The Ultimate Guide To Cold Brew Coffee (The Only Reference You’ll Ever Need!)
Ahh, cold brew coffee, one of my favorite dark brown beverages after a cold pint of Guinness. I’m sure you've seen it in your local high street coffee shop and many of you reading this have probably even tried it. Have you?
Yes, it’s true, cold brew coffee is taking over the world, well maybe not, but the likes of Starbucks and other well-known coffee chains have an entire menu devoted to just iced coffee, it’s big business.
However, with the increased popularity of this cold coffee beverage comes a higher price for the consumer which is probably justified with all of the crazy towering amounts of whipped cream, syrups and other toppings baristas try and squeeze on top of your coffee; handfuls of sugar on top of sugar with extra sugar ain't cheap!
No, that's not for me, I'm a purist and enjoy nothing more than a pure black, bitter-tasting cold brew coffee with a handful of ice cubes as the only additional ingredient. To be honest, there's no reason why you can't make a great tasting cold brew at home, there's no hidden secret, nor does it require the skill of a seasoned trained barista in order to master. You don't even need to dig deep into your pockets to buy any special equipment beyond a large container and a strainer.
If you're completely new to cold brew coffee and have a thirst for some knowledge on this popular iced beverage keep on reading because I have put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and squeezed out every last bit of knowledge from my caffeine pickled brain to bring to you the ultimate guide to cold brew coffee. Shall we begin?
What is Cold Brew Coffee?
There are various ways to achieve a good tasting cold brew coffee. The immersion method is one of the more popular ways closely followed by slow cold drip (also known as Dutch coffee or the Kyoto-style).
The cold brew coffee immersion method is simply the process of steeping coffee grounds in cold water or sometimes room temperature water for long periods of time, often 12 or even 24 hours or more. Once the coffee grounds have finished steeping they are then strained either by using a regular paper coffee filter, muslin, a French Press, or even through felt if you've used the Toddy.
Using the cold slow drip method room temperature water is slowly dripped through coffee grounds for hours or even days, the end result is a strong syrup coffee that can be diluted with water and ice to taste.
Unlike regular coffee brewing that requires heat via hot water to release the flavors and oils from the coffee. Cold brew coffee utilizes time to draw the flavor from the ground coffee which gives a flavor profile that is very different from regular “hot” brewing methods.
Cold brew coffee is known for its lower acidity levels as well as containing lower amounts of caffeine when compared to its hot coffee equivalent. Caffeine, fatty acids, and other oils are much more soluble when brewed at high temperatures.
However, with that said, even though less caffeine is extracted from the coffee grounds using the cold brew method a higher coffee to water ratio (over 2 x more) is typically used which results in a final cold brew that has equal amounts of caffeine if not more when compared to regular hot coffee brewing.
Cold Brew Coffee History
Even though “cold brew” seems to be the latest and hottest (ermm, cold) word slipping off the tongues of tattooed baristas around the globe it isn't as new as you might think, in fact, cold brew coffee can have its roots traced back centuries. Have I peaked your interest? Time for a brief history lesson.
The general consensus among coffee lovers is that the Dutch were the first to create cold brew coffee in the 17th century. Dutch sailors used this coffee brewing method as a means to preserve coffee concentrate for long stints at sea.
The cold brew coffee took up less storage space and made caffeine far more accessible for the Dutch sailors. It is believed, and more probable, that the sailors would mix some of the concentrates with hot water to produce a hot coffee rather than drinking it cold.
The Dutch are also believed to have been the ones to first introduce cold brew coffee to Japan who embraced this cold coffee with open arms and added their own twist which is known today as the Kyoto-Drip method. However, with that said the Japanese at this point were already brewing cold tea so in all honesty we are left to speculate whether they were already familiar with brewing cold coffee before the Dutch arrived.
By the late 1800’s cold brew coffee had started to make its way to other parts of the world and various types of cold coffee had started to make an appearance in England and America where this coffee concentrate was a staple in military supplies.
However, it was in France that the simple coffee concentrate was tweaked to become the familiar drink that we all know today. The French take on the cold brewed coffee was to add sweetened coffee concentrate with cold water.
As the 1960’s approached Japan had already made cold brew coffee their own. However, when Ueshima Coffee Co mass produced prepackaged coffee with milk and sugar already added this was modest coffee took leaps and bounds.
Later in the 1960’s a garden nursery owner Todd Simpson took a trip to Peru to source new shrubs and plants for his business. It was while Todd was there that he discovered Peruvian cold brew coffee for the first time.
On his return, he started experimenting with cold brew coffee and later produced the Toddy Cold Brewing System that we all know and love today. To be honest, It’s this very cold coffee brewing system that's used in many high street coffee shops and in most cases has introduced many of us to cold brewed coffee (maybe without even realizing it!).
What's The Difference Between Cold Brew And Iced Coffee
Trust me there's nothing better than a cold coffee on a hot summers afternoon, it's addictively refreshing and easy to drink, so it comes as no surprise that cold iced coffee is the drink of choice for many coffee lovers. There are many ways to prepare a chilled coffee, however, throwing in a handful of ice into your coffee really isn’t going to cut it, unless you enjoy a mediocre watered-down brew?
If this whole cold coffee craze is something new to you, you're probably thinking that both cold brew and iced coffee are the same, right? But, these two coffee beverages are totally different - So what’s the difference? The similarity all comes down to the coffee brewing process.
…Okay, so what’s the difference between cold brew and iced coffee?
The names cold brew coffee and iced coffee are often always used interchangeably, and in almost all cases if you order either of these drinks in a coffee shop you’ll probably always end up with an iced coffee rather than a proper cold brewed coffee. It all sounds confusing, right?
Let me break down both cold brew and iced coffee to give you a better understanding of the differences between the two.
Cold Brew Coffee
Let me start off with cold brew coffee. Some coffee lovers say that cold brew tastes crisper and more refreshing, and, say it’s also stronger than regular iced coffee. This cold coffee brewing process takes the longest of the two, and there are two common ways of doing this, slow drip and Immersion.
Making cold brew with the immersion method is the most common. Typically you would steep (immerse) fresh medium-to-coarse ground coffee in room temperature (or sometimes iced) water, anywhere from 8 to 12 hours or longer!
Once your coffee has steeped, you then filter out the coffee grounds, leaving you with a clean filtered cup of coffee. Unlike other ways to prepare coffee, cold brew is never exposed to any heat and utilizes time rather than temperature to extract the caffeine, sugars, and oils from the coffee.
There are many ways to carry out this brewing method such as using a French Press or even an old sock (only if you're desperate for a caffeine fix).
Iced coffee is typically what would be served if you ordered a cold iced coffee from a coffee shop, such as Starbucks. Iced coffee starts off just like any other regular coffee and is brewed hot. The hot coffee is then allowed to cool, then it's poured over ice which can then be enjoyed with milk, sugar, or anything else you’d like to add.
Sometimes you'll find that the coffee isn’t allowed to cool sufficiently and is poured directly over iced which causes the ice to melt, more ice is then added (busy high-street coffee shops often do this). This leaves you with a diluted, iced watered-down coffee. Yuk!
Most of the high-street coffee shops will only serve iced coffee and don't have the means to make a good proper cold brew. To get a good cold brew or even a cold drip brew coffee, you'll most probably have to hunt down a coffee establishment that specializes in this brewing process.
Luckily enough nowadays there are a lot of “new-age” hipster coffee houses that offer just that and they shouldn't be hard to find as almost all will use this as a base for their marketing. If the guy behind the counter has a beard and tattoos, there's a very good chance that they will serve the “proper” cold brew coffee, it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?
3 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Cold Brew Coffee
Before I continue here are four fun trivia facts about cold brew coffee that you probably didn't know, drop some of these facts into your next conversation with your local barista and show off your coffee knowledge!
1. Cold Brew Coffee Typically Has More Caffeine
Your typical cold brew coffee has more caffeine versus hot brewed coffee. If you make your cold brew using the full immersion method chances are that you’re going to get a noticeable kick of caffeine. That’s why it’s recommended to dilute your cold brew concentrate with water or milk.
2. It Takes More Time To Make Cold Brew Than Hot Coffee
I’m sure you already know that the water temperature affects the extraction rate, the rule of thumb is the hotter the water the more oils, caffeine, and flavor is going to be unlocked from your ground coffee beans. However, cold brew coffee, as the name implies, is brewed using cold or room temperature water.
So, to cut a long story short, you need more time (up to 24 hours or more) using the cold brew method to slowly “pull” the goodness from your ground coffee beans.
3. You Can Use Old Coffee Beans To Make Cold Brew!
Cold coffee brewing takes time, whereas regular hot coffee is almost instant. The reason being is that the hot water helps to release all of the solubles from the ground coffee. However, with cold brewing, some of the oils and flavors are left unextracted due to the temperature of the water used.
So the point I’m trying to get across here is that the freshness of your coffee beans isn't as important when you’re using the cold coffee brewing method. In fact, you can still make a sweet, rich tasting caffeinated cold brew with coffee beans that are over two weeks old.
What Are The Best Coffee Beans To Use?
To be honest, there isn't really a straightforward answer as to which coffee beans to use for cold brew coffee, it really boils down to the type of roast.
For cold brew, almost any light to medium roast is going to work well because these lighter roasts typically preserve the delicate flavors of the coffee beans and contain more caffeine. Even though lighter roasts do tend to be more acidic, the cold brewing process helps to eliminate much of that acidity while keeping the balance of the more floral and bright flavors that are found in the coffee beans.
Now, the problem with lighter roasts is that it's a lot harder to fully extract all of the flavors due to the less degraded cellular structure. So when you're using a light roast for your cold brew you will need to experiment and play around with the extraction times until you find the “sweet” spot.
With all of that said, the taste of coffee is incredibly subjective, with one person enjoying a certain flavor while another completely hates it. So with that in mind, I recommend that you buy a few different coffee roasts (light to dark). Start off by making a batch of cold brew using the dark roast and progress through your various beans until you get to your lightest to pinpoint your favorite taste!
Go on, don't be afraid it’s fun to experiment!
“Do. or do not. There is no try.”
Best Cold Brew Coffee Makers
If you are looking to making cold brew coffee at home choosing a new cold brewing unit can be like navigating a minefield. I completely hear you, with so many devices in the marketplace which ones are the best of the bunch? And Which ones deserve your hard-earned money?
The hunt for the best cold brew coffee maker is over. Below I have listed the brewers that I know work well, I personally own them and I can hold my head up high and say that they will brew some of the best tasting cold brew coffee at home, and in most cases better than the watered down crap sold in high street coffee shops.
No in all seriousness, these are among the best you'll find. Let's take a closer look.
KitchenAid Cold Brew Coffee Maker (Full Immersion Method)
One of my favorite cold brew coffee makers is the latest offering from no other than KitchenAid. The KitchenAid unit is a cold coffee maker that is super easy to use, it has a built-in filter, and a tap and fits snugly inside of your fridge; what's better than having cold brew on tap! If you want to know more about his brew make sure you head on over to my full review which can be found here.
Toddy T2N Cold Brew System (Full Immersion Method)
The Toddy is one of the pioneers of mass producing cold brew coffee and even today large commercial sized brewers can be found in the back of coffee shops around the globe. Don’t let Its simplistic design fool you because the Toddy can churn out cold brew coffee that tastes out of this world. Want to get your hands on the Toddy? Head on over here.
Bruer (Cold Drip Method)
Another popular way to make cold brew coffee is by using a slow drip unit. There are many different types readily available in the marketplace but one of my favorites is the Bruer. The Bruer is super easy to use and watching the slow drips of coffee can become somewhat hypnotic over the 6 plus hours it takes to finish its brew cycle. Have I sparked your interest? Take a look at the Bruer here.
Iwaki (Cold Drip Method)
Another slow cold drip coffee maker that is very similar to the above Bruer is the Iwaki. The Iwaki operates in almost the same way but has no drip regulator valve. This isn't really a big deal, it just means that you will have to experiment with different grinds of coffee until you find the sweet spot. The Iwaki is a lot cheaper when compared to the Bruer. Want to know more? You can read my full review of the Iwaki here.
French Press (Full Immersion Method)
If you have a French press you can actually make cold brew at home without having to spend any money on a new brewer and to be honest, it’s super easy and tastes just as good if not better than cold brew using one of the above coffee makers. If you want to know more about making cold brew in a French Press I have written a full and detailed brew guide which can be found here.
Japanese Iced Coffee is Quick And Easy! (Psst… it’s NOT Cold Brew)
So what happens if you don't want to wait up to 12 hours for a glass of cold brew coffee? You still need that cold caffeine fix, huh? Not problem, what you need is a Japanese Iced coffee.
Now Japanese iced coffee isn't “Cold Brew” per se it’s basically regular coffee that’s been passed through ice. Is it as good as cold brew, NO, will it fix your caffeine cravings, YES.
Japanese iced coffee can be made in almost any pour-over coffee brewers such as the Chemex or Hario V60 using a batch of double strength coffee (twice as much as you would regularly use).
Do you need to put a plug in your caffeine cravings, I hear ya! Here are the basic steps for brewing a Japanese iced coffee. For this quick tutorial, I will be preparing a single 16-ounce cup of Japanese iced coffee using my Chemex.
Step 1: Measure Your Ice
Place your Chemex on your coffee scale and tare. Add roughly 8 ounces of ice inside of the Chemex. A 16 oz cup of Japanese iced coffee will require 8 ounces of ice, which is roughly half of your finished volume.
Step 2: Prepare Your Ground Coffee
Prepare 30 grams of medium to coarse grind coffee (as a rule of thumb: approximately 1.8 grams of coffee for every ounce of brewed coffee). Place a filter inside of the Chemex and add your ground coffee.
Step 3: Bring Your Water To The Boil
Turn on your kettle and boil your water, once it starts to boil let it cool for 30 seconds to a minute until it reaches the optimal water temperature of 195°F and 205°F.
Step 4: Coffee Brewing
Place your Chemex on your coffee scale and tare to zero. Remember you already have 8 ounces of ice in your Chemex so you only need 8 ounces of boiling water to complete your 16-ounce requirement. However, don’t worry too much about hitting the exact ratios but do try and get as close as you can. Too little water or too much water will cause under or over extraction of your coffee grounds and will give you a watered down brew.
Slowly start to pour your water over the coffee grounds in a slow circular or figure of eight motion stopping when the water reaches the brim. As your hot water passes through the coffee and then the filter it will slowly start to melt the ice as it hits to bottom of the Chemex.
Step 5: Pour And Serve
That’s basically it. Pour your ice cold coffee into a glass and enjoy as is, or add some milk. Again this isn't cold brew coffee but it’s a great replacement for a hot summer afternoon.
But, don't worry if you want some REAL cold brew recipes keep on reading!
Delicious Cold Brew Coffee
So now that you know what cold brew coffee is, its history, how to make it, and what coffee makers to use now is probably a good time to take a look at some way to add additional flavor to your cold brew coffee. What ya say?
Sure, you can drink your cold brew coffee as is with a bit of ice or diluted with water but that doesn't mean you can’t experiment by adding in various flavors. To be honest, the list of flavors you can add to your cold brew is almost endless, so go ahead and experiment.
The flavor infusion process actually starts with the grounds when you initially create the cold-brew mixture. So, bearing that in mind you will need to plan ahead.
These are two of my personal favorites. What’s yours?
Vanilla Bourbon Flavor Cold Brew Coffee
Add when brewing your cold brew coffee mixture (at the beginning)
- 2 ounces of bourbon
- 1-2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 sliced vanilla bean (optional)
Mexican Flavor Cold Brew Coffee
As crazy as this sounds it actually tastes great, go on give it a try and remember to add these ingredients when brewing your cold brew coffee mixture (at the beginning).
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- Combine coffee and water in a large jar along with your additional flavors. If you’re using the French Press method or the Toddy you can add your flavors in the same way.
- Stir and loosely cover.
- Allow sitting at room-temperature for 12-24 hours.
- Filter the coffee brew by pouring the mixture through a coffee filter placed in a Chemex or similar.
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