Cold brew coffee gets talked about a lot. In recent years, it has become one of the most popular styles of coffee. This is partly due to its unique and dark flavor, but also because of other advantages it has over traditionally hot brewed coffee.
For example, cold brew is less acidic than traditional drip coffee because no hot water is involved in the brewing process and, thus, far less acid is leeched out of the ground coffee. This can make cold brew easier on sensitive stomachs. Other advantages include how easy it is to bulk brew and that cold brew lasts longer in the fridge than hot brewed iced coffee.
The Antiquated Origins of a Modern Treat
The first true cold brew, i.e. using cold or room temperature water to brew coffee is usually traced back to Japan in the 16-1700’s. The recipe and method of making coffee this way is believed to have been introduced by Dutch traders, who would have brewed coffee in a similar way to allow it to be a sea-worthy beverage. The cold or “Dutch” style of brewing coffee allowed the drink to be stored for much longer. Usually Kyoto is honored as the birthplace of “true cold brew”. I can attest to Kyoto’s cafes still featuring some superb and exquisite cold and Dutch brew coffee.
What sets cold brew apart from standard coffee?
As the name suggests it is brewed, well, cold. But how and why? The water can be truly cold or room temperature, and the methods used to prepare coffee this way yields a different taste, a different level of acidity and a different level of caffeine. And of course, too, a cold brew may be more coveted on hot days rather than a piping hot Americano!
However, the most important parts of making cold brew are the coffee and water used.
What Level of Roast Should I Use for Cold Brew?
Let’s initially consider level of roast for cold brew. This necessarily ends up being personal preference, but lets consider some of the features of light roasts vs. dark roasts:
Light roasts generally:
- Have complex flavors, often fruity and light maintaining characteristics of the original bean
- Light body due to the beans not having been roasted long enough to produce more oils or caramelized sugars.
- Usually more acidic.
Dark roasts generally:
- Have a sweet and rich flavor; the roasting process takes center stage as origin flavors are superseded by the roasting technique.
- The roasting process makes dark roasts oilier, and taking on bittersweet, chocolaty and even toasty flavors.
- Have a rich body and bold texture.
- Usually less acidic
While many argue that cold brewing light roasts results in a more balanced flavor due to the reduction in acidity resulting from cold brewing, many of the subtle flavors and the lighter body of the light roast are less pronounced. Thus, there is somewhat of a tradeoff between acidity balance and pronounced flavor when selecting a lighter roast.
Meanwhile, cold brews tend to already be rich with a robust texture, with an almost chocolatey, sweet flavor; dark roasts synergize with this flavor profile. The thicker and richer oils and textures make dark roasts a popular choice.
You can’t really go wrong with single origin, medium to dark roasted beans, and a couple popular favorites are Guatemalan and Kenyan. Some retailers do offer beans specifically roasted and blended for cold brew, so that could be an option worth considering if available. In general, its worth trying a variety of different options to find your coffee preference for cold brew.
The size of grind may be the most important factor when selecting coffee for cold brew. You want to use coarse ground beans, about the size of raw sugar or sea salt.
As we noted in our Best Coffee Water guide, the best water for cold brew can be obtained at home by using inexpensive ingredients.
Making Cold Brew Coffee
Brewing cold brew is usually a pretty straight forward process. However, a massive selection of brewing devices have emerged onto the market, mostly taking advantage of semi-immersion brewing: putting the coffee grounds in some sort of perforated vessel and then into water. Some of these include:
- The Primula Burke, which is shaped like a pitcher and has a bucket filter in the center where the coffee grounds go to be submerged in the water
- Several devices produced by Toddy, utilizing a paper bag filter that helps reduce the amount of dregs in the final product;
- The Country Line Kitchen Cold Brew Maker, which is similar to the Primula Burke, but in the shape of a mason jar.
The instructions will differ depending on what device you are using to brew, but grind coarseness, amount of water used, and steeping time will generally stay constant. For this tutorial, we will be using a French press, as it is the most widespread home brewing device, and potentially the least expensive.
Initially, take note of what time it is. Cold brew takes about 16 hours to brew, so you’ll want 16 hours from now to be at a time when you’re home and awake. Assuming this is the case, start by thoroughly cleaning your brewing vessel, letting it dry, and then grinding ¾ of a cup of your favorite coffee beans on the coarsest setting your grinder has – this will usually be the French press setting, if indicated.
Once the coffee is ground, pour the grinds into the French press, with the filter and lid removed, and then measure out 4 cups of cool water. Just before adding it, locate a timer and set it for 16 hours, or make note of the time, as this will help prevent over extraction. Add about a cup of water to the French press, start the timer, and then give everything a little stir. Carefully pour in the remaining water, and then stir the contents just enough until all the grounds are wet and submerged. Then, if there is room in the press, put the lid and filter back on, but do not depress it. If there isn’t room, just cover the press with some saran wrap. At this point, you can either leave it on the countertop, or place it in the fridge. Most people leave it on the countertop. If you want it to be already chilled when it is finished brewing, placing it in the fridge is fine, but will require an extra hour or two of brewing.
After settling on its brewing location, the next step is to play the waiting game for about 16 hours. When the 16 hours are up, the next step is to make sure you have something to pour the cold brew into, like a pitcher, and then slowly pushing down the steel mesh filter of the French press. It is important to not leave the cold brew in the vessel for much longer than necessary after brewing, as the grounds at the bottom will continue to brew and could turn the batch sour.
Now you get to enjoy it! Some people drink it straight and uncut, but otherwise, cutting the cold brew with 25-50% water is pretty common, and yields a very drinkable brew. Popular additions are different types of milk, sugar, and flavored syrups. Cold brew is best served chilled on the rocks, but if you really want to, you can put some of the uncut concoction in a pot and heat it up if the weather takes a turn. As for storage, it best to keep brewed cold brew in the fridge for no more than 5-6 days.
Cold and Refreshing
Cold brew is a unique and spectacular beverage. In addition to just being a bit chillier than its hot brew cousins, cold brew packs a different taste. The longer cold brew sits, the more robust and fortified the taste becomes. Because cold brew does not use heat to brew the beans, the end result is less bitter and acidic than hot brewed coffee. Cold brews are perfect for any time of day or any time of year. While they really shine in the summer, cold brew is a refreshing and brisk treat on Autumn days and, when enjoying a warm fireplace in winter, a cold brew can make for a superb accoutrement. So give cold brew a try, and experience this chill alternative to the hot coffee we all know and love.
⦁ Jobst, Merlin. “How to Make Cold Brew Coffee.” Jamie Oliver, Jamie Oliver, 6 Feb. 2019, www.jamieoliver.com/features/how-to-make-cold-brew-coffee/.
⦁ Miemie, et al. “Cold Brew Coffee (Recipe & Tips!).” Cookie and Kate, 25 Oct. 2018, cookieandkate.com/cold-brew-coffee-recipe/.
⦁ “The History of Cold Brew.” Driftaway Coffee, 18 June 2019, driftaway.coffee/the-history-of-cold-brew/.