t run out and purchase a French Press if you don’t have one. There’s an even easier way of how to cold brew coffee at home.

Your mason jar—or most glass containers that can seal well—can work just as well.

Don’t use plastic containers—or even metal—since this may affect the brew’s flavor.

Simply place the granules and water (quantities as described above) inside your mason jar.

Once again you wait around 12 hours and then you can decant the coffee through a filter.

Making Cold Brew Coffee Filters

Here’s the tricky part because you need to filter the coffee to remove the granules. You’ll be surprised how ordinary household items make the best filters:

  • A piece of cloth (e.g. clothing or cheese cloth)
  • A colander with very fine holes
  • A nylon stocking

Of course if you have coffee filters they work the best.

If you don’t want a messy filtering process, are you up to making your own coffee bags?

In the same manner a tea bag works, a coffee bag will allow the grounds to steep without filling the water with small, gritty particles:

  • Fashion one from a coffee filter and tie it with string
  • Use nut milk bags

Fasten the bag to your jar’s lid so you can extract it easily upon opening, or let it drift in the water and take it out with a spoon later on.

What is the Caffeine Content of Cold Brew Coffee?

Here’s where the science comes in.

Coffee beans contain caffeine and as mentioned your brewing method determines what you extract from them. This also pertains to caffeine.

You can imagine with grounds lying in water for such an extended period of time all water soluble particles and chemicals will react.

So chances are, after more than 10 hours in your fridge every little bit of caffeine is swimming in your brew.

So yes, this is a high caffeine brew. If you love the full flavors, but you don’t want to digest all that caffeine, why not turn the brew into a different drink such as a milkshake.

Using less coffee will limit the amount of caffeine you ingest with each glass.

A Few Important Questions

Let’s help you get the most out of your brew. These questions will clarify a few things you may be wondering.

How Long Should a Brew Steep?

Let’s look at the labeling on a professional cold brew coffee maker.

Even here you’ll see proof that this process is one very much prone to customization. Directions usually suggest steeping time of 12 to 24 hours.

That’s a huge difference in time. Tasting the coffee after 12 hours and then after 24 hours will give you two completely different brews.

And that’s what’s so tantalizing about this brewing method.

You can stop steeping the moment the coffee matches your preferences. You’re not subjected to a machine’s workings. The power is in your hands.

As time goes by more flavor comes out, but it also becomes stronger.

12 hours is usually a minimum to guarantee any flavor at all. Other than that you can determine when the process is done.

If you’re not in the mood for a super strong brew, simply decant it earlier than others do.

Must You Stir the Coffee While it Steeps?

Stirring is not a necessity because the grounds must simply be wet to react. However, the coffee connoisseurs do mention stirring, especially when using DIY methods such as mason jars. It could enhance the flavor.

Can You Drink this Brew Hot?

Why go through the trouble of brewing coffee ice cold and then reheating it? It actually makes perfect sense.

Firstly, yes, you can drink this brew piping hot and enjoy the sweet flavors you created. If you made it really strong you can add hot water to your cup to dilute it.

Alternatively simply heat it up on the stove or in the microwave.

Just remember to reheat only after you separated the liquid from the grounds. When you heat up the grounds you’ll activate the acidic compounds you’re trying to avoid.

If you only heat up the liquid the chances are very slim that coffee particles left in the water will change the taste of the brew.

Now you have the freedom to create interesting brews as you can add the amazing flavors of your cold coffee brew to your regular cups of coffee too.

And here’s my favorite use of this coffee. During a camping trip coffee is usually bitter and filled with gritty coffee particles simply because you don’t have your favorite tools, filters, machines or grounds on hand.

Now you can simply take a sealed container of cold brew coffee with you.

It will taste good for up to two weeks (try to keep it cold though) and you can simply heat it up on the fire. It saves you time and effort.

Who Will Like this Coffee?

What type of coffee drinker are you? Of course not everyone prefers a strong brew. Does that mean cold brew coffee isn’t for you? Absolutely not.

While you can customize brewing to suit your taste, the process doesn’t have to stop there. Afterwards you can still change it to your liking.

Many coffee drinkers use this process to get the exceptional aromas they love out of coffee beans.

But afterwards it’s tailored to perfection—according to what their palates deem perfection—by diluting it.

Or perhaps you don’t even like coffee because the ‘bite’ of each sip doesn’t appeal to you. Many people tone down this bite by adding milk or cream to their coffee.

If you’re one of these—or you’ve been avoiding coffee—try this with a cold brew.

As you can see this coffee is all about customization.

Have You Tried These Cold Brew Alternatives?

The sweet flavors in cold brew coffee make it perfect to use in alternative drinks. You get rich aromas without having to counter bitterness by adding sugar. 

So why not use this as the foundation of your cooking from now on?

  • Cocktails can now have unique flavors
  • Drinks such as Martinis can be flavored to match with a certain theme or event
  • Desserts with a coffee flavor—and guaranteed not to be bitter—can be the hit at your next dinner party

If you’re a coffee fanatic it can now be part of your entire menu. It’s best you start experimenting!

The Next Step: Nitro Brew

Of course humans are never satisfied with the status quo. Not even this heavenly brew stopped baristas from trying new drinks.

Now you can enjoy cold brew coffee with Nitrogen infusion and it tastes amazing:

  • You get the rich flavors thanks to a cold brew coffee process. After brewing (steeping) coffee houses keep these brews on tap.
  • When preparing someone’s drink a barista infuses a cup of cold brew with nitrogen.
  • The aroma is still there, but now you’ll enjoy texture too. The infusion creates the creaminess you’re used to when drinking cappuccino and it’s even compared to velvet textures you find in quality beers.

Read our guide on how to make  nitro cold brew at home to know more.

FAQs

Is cold brew coffee acidic?

Cold brew coffee is as much as 70% less acid compared to your regular cup of hot coffee. With less acidity you’ll benefit from a sweeter and milder brew.

The process of cold brew coffee uses cold water. While coffee beans naturally contain acid compounds and certain oils, they’re only activated at higher temperatures. The longer, gentler process of cold water extraction draws out the acidity.

 As cold brew coffee has a lower acidic level, drinkers who suffer from acid reflux will benefit from drinking this brew. All round, it’s a better drink for a healthier stomach. It’s also less likely to cause your teeth to become stained.

Is cold brew coffee always served cold?

No, you can drink your cold brew coffee heated up. As with drinking it cold, you’ll still enjoy the sweet flavors created during the cold brewing process. If you find it too strong, simply add more hot water to dilute it.

Your cold brew coffee can be heated up in the microwave or on the stovetop. But remove the liquid from the grounds before adding hot water or heating it up. If you don’t, you’ll activate the acid compounds.

 You could try adding hot milk to your cold brew coffee for a creamier, sweeter brew of warm coffee.

Is cold brew coffee a concentrate?

You can have cold brew coffee or you can have cold brew concentrate. The difference lies in the ratios and the strength of the brew. As coffee concentrate is stronger than your classic cold brew coffee, the coffee grounds to water ratio is what sets the two coffees apart.

Cold brew concentrate is a more potent brew. It will also be more flavorful and have a higher caffeine content.

 Your cold brew coffee ratio would be 1 cup of coffee grounds to 4 cups of water. With cold brew concentrate, you’ll increase the coffee grounds to 1 ½ cups to 4 cups of water.

Is cold brew coffee stronger?

Cold brew coffee doesn’t necessarily mean it’s stronger than your regular cup of coffee. What it does do is enhance the flavors. The lower levels of acidity will also stop the bitter taste often associated with a strong cup of regular coffee.

The brewing time influences the strength of your cold brew coffee. Steeping it for 12 hours will produce a less potent coffee than a cold brew steeping for 24 hours. If your cold brew is too strong for your liking, you can dilute it by adding more water to your cup. The art lies in customizing the brew to your liking by working with the ratio of grounds to water.

Is cold brew regular coffee?

Cold brew coffee uses the same coffee beans as your regular coffee. But, as heated coffee can hide imperfections in a blend, choose a high quality, flavorful coffee beans for your cold brew. As flavors are emphasized in cold brew, pick coffee beans which are fruity and nutty. It’s also wise to use a coarser grind.

Remember: your cold brew is not regular coffee cooled down. It uses a different brewing process in which coffee grounds are steeped in cold water for 12 – 24 hours. At no time is hot water added to the brew (unless you’re drinking warmed cold brew coffee).

Who drinks cold brew coffee?

Every coffee aficionado will have tried cold brew coffee at least once in their life! Anyone can drink cold brew coffee. If you find the brew too strong for your liking, dilute it or shorten the steeping time. Coffee drinkers love this brew for its sweetness and aromatic flavors.

Cold brew coffee is perfect for hot, summer days. It’s a refreshing, pick-me-up drink too. Many coffee connoisseurs will add milk or cream to their brew. If cocktails are your scene, try a blend of cold brew and vodka.

Why is cold brew coffee so expensive?

The main reason it’s so expensive is you’re using the best, highest-quality coffee beans you can find on the market. The cold brewing process also requires larger quantities of coffee grounds. Cold brew coffee makers designed specifically for this type of brewing process can be expensive.

Restaurants and coffee shops often use single origin and organic coffee beans. This puts the price of cold brew coffee up above your regular cup of coffee. Cold brew coffee is also a longer brewing process. While you can use a DIY method at home, restaurants use cold brew coffee makers which adds to the cost of your coffee.

Can you reuse cold brew grounds?

No, not if you want to enjoy every cup of cold brew coffee. The extraction process uses all the flavor compounds first time round. If you attempt to reuse the grounds you’ll end up at best with a lighter, bland cold brew coffee. It may even end up being very bitter.

But you can reuse your cold brew grounds around the home. They’re perfect for eliminating unpleasant odors if scattered dry in cupboards and rooms. You can add them to the compost. Dried, they make a wonderful body rub. Some ladies swear on coffee grounds’ cellulite removal powers!

How to strain cold brew coffee?

Cold brew coffee makers come equipped with filters (usually re-usable and washable). If you’re using your French Press, using coarsely ground coffee will make it easier to pour your coffee without too many granules coming through.

If you’re using a mason jar, good quality filters will strain your coffee well. You can also use a piece of cheese cloth, a clean nylon stocking or a tea strainer with fine holes. Nut milk bags are another option. The coffee grounds are placed inside them before the steeping process.

Conclusion

Why didn’t we think of this sooner? Or rather, why didn’t we make this popular sooner?

The coffee industry luckily caught on to an exceptional drink so we can enjoy it anywhere.

But it’s best when you can make it at home, isn’t it? Your kitchen already smells like heaven when you open a new pack of beans or you make an espresso.

Now imagine your kitchen with only the sweet aromas and none of the bitterness. You don’t get much better than that. Enjoy!