Cold-brewed coffee is very simple, and cheap to make at home. Depending on your needs and budget, you can get a little more fancy and spend a little, but it's not absolutely necessary.
I will show you how to make cold brew coffee at home, be an expert at it, and get it better than the commercially made cold brew.
You will learn how to make cold brew coffee using a great recipe. Learn to brew it in four ways, inexpensively. It will taste better than the store bought cold brew.
Yes, you can make your own delicious cold brew at home, is not too hard. You just need to understand the science behind cold coffee extraction, and how the science translates into actionable tips and tricks.
I bet you chose this coffee brewing method because you want to make the best iced coffee.
If it’s not that, maybe your stomach is sensitive to coffee and you can only drink the mellow, delicate cold press coffee. We explained here why cold brewed coffee is gentle on the stomach.
We will also show you when to choose cold brew or hot brew for your iced coffee.
What Is Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew is a coffee brewing method, in which the brewing takes place at low temperatures ranging from room temperature or colder. The method involves steeping coffee grounds in cold water, in order to preserve volatile compounds and avoid extraction of substances that soluble at high temperatures. Commonly, cold brewing is done for extended periods of time, to compensate for the low temperatures.
Cold Brew Coffee Benefits
There are many benefits for brewing with cold water, and we already touched a few of them. Here is a complete list:
- Cold brew is less acidic than traditional iced coffee. When brewing with hot water, more acids are extracted, and this gives coffee the rich flavor and bold profile. For some coffee lovers this is a good thing. Other people find the taste flat. It depends on your palate.
- Cold brew has a lower acidity, as we said, is naturally sweeter, and it is less bitter than hot brew.
- Cold brew is more stable than hot coffee. It can be bottled, or kept in the fridge for days without any chemical changes.
- Cold brew coffee is better for the digestive system. The compounds that stimulate your stomach to produce acid are not extracted at low temperatures. This is why cold brew is perfect for people with sensitive stomach. Read this article if coffee hurts your stomach.
- Although most of the people will drink it cold, you can serve cold brew … hot.
Cold brew is more flavorful than the regular one. Many of the flavor accents of coffee is lost during hot brewing, because the compounds that make up those flavors are volatile. Brewing cold ensures that delicate flavors are retained.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee
Homemade Cold Brew Coffee Makers
There are a few methods you can use to cold brew coffee at home, and none of these methods are expensive. The most convenient and most used methods are:
- The Paper Filter Method - no special device needed, just a simple coffee filter
While this method is very frugal and require no investment from your part, the brewing and the filtering will be cumbersome and you will probably give on brewing cold altogether.
- French press
The French press is probably one of the best ways to brew it if you own a decently sized press pot. It is convenient, you can prepare for a few days, and you don't have to spend any money. If you don't own a large French press, you probably want to buy a cold brew coffee maker.
- Coffee sock, (coffee bag)
It is the best option for people who want to try cold brew, and for people with small kitchens. No commitment, minimal mess, very convenient, I recommend it for anybody who want to try immersion cold brew.
- Cold brewing filter such as Toddy
The cold brew coffee makers are best for people who know they will drink cold brew on a regular basis, and aim for the best balance between quality and convenience. Sure, you need to reserve a spot for your batch immersion cold brew coffee maker. But you can brew for a few days, and your coffee will be better than the Starbucks'.
- Cold brew Coffee Machines
In case you didn't know, we have now on the market cold brew coffee machines that can prepare a few cups in minutes. Using a variety of extraction methods, from stirring to vacuum, the machines are the new "hot" cold brew item. I recommend them to anyone with a decent budget. They tend to break easier than your Toddy or filtron, but you can't beat their convenience.
- Drip Cold Brew Coffee Makers
An elegant coffee maker, that uses gravitation to extract coffee. Using the same principle as a pour over device, but much, much slower, this coffee maker is recommended for those who like to own beautiful kitchen gadgets. Sure, the flavor is a bit different from the more popular immersion cold brew, but not by much. You can't brew concentrate with this method.
The Paper Filter Method
Lisa Lavery shared a frugal cold brewing method, which only requires a coffee filter. Here is the procedure:
- Pour 3 1/2 cups cold water in a 2 quart mason jar, or a pitcher.
- Place about 4 1/2 ounces coarsely ground coffee in the mason jar, and stir to combine. Stir thoroughly until all the grounds are wet and they sink at the bottom of the jar. This will ensure a uniform extraction.
- Cover with the lid or with plastic wrap and let it steep at room temperature for at least 12 hours and up to 1 day. If you steep it in the fridge, you can increase the steeping time to compensate for the low temperature.
- Line a strainer with paper coffee filter and place it over a coffee pot or a bowl. You can also use a funnel instead of the mesh strainer. Slowly pour the coffee into the filter, trying to not disturb the grinds at the bottom of the jar.
Additional Tips for The Paper Filter Method
Pour in batches until all of the liquid has passed through the strainer. You might need to replace the paper filter if the flow is slowing down too much. Stop filtering when you reach the solids at the bottom of the mason jar. Discard the grounds and the filter.
Wash the pitcher and transfer the strained coffee into the pitcher. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 2 hours. You can store it in the fridge up to 5 days.
Cold Brew - The Coffee Sock Filtration Method
Another great option for cold brewing is shared by Maddie from Kicking Horse Coffee. Maddie teaches us how to make cold brew coffee using a textile bag as a filter. All the equipment you need is a mason jar and the textile bag. The textile bag filter is known as the coffee sock. You can make your own coffee sock filter, if you are handy and you have a sewing machine. Otherwise you can buy one online. The best materials for the coffee sock filter are cotton and hemp. This is the second inexpensive cold brew method; you don’t need anything fancy, just time. Here is the method as outlined in Maddie’s cold brew article, with our additions to make it even easier for you:
- Grind about 1 1/2 cups of coffee beans. Here is an article to help you pick the best coffee beans for cold brew.
- Use a coarse grind to make the filtration process easy. Using a coarse grind will also lower the bitterness of the final cup.
- Pour 3 1/2 cups cold water in a 2 quart mason jar.
- Place the grounds in the coffee sock, and then immerse the sock in the mason jar.
- Use a wooden spatula or spoon to stir the grinds in the water. Make sure the grinds are fully saturated. Put the lid on your mason jar and put it in the fridge.
- Steep for 12 to 24 hours, depending on your taste. The more you leave it in the fridge, the stronger the coffee will be. Steep too long and coffee will be bitter.
- Remove the coffee sock and gently press it to fully drain. If the material of your cotton bag is too thin, just rest the coffee bag filter above the jar’s mouth.
- If you want a clear cup, you can further use a funnel lined up with a paper coffee filter, to quickly filter out any fines in your coffee.
- Put the coffee in the fridge for a couple of hours and serve. You can store cold coffee in the fridge for up to a week.
Maddie suggested in her article to wrap your ground coffee in a paper filter, and only then place it in the coffee sock, or nut bag. This eliminates the need of the second filtration. Either way, you should get a clean and bright cup of cold brewed coffee.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee with a French Press
Probably the cheapest method to make a cold brew is to use a French press. That implies you already own one, of course. If you have a French press coffee maker, you just need to add water and some grounds, and let it steep for 14-24 hours. Then press the plunger to separate the grounds from your beverage and pour.
Julie R. Thomson from Huffington Post has put together a nice article on how to make cold brew with a French Press. Here is our detailed version of this method:
- Grind 1 cup of medium or light roast coffee beans and place in a large (8-cup) French press.
- The grind size should be coarse to medium-coarse.
- Add 4 cups of cold water, (room-temperature or colder).
- Stir in to make sure the grounds are fully expanding and saturate with water. This ensures a complete and uniform extraction.
- Place the plunger of your French press on top of the beaker and immerse just enough to cover the brew.
- Let it steep in the fridge for 16 hours. You can also steep at room temperature, and adjust down to 12-14 hours.
- Take it off the fridge and slowly press down on the plunger to push all the coffee grounds to the bottom.
- Further filter using a pour over paper filter, if you like a clear cup. If you are like me, and you love a bold gritty cup, don’t filter it.
- Add water to this concentrate coffee syrup, and pour it in cups.
Toddy Method- Easy Cold Brew Coffee
We call it the Toddy method since Toddy is the original cold brewing coffee maker. However, there are a few other manufacturers of cold brew coffee makers on the market now. The most notable ones are Toddy, Filtron, and Oxo. We wrote an article here, comparing the best cold brew makers on the market.
This is the most convenient way to make cold brew, because you can brew large batches, and you avoid the inherent mess with cheap methods. The filter is also pretty good, and you get a great, clear cup.
Blue Bottle Coffee has had a great tutorial on cold brewing with a Filtron coffee maker. Our guide here is slightly different, because it’s for a Toddy filter, but the main idea is the same.
Now that you made your cold brew coffee concentrate, you can pour it in an ice cube tray and freeze it. Then, you can add water or milk. This way the coffee doesn’t water down at the end, and it will be even tastier. Here is our iced coffee recipe.
Cold Brew Coffee Extraction
We discussed this in our quick cold brew method, but here is a resume of what we said there:
- When brewing coffee we need to dissolve soluble compounds in the grounds.
- The process of dissolving the soluble solids in coffee can be improved in a few ways with the most common way, heating the solution.
- Besides heating, you can improve extraction by agitating the solution, and by adjusting the grind size.
- In absence of heat to speed up the dissolution, we need more time to achieve a complete dissolution.
Important Tips about Cold Brew and Extraction
Not everybody cup is the same. Some people like French press, some like espresso, some like paper filtered coffee, prepared with light roasted beans. The same goes with cold brew. Whatever the reason you turned to cold brew, it's a 50% chance you like a stronger cup. Yet most cold brew recipes focus on caffeine extraction in the detriment of coffee taste. In the process, cold brew becomes a wasteful preparation method, that gets pretty expensive.
If you love strong, flavorful coffee, closer to the European style, of brewing it, you need to shift from the popular cold brew recipe that recommends extra-coarse grind size and 10-12 hours of steeping. With coarse grind and 12 hours steeping time, you extract most of the caffeine, but many other soluble solids do not get dissolved. So you will have a caffeinated beverage, but very light. If this is your kind of coffee, then follow the trend. But if you want a bolder cup, without the bitterness of hot brew, read on.
Many of the concepts we discuss here are easier to understand if you know how to make coffee. We try to explain the concepts as we go, but we can't go too deep into the details, because the article would be too long.
Coffee extraction is a bit misunderstood. When we mix hot water and ground coffee, we need to keep them in contact for a predetermined time. Keep them too long together, and we extract bitter compounds in large quantities. Keep them too little together and we only extract the acids from coffee, and the brew will be weak sour beverage.
The grind size is another factor that affects the extraction yield. The finer the grind, the better the extraction. This why with finer coffee particles we need to shorten the time grounds and water are together. But there is another factor that affects extraction, and is in a strong relationship with both brewing time and grind size. We are talking about it next.
The compounds in coffee dissolve faster at high temperatures. The bitter compounds dissolve faster at high temperature but in negligible quantities at lower temperatures. This is why the SCAA has a standard for brewing filter coffee. When brewing hot coffee, we have to be very careful with the grind size and the brewing time. The high brewing temperature will dissolve undesirable compounds at a fast rate.
Cold Brew Coffee and Brewing Parameters
The extraction is a bit misunderstood for cold brew. People assume that if we brew longer, we will risk to over-extract. Yes, in a way it is an over-extraction, because the longer we steep, the higher the extraction yield. The difference is that in cold brew we extract very little of the undesirable compounds, because of the low brewing temperature. Yes, coffee cold brewed for 36 hours is very strong and it needs to be diluted. But is coffee brewed for 12 hours. It just needs to be diluted less.
This might come as a surprise, but longer steeping times means less caffeine per serving. Caffeine is one of the compounds that gets extracted the fastest, so there will be a negligible caffeine difference between a 12 hours brew and a 36 hours brew. However, a 36 hours brew will need considerably more diluting.
The Perfect Cold Brew Recipe
This recipe is conceived for brewing with a coffee filter bag, but can be adjusted for your French press. It is trickier to adjust it for a Toddy, or Filtron, but doable, if you have the patience to test a few batches.
- Start by grinding 1 and 1/2 cup of coffee beans.
- The grind size should be medium, to medium coarse. (That's a coarser drip.)
- Put the ground coffee in a disposable coffee filter bag, and place the bag opened in the mason jar.
- Start pouring cold water over the coffee grounds in the filter bag, mixing to wet all the grounds.
- When all the grounds are perfectly wet, pull the drawstring to close the bag perfectly.
- Fill the mason jar with water, and place the lid.
- Shake the jar a few times and let it steep in the fridge for 36 hours.
- Transfer the coffee to a bottle, and let it decant for 1 hour.
- Transfer carefully to another bottle.
- Pour in cups and serve as is. This is a stronger cup, if you need it dilute it just with 1/5 to 1/3 water or milk.
- Place the rest in the fridge for the next day.
Iced Coffee vs Cold Brew Coffee
Many people confuse cold brew coffee with iced coffee. Iced coffee is just a recipe that refers to brewed coffee then chilled. Iced coffee sometimes contains milk and sugar and many times flavorings. Iced coffee can be brewed hot and then chilled before going into the blender. Iced coffee can be also be made with cold brew.
What is the difference between the iced coffee made with chilled hot brewed coffee and iced coffee made with cold brew coffee? The biggest difference is the flavor profile. Hot brew has more bite, it has a bitterness that we cannot find in coffee extracted at low temperature.
Chilled hot brews are a great option, even though there are baristas that don't like the idea. Their explanation is this: "Hot coffee needs to be consumed fresh. Once it cools down it changes its chemical properties and it tastes bad. The way to fix this is to cool the coffee down as fast as possible." I agree that is best to chill coffee as soon as possible to avoid oxidation, but let me say this, properly brewed coffee tastes great even when it's cold.
The most convenient way to cool coffee fast is to brew it over ice cubes. This trick forces coffee to cool down very fast, and it doesn’t allow it to oxidize.
Cold brew is better suited for iced coffee, because the flavors extracted that way are very stable. Coffee will not oxidize, and the flavor profile just works with iced coffee, simple, or flavored. This is probably why many times cold brew is associated with iced coffee. However, as I mentioned before, the mild flavor profile of cold brew does not appeal to all coffee lovers.
One other advantage of cold brew is that it takes less effort to cool it down. Whether you freeze it into cubes, or add regular ice cubes to it, it's easier to bring it to the desired temperature. However, there are coffee chillers that can bring a hot brew to iced coffee temperatures pretty fast.