How to Make Cold Brew Coffee
Today is National Cold Brew Day, when most people stop ordering hot coffee and switch to chilled caffeine concoctions.
I say most people because I drink cold brew all year long. Yes, it gets expensive — a large cold brew can run more than $6 before the tip.
That’s why, not long ago, I learned how to make cold brew at home. It’s surprisingly simple, though it does take more forethought than most people give to their coffee regimen.
There are many different ways to make cold brew, from filtering with cheesecloth to mad-scientist-looking slow-drip brewers from Japan. There are also some midrange devices, like the Oxo Cold Brew Coffee Maker and the Takeya Cold Brew pitcher.
I’ve tried a lot of them, with varying degrees of success, but I wanted a professional’s opinion.
So, I spoke with two top coffee connoisseurs — Josey Markiewicz, senior director of coffee quality at La Colombe, and Kelleigh Stewart, co-founder and CEO of Hawaii’s Big Island Coffee Roasters — to get the lowdown on cold brew, from the best way to make it to what kind of beans to use.
What’s the difference between cold brew and iced coffee?
For the most part, iced coffee is just what it sounds like: Regularly brewed hot coffee that’s been chilled, either by refrigerating or adding ice.
In the cold-brew process, though, the water used to steep the coffee is room temperature. The result, said Markiewicz, “is a less acidic and more mellow version of brewed coffee.”
What’s the science behind that? Hot water extracts flavors from coffee much faster than cold water.
“The bitter acid is the last part of the coffee to come through,” Stewart said. “So you don’t get it in cold brew. Iced coffee is always going to be a bit more bitter.”
What’s the best method for making cold brew?
In simple terms, you’re mixing ground coffee with cold water and then filtering it. To do that, both coffee experts sing the praises of the simple French press.
“Cold brewing is commonly overcomplicated for the sake of pageantry,” said Markiewicz. “A French press works nicely, and has its own filter.”
Because cold water is less efficient at steeping, though, you’re going to need to use a lot more coffee.
Stewart’s magic equation is 1 part coffee to 5 parts water. Markiewicz goes with a 1-to-8 ratio.
The good news is there’s really no wrong answer.
“If it’s too strong for your liking, add some fresh water,” Markiewicz said. “Thing is, you can always thin strong coffee with water, but you can’t make weak coffee stronger.”
Combine the coffee and water, stir, and then just let it steep.
You’ll want to steep it for a lot longer than the 15 minutes it takes to make a pot of coffee. It should sit for at least 12 hours, according to our experts, and for as long as 24 hours.
You can either leave the brew on the kitchen counter or put it in the fridge. If you do refrigerate it, Stewart says, it’ll need to steep for a minimum of 18 hours. (Remember, colder water extracts flavors slower.)
After enough time has gone by, it’s time to filter out the grounds. In this case, that means pushing the plunger on the French press and pouring the brown gold into a decanter or a glass with ice.
Take a taste, and then feel free to adjust as needed — adding more water or dressing it up with simple syrup (regular sugar won’t dissolve in cold water), or dairy or plant milk.
Since cold brew lacks a lot of the bitterness associated with coffee, though, Stewart really recommends taking a sip before doctoring it with your usual onslaught of sweeteners and milk.
“If you think you need to add sugar, you’re doing it wrong,” she said.
If you do want to play with the flavor, she suggests adding something natural while it’s steeping, like shredded coconut.
What kind of coffee makes the best cold brew?
Use a medium to medium-dark roast, Markiewicz advised, “to ensure the coffee is soluble enough to release its flavor into cold water.”
He recommends La Colombe’s Afrique or Brazil Beleza blends for a rich cold brew with a nutty profile.
Stewart offers up Big Island Coffee Roaster’s Maui Mokka, a medium-dark roast with notes of chocolate, walnut, rose and nutmeg. Espresso blends work well for cold brew, too, she added, like Big Island’s Hawaiian Harmony.
I’ve fallen in love with Vice and Virtue’s bourbon barrel-aged coffee. Using it for cold brew really allows the full flavor to emerge.
Whatever blend you choose, the beans should be ground much coarser than hot coffee — about as coarse as kosher salt, said Markiewicz. (Check out our tested picks for the best coffee grinders.)
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of grinding your coffee with care,” he added. “It is the difference between a decent cup and an amazing cup — every time.”
On National Cold Brew Day, La Colombe’s 32 cafes will be offering a free draft latte or signature cold brew with the purchase of another on-tap beverage. Cans of La Colombe Cold Brew, Nitro Cold Brew and the newly returned Cold Brew with Lemon are 30% off online through April 21.
Throughout April, buy any Big Island Coffee Roasters coffee and get another for 20% off when you use code WILDHAWAIICOFFEE.
For more home tips, learn how to make bacon in an air fryer and find out what to do if you’ve run out of dishwasher detergent.