I just roasted a batch of what I like to call “the best beans for cold brew”. I like to roast my own beans, but I rarely have enough time for this. I usually find what I need at the local roasters around home, or on Internet. This time, however, I wanted something special, so I took the time to roast myself. Total success. I am not going to discuss roasting here, I will only show you how to pick a great coffee for your cold brew, and I’ll do a couple short reviews for beans that I tried before.
The market is full of beans for espresso, and there is ground coffee for Turkish brew, but besides these two exceptions, no roaster has taken the challenge to create the perfect blend for cold brew. I looked left and right, and I found a few good coffees, but they were not what I envisioned as the perfect beans for my cold press. Part of the problem is that taste is subjective. Espresso is one of the brews that you kind of have to “take it or leave it”. If you don’t like it, you can still make lattes, and cover the taste with milk. With espresso, the roast is pretty standard, medium dark to dark, across vendors. Lighter espresso roasts though are appreciated by connoisseurs. Drip coffee, or French press are different. People can create their own special brew, use various roasts, single origins, various blends. Because of the great variety, sometimes it’s even hard to decide what to buy.
With cold brew you have some restrictions with the selection. This is because you have to pick your beans following some rules. Many times people try cold brew, and they hate it. Cold brew is great, but if you use the wrong blend and roast, you’ll hate it. Don’t panic, this is what we are doing on this page; we will show you how to choose the best coffee for cold brew. Oh, and if you found that Iced Coffee Blend from Starbucks, forget about it, it is meant for hot brewing. Hot brew, chill, and serve.
Best Roast for Cold Brew
Photo by Dan Bollinger via Wikipedia
The biggest problem with cold brew is the special steeping at low temperatures. When you brew with hot water, dark roasts are fine, the ashes don’t get passed into your cup. That is because the caffeine and the volatile oils in coffee get extracted relatively fast, and the ashes don’t get into your cup. With cold brew, the long steeping times will cause ashes to dissolve and your coffee will have burned undertones. Yuck! With this tip only, your cold brew experience will be dramatically improved.
Now comes the geeky part where you won’t like me anymore, because I’ll tell you to extend the brewing time. Yes, indeed, light roasts are harder to extract in general, because the cellular structure of the bean is less degraded. That means you have to make adjustments to either the brewing temperature, or the steeping time. Because brewing needs to be cold, our only option is the extraction time. As a general rule, the lighter the roast, the more time you need to allow your cold brew to steep.
I tried a lot of roasts with cold brew. I obtained the best results with beans roasted from light to Full City. You will get very different cups from light roast to Full City. The light roast will emphasize the bean’s origin, and will develop subtle nuances. At the opposite side of the range, you will get caramel tones, and roast specific hints. Check Wikipedia’s article on coffee roasting.
Tiny Footprint Coffee Organic
This is one of the fewest coffee beans specially selected and roasted for cold brew. To be honest, I haven’t tried the beans, but I have a good friend who highly recommended it. In my opinion, just the fact that a roaster created this product specifically for cold brewing, makes it attractive.
The final cup is very rich compared to other beans brewed the same way. The profile is complex, including floral notes with a strong chocolate finish. The coffee is very smooth, even for cold press.
The roaster, Tiny Footprint Coffee has a great initiative, donating a percentage from their profits for reforestation.
What Are the Best Beans for Cold Brew Coffee – Single Origin or Blend?
If you asked me what are the greatest beans for your iced coffee and I had to point to a bag of beans, I couldn’t do it. Things are not that simple because coffee taste is very subjective. I know what I like, and I will definitely give you a suggestion. Keep in mind, however, that your taste for coffees might be different than mine. So instead of pointing you to a specific blend, or a single origin, I’ll give you a few options, and I’ll show you what it will taste like each of them. I’ll also show you how to choose a coffee to suit your taste.
I personally prefer single origins, because they allow me to taste the beans’ subtle notes. Cold coffee, especially medium and light roasts have a lot more subtle and delicate flavors than hot brews. Hot water speeds up the extraction, but the high brewing temperature makes the delicate flavors to dissipate. With cold brew, all of the floral and fruity notes are preserved, and if you have a good palate, you’ll be amazed how good coffee can taste. The bitterness and acidity common with drip brewing are inexistent in a cold brew. This is why blending doesn’t make as much sense as with espresso blends where roasters need to balance acidity, sweetness and caramel notes. All of these while making sure the blend produces enough crema. With cold brew, you just need to choose a great single origin. My favorite origins for cold brew are in no order: Indonesian Sulawesi, Kona, premium Sumatra, Brazilian, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Mocha Java, Kenyan and Peruvian beans. If you ask me to be more specific, I can probably point at Kenya beans as the best coffee for cold brew. But selecting one origin would be just unfair for all other coffees. They all have their merits, and depending on your taste you can choose the nutty Brazilians, or the floral Ethiopian, or the Java Mocha with its chocolate notes. There is no wrong choice, it’s just your choice.
For full disclosure, you’ll get a decent cup of cold brewed java with almost any bean. The roast is more important than the bean origin. So if you have a lighter roast in your pantry, just try it now. I am a perfectionist, so every time I make coffee, I aim for greatness.
Cold Brew has Low Acidity
Cold brew coffee is prized for many things. Two aspects I wanted to touch up on are the low acid levels in the final cup, and the fact that it is less irritant to the stomach of sensitive people. Some will say it’s the same thing. In fact acidity in coffee is not what upsets the stomach. Two of the substances that contribute to upsetting stomach are caffeine and N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytryptamides. When brewing at lower temperatures, there is less N-alkanoly-5-hydroxytryptamides extracted in your cup, consequently your cup is gentle on the stomach. More on the subject here…
Because of the lower acidity, the subtle flavors are accentuated. You will notice chocolate and fruity flavors. This is one of the reasons cold brew is absolutely delicious without any milk. But if you must add milk, check our iced coffee recipe.
I am not particularly fond of Starbucks’ commercial model, and they make one of the worst espressos in the industry. Their packaged coffee beans though are pretty good. I buy their beans on regular basis, when my wife drags me into their shop to get a latte.
Starbucks’ Ethiopia Medium Roast is the perfect coffee for cold brew. The citrus and dark cocoa notes are subtly infused in the brew. I recommend steeping a bit longer than the 24 hours that is generally suggested on the Internet. With longer steeping you get more body, and you extract more of the dark chocolate flavour. The medium roast ensures that no burned tones are passed into your cup. I love these beans, and I use them for various brews, not only for cold press.
A traditional iced coffee recipe is made with a blend of coffee and chicory. Originating in Louisiana, and brought by the French settlers, chicory coffee is delicious. You can certainly drink more of it without the jitters, and it makes a great drink for the summer days.
Mixing chicory and coffee is one of my favorite recipe. I brew coffee and chicory separately, and I freeze them into cubes. I then mix a few cubes of frozen chicory and a few of real coffee, in a ratio of 20% chicory to 80% coffee, and I pour milk over them. This makes a delicious beverage.
As a general conclusion, if you drink your cold brew black, you need to use good quality beans. This will offer you a great cup, with distinctive, subtle flavors, that you will never find in a hot brew. If your cold brew is meant for a milky, sweet drink, don’t bother too much with my guide. The coffee will be drenched in milk, and it won’t matter anyway.
OK, I admit, I always add just a bit of sugar or maple syrup to my cold brew. So it’s not the end of the world if you do too. But if your mug contains more milk than coffee, then yes the beans are important.
Starbucks Kenya – Best Coffee for Cold Brew
Kenyan coffee is one of the best suited for making cold brew. It make a smooth coffee, with subtle acidity – citrus like, with fruity flavors. The Kenyans are also renown for their wine notes, this doesn’t make exception. Roasted carefully so that the delicate flavors of the African beans are not overwhelmed by the roasting flavor, it is perfect for any low temperature brew, such as Aeropress, French press, and obviously, cold press.
Yeah, this is my favorite, and the coffee you get is so smooth you can certainly drink too much of it. When a friend whom I recommended these beans asked me why fruity and wine flavors are good in a coffee, I tried to explain: “The tones are subtle, and your coffee will certainly not taste like you added wine in your brew. You have to try it at least once to understand this.”