Mastering cold brew unlocks a whole new world of coffee. As summer starts, cold brew is the perfect drink to wake you up and keep you cool. Done right, your cold brew will be sweet and velvety. Done wrong, however, and it’ll taste watery and overly bitter. Learning how to make a cold brew coffee doesn’t require barista training, but it helps to have a little guidance.
As a trained barista, I've been immersed in the coffee community. I reached out to the cold brew connoisseurs to find out their tips, tricks, and insider advice. There are lots of ways to make cold brew, using a coffee maker, filter, or your French press. I spoke with head roasters and even a Cordon Bleu chef to find out how to make cold brew like the experts do.
From an elevated take on the Starbucks cold brew method, to a simple machine process, I’ve researched and tested every way to make a cold brew. I’ve answered every conceivable cold brew question for you. Without further a-brew, let’s begin.
How to make cold brew coffee
What is cold brew?
Let’s talk about the difference between cold and hot brew coffee. Hot brew uses extreme conditions to quickly extract coffee oils from your coffee beans. Whether it’s high temperatures, high pressures, or a combination of both, it’s fast and it’s furious. As a result, hot brew coffee can taste a little more acidic and bitter.
The cold brew process uses a much slower infusion. You grind your coffee beans to a slightly larger, coarser texture, and brew them by steeping coffee grounds in water for at least 12 hours. These gentler conditions create a smooth and almost sweet taste, enough to convert the most adamant anti-coffee drinkers. This also means cold brew can be much cheaper than buying a new coffee maker.
How to make cold brew with a French press
We’ve tested some of the best French presses on the market. If you don’t already own one, we would recommend using the Espro P7 French Press, or for a budget option, the Bodum Chambord. If you already own a French press, you can start making cold brews already. It’s low cost and really easy. I spoke with Heather Calatrello, Owner and Head Roaster at ShedLight Coffee Roasters. She’s been crafting cold brew for years, so has lots of expert advice on how to finesse this process.
Her first piece of advice is to work on a 1:5 cold brew ratio. Take one cup of coffee beans and use your coffee grinder to grind the beans into a coarse sea-salt texture. Place that at the bottom of your carafe. Then, pour five cups of filtered, room temperature or cooled, water and slowly pour them over the grounds in a circular motion.
Heather told me that the cold water should be filtered, so that any impurities don’t interfere with the coffee grounds. She also warns brewers not to stir the grinds: that’s why we pour in a circular motion. Stirring the grounds can cause uneven extraction, because the grounds are exposed to different quantities of water, so they’ll extract at different rates. If the coffee grounds are not fully submerged, use the back of a metal spoon to gently press down on any floating grounds near to the top. Once all of the grounds have been submerged, place the lid on the French press to seal the carafe, but do not plunge it.
Let the coffee steep at room temperature for at least 12 hours. If you want to slow the process, place your French press in the refrigerator. You can adjust how long you brew for up to 24 hours.
Once steeped, plunge the French press very slowly. Wait for 30 seconds and do not rush. This lets the grinds settle and removes the risk of a cloudy, sour cold brew. Take a filter and place it in a funnel or sieve. Pour your cold brew through the filter and sieve into a sealed container. This should remove the coffee grounds, which you can use in your garden for compost. The cold brew can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.
‘If your brew is too sour’, Heather says, ‘it’s likely that your coffee is under-extracted. This could be sure to a short steeping time or a grind that is too coarse’. Conversely, she advised that ‘if your cold brew is bitter or flat, this is the result of over extraction’. This happens when the grind is too fine, so you’ll need to adjust your grinder to a more coarse setting. Of course, this stage depends on your preference and you can experiment to get the grind exactly as you want it. One final note Heather stressed was that your cold brew results are in a highly concentrated form. Cold brew is meant to be diluted with water or milk or both, she recommends a 1:1 ratio, but again, she says that this is person-dependent.
Heather Calatrello is the owner and Head Coffee Roaster at ShedLight Coffee Roasters. Based in San Diego, Shed Light help to simplify coffee brewing, opening it up to a variety of people. Their coffee roastery runs on solar power and all of their speciality coffee is organic and roasted in small batches.
How to cold brew with a filter
If you don’t have a French press, this is the next best option. It can be done with almost no preparation, so it is a good method if you don’t want to invest in cold brew equipment. All you need is a pitcher, coffee grinds, and some filter papers, like these unbleached filters at Amazon.
Tom Saxon, the co-founder of Batch Coffee, gave me his personal recipe for cold brew at home. The process is easy. He adds coarse ground coffee to the bottom of a carafe, pitcher, jar, or jug. Then add eighteen times as much water. As with the French press, you’ll need to pour in a circular motion and use the back of a spoon to submerge all of the grinds. Seal your container and leave it in the fridge for 12-24 hours. When you want to drink it, place a paper filter inside a sieve or funnel and pour your cold brew through the filter, draining it into another container. Tom’s tip is to soak the filter with water first, so that it can immediately filter your cold brew. He also recommends that you drain your container slowly so you don’t disturb the grinds, as this might over-extract your coffee beans.
Once drained, you can drink your cold brew over ice, with water, or a splash of milk. Tom says that ‘you may taste some of the subtle and complex flavor notes that you will see displayed on the bag’. He particularly recommends Ethiopian and Kenyan coffee beans, because these tend to have fruity and floral notes. His final tips for the perfect brew are to grind the coffee fresh, opt for a light or medium roast, and look for naturally processed coffee beans. These are dried at origin with the coffee cherry still intact, so have very fruity flavors.
Although simple, this is the exact method that Starbucks uses. If you want to get technical, you can invest in a Cold Toddy System. This is a special, jug-like container that comes recommended by a number of cold brew experts. The process is the same, but it saves the mess of pouring between carafes and mugs - the pitcher and filter paper are all in one unit.
Tom is the founder of Batch Coffee Club, an independent coffee roasting company. He has worked in the coffee industry for over ten years and has experience and insight into a number of parts of the coffee supply chain. He's passionate about speciality, quality coffee and an expert in the field.
How to cold brew with a machine
By far the most expensive process, but also probably the easiest, is using a machine with cold brew settings. We’re in the middle of testing the De’Longhi Eletta Explore, which can make cold brew in three minutes. The flavor is still smooth and sweet, but you don’t have to wait all day or night to achieve it. You simply select the cold brew setting and the machine will do the rest for you. It couldn’t be any easier or faster, but this convenience will cost you more than $1500.
Expert Tips and Serving Tricks
To get your taste buds tingling, we spoke to a Cordon Bleu chef, Casey Bumpsteed. A flavor palette professional, she told us that the best cold brew starts with beans. As always, buy quality and grind coarsely to a texture that is akin to sea salt. Having run a cafe in South Africa, Casey gave us some of her extra special tips. ‘At my cafe, we often added a hint of toasted coconut, a dash of cinnamon, or even a vanilla bean to the brewing process. Can you imagine how fantastic that tastes?’.
Casey also made me promise to try adding some cream to my cold brew. The already sweet, velvety taste is complemented by the smooth and rich cream texture. It’s very very drinkable, almost desert-like.
Casey has been a chef for over twenty years. After qualifying as a Cordon Bleu chef in 2003, she's perfected her palette, running a café in South Africa where she honed her cold brew technique. When she isn't experimenting with coffee, Casey is a food writer, chef, food stylist, and editor of Ceramic Cookware Review.
Cold brew FAQs
Why do people like cold brew?
When the weather is a little warmer, it’s nice to have a refreshing cold drink, and cold brew can deliver refreshing coolness alongside caffeine. That also makes cold brew perfect for adding to cocktails like espresso martinis. What’s more, you can make a big batch of cold brew to keep in the fridge. If you’re short on time in the morning, or live in a household that you don’t want to wake with a coffee machine, you can make and keep your cold brew for up to two weeks.
Can I drink cold brew hot?
You can warm up cold brew by topping up your concentrate with boiling water from a kettle. This is the best way to warm up your brew, because you can control the temperature and concentration of your brew. Alternatively, you can use a stove or microwave. Just keep heating it until it’s the temperature that you would like to drink it at.
What can I add to my cold brew?
The beauty of cold brew is in its simplicity. Start off by adding water or milk, or a mixture of both. If you want a strong, rich drink, add some cream. You could mix it in a cocktail with negroni, tequila, or any other beverage that you think would suit the profile. Casey Bumpsteed, the Cordon Bleu chef, recommends brewing your grounds with vanilla or cinnamon to further elevate your cold brew experience.
What beans should I use for cold brew coffee?
This is a matter of preference. I’ve had recommendations from baristas ranging from dark to medium to light roast. It really depends on what you prefer. Tom Saxon, from Batch Coffee, recommended using fruity flavor notes, because they suit the sweeter, smoother cold brew profile.
Is there caffeine in cold brew coffee?
Yes, it’s still coffee, after all. The caffeine is still extracted from the coffee beans, the process is simply slower. The results of your cold brew are a coffee concentrate, so it’s important that you dilute them, otherwise you will have a very strong drink.
When does cold brew coffee go bad?
You can keep your cold brew in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. This is one of the reasons why lots of people like cold brew; you can do a lot of coffee prep in one go and you won’t make lots of noise in the morning. After two weeks, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any cold brew left anyway.
How long should I brew cold brew coffee for?
This depends on the taste you want. We recommend that you let your coffee brew for at least 12 hours. I wouldn’t recommend brewing for over 24 hours, because you can end up with an over-extracted, murky brew, which tastes bitter or flat.
What’s the difference between cold brew coffee and iced coffee?
This is all about the brewing process. Iced coffee uses an espresso which has been brewed using high temperatures and pressure. The resulting taste is more acidic than cold brew coffee, which has been slowly extracted over at least 12 hours using cold water.
You don’t need to make any big investments before you get into cold brew. You can start with a jar and filter paper and, if you really fall in love, it could be worth upgrading to a coffee machine. From speaking with the baristas and chefs who love, live, and breath cold brews, you just need to invest in the basics. Use filtered water, make sure your beans are good quality and ground coarsely, and be patient.