Cold Brew: Summer’s Coolest Beans
Cold brew can be confusing, but the art is easy to learn, so dive into this definitive guide on the ice-cold coffee beverage.
Here at CoffeeTec, we think there’s no better time to enjoy cold brew than the summer. But iced coffee tends to steal the spotlight when the warm weather hits. We love a perfect iced coffee as much as anyone, don’t get us wrong. We just happen to believe that a smooth cold brew, perfectly executed, is one of the summer’s finest pleasures — whether enjoyed at an outdoor cafe, an air-conditioned restaurant, or at home. And we thought summer would be a great time to refresh coffee veterans and newbies alike on best practices for whipping up the world’s best cold brew.
COLD BREW 101
Are Cold Brew and Iced Coffee the Same Thing?
At CoffeeTec, we wince every time we hear of iced coffee, confused with the magic that is slow-steeped cold brew. Cold brew is a far smoother concoction created by steeping ground coffee beans in fresh, cold water. Iced coffee starts as hot coffee, then is simply chilled. And while iced coffee takes less time to make, cold brew’s longer brew time is the key to its mellow magic.
Now, there are coffee shops here and there who serve up yesterday’s hot jo as today’s iced coffee (we know, we know, you would never). But cold brew isn’t ever about shortcuts. Its unique process guarantees a fresh, fab taste low in acidity and rich in flavor. Any coffee lover would be wise to get acquainted with cold brew coffee — and making the perfect cold brew at home isn’t as mysterious as you might think, either.
What’s the Best Approach to Making Cold Brew?
The secret to cold brew? You know as well as we do that coffee aficionados have differing opinions on what gives a cold brew the best taste. But first things first, because sometimes, stating the obvious is a must: Cold brew must never come into contact with hot water. Cold brew coffee grounds need to bloom in water anywhere in the range of room temp to 35 degrees F. We think room temp water generally yields the best taste, but we’ve had some stellar brews that are steeped in chillier water.
How Long Should Cold Brew Brew?
If you’re the impatient type, cold brew can be ready to serve in just two hours or so, but if you can resist the urge, a cold brew steeped for a full 24 hours will have a far superior flavor.
THE NITTY GRITTY OF MAKING COLD BREW
Does it matter what coffee you use for cold brew?
Our opinion? Yes and no. Yes, it’s important to know that the slow cold brew process intensifies the complexities of any brand or flavor of coffee. So you might be surprised to find that your favorite hot coffee will taste quite different prepared as a cold brew. That’s why it’s a good idea to try all sorts of coffees, roasts, and grinds to see just what kind of cold brew rocks your world —and your customers’.
Not all coffees — or cold brews — are made alike. Like a fine wine, coffee beans differ in all sorts of ways. When deciding on a cold brew approach, it’s important to consider variables such as geographical region (btw, have you checked out our single origin coffees?), bean variety, bean processing method, roast, grind, and storage. Each of these affects a brew’s flavor as a hot or cold beverage. Be prepared to experiment to find your perfect cold brew elixir.
Word to the wise: The brewing time is longer with cold brew, so a coarser grind is preferable for best extraction and body.
Is Coffee Roast the Most Important Thing to Consider When Making Cold Brew?
Though cold brew opinions are plentiful in the coffee roasting industry, we think the perfect cold brew really comes down to individual preference. Any roast can work! Still, you’ll likely find many folks who insist that a dark roast is the key to producing the best cold brew. Dark roasts offer rich, earthy notes — such as chocolate or maple — that make for a very pleasing cold brew taste profile. And you might have already noticed that dark roasts are a little easier on the budget.
Medium, light, and blonde roasts are usually a little pricier, with greener floral, hoppy, oatmeal, or even fruity notes. If you groove on lighter roasts, we say go for it! But here’s a little secret: cold brewing will even coax those floral notes out of the darkest roasts if you give it a long enough extraction time.
Why is a Coarse Grind Important for Cold Brew?
A fine, velvety grind traps water and doesn’t allow it to flow freely over the coffee. Fine grinds can also yield an unpleasant, bitter flavor due to over-extraction of the grinds — yuck!
If a grind is gritty to the touch, you can bet that’s a great texture for cold brew. That sort of texture will allow easy drip and the mellow flavor cold brew is famous for.
CUTTING CORNERS BREWING COLD BREW
Can I Use Tap Water in my Cold Brew?
If you use tap water, the coffee police will not show up on your doorstep and haul you away for your sins. However, if you seek cold brew nirvana, it’s worth investing in filtered water for the purest flavor possible.
Speaking of water, let’s talk ice cubes: You’ll want to serve cold brew, well, cold. So you might want to consider whipping up a few batches of cold brew ice cubes so that they won’t dilute your hard-won end product.
Can I Use Pre-ground Coffee for Cold Brew, or is that Cheating?
All’s fair in love, war, and coffee. Coffee industry folks know better than to ask this question, but most end users are looking for convenience. While there’s no harm in using pre-ground beans for coffee, the fact is, you’re not going to get the very freshest cold brew. That’s because coffee beans lose more than half of their aroma (oof!) within 15 minutes of being ground. And any moisture trapped in the air where coffee’s stored will mess with the delicious oils of the coffee bean — meaning a cold brew that, while good, is less than perfection.
Grinding your beans as needed with a mill or burr grinder is worth the effort, trust us.
Pass on the blade grinders, though: they tend to churn out uneven grinds that don’t play nice with cold brew. With a burr or mill grinder, you’ll enjoy the consistent texture and beautiful flavor extraction that will go a long way in your quest for the perfect cold brew.
I’m New to Cold Brew. Is There a Recipe That I Should Follow?
The Best Cold Brew Coffee Recipe According to CoffeeTec
- Take one pound of your favorite coffee and grind it until coarse.
- Combine your one pound of coffee grounds with one pound of water (your amount of water should match the amount of grounds).
- Place the coffee grounds into the filter bag, and then place the bag into the brewing jug.
- Cover the filter filled with grounds with cold water, making sure that all of the grounds have been covered and saturated.
- Place the lid on your cold brewing jug and let it sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Remember, for cold brew – the longer it sits, the better.
- After the time is up, voila! Pour your delicious cold brew concentrate over ice, add some flavored syrup, water, creamer, and whatever else your heart desires, and ENJOY a nice cold brew!
How is Nitro Cold Brew Different?
Unless you’ve been hiding out in a cave for the past few years, you’ve likely heard about the cult of nitro cold brew — now readily available at most coffee chains across the U.S. This kind of cold-brewed coffee levels up with a heady infusion of nitrogen gas (don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe). The tiny nitrogen bubbles magically create a smoother, thicker texture (with a welcome bit of froth) that some say is beer-like. The richer texture of the brew also means many folks who normally take milk, cream, or sweetener in their coffee drink nitro cold brew black — yep, it’s THAT good.