Kitchen Confidence

How to Make Cold-Brewed Coffee

by • July 8, 2015 136 Comments

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: We're re-running one of our summertime favorites because cold brew really is the easiest coffee method out there—as simple as one, two, steep. 

Cold-brewed coffee is like iced coffee’s cooler sibling. They’re made of the same stuff, but one’s a little more “in”—and one’s well-known and loved, but a bit passé. Dare we say it: Cold brew is the summer beverage—caffeinated and cold, two adjectives you and your money can get behind.

The main difference between cold brew and iced coffee involves temperature. That is, cold brew is brewed cold and never heated, while iced coffee is normal coffee that’s then cooled down. For more detail on how this affects taste, concentration, and all that coffee jazz, see below.

Here are a few things that transformed cold-brew from alternative iced coffee to ubiquitous coffee shop darling (and why we’re all about it):

  • Lower acidity level: The grounds aren’t subjected to the intense heat of boiling water, making the chemical profile of the final brew different than that of conventionally brewed or drip coffee. Lower acidity creates a smoother cup that’s mellow on the stomach. Similarly, rapidly cooling hot coffee yields a slightly bitter taste. Cold brew’s lower acidity means it naturally tastes sweeter.

  • Watery problems, no more: Ever poured hot coffee over ice? Then you’re familiar with diluted coffee. And watery coffee is sad. Cold brew puts the dilution in your hands. Since it’s already cold or at room temperature, the addition of ice or added water is entirely optional.

  • A more caffeinated cup: While caffeine is more soluble and extracts more easily at higher temperatures, cold brew’s high bean-to-water ratio and longer brew time give it more buzz. Add milk or cream to temper intensity, if you like.

While iced coffee’s expensive, cold brew’s even pricier when you're buying it at coffee shops. It’s an issue, though, with an easy solution: Make cold brew at home—in 3 steps. It can be done in any sort of large container, French press, or even a Mason jar (there’s also specific cold-brewing contraptions, if this is going to be your new morning drink). Really, if it holds coffee and water, you can cold brew in it. We’re focusing on the container and French press methods because those are the contraptions we (and likely you) use most and will readily have around. Here’s why cold-brewing might just be the easiest coffee method out there:

Grind

The ratio of coffee grounds to water is subjective and depends on personal taste. A good place to start is to grind 3/4 cup beans for 4 cups of cold water—the size of a 32-ounce French press. You can double—with 1.5 cups beans for 8 cups water—or even triple the quantities depending on the size of your container. Next, grind the beans very coarsely. We mean it. A smaller grind will result in cloudy coffee.

More: How to clean a coffee grinder.

Soak and wait (and wait, and wait…)

Put the coffee in your container, which can be plastic, glass, or ceramic and doesn’t need to have a lid. The container should be deep enough to hold the coffee and water and light enough you can pick the whole thing up to strain. For a French press, pour the coffee into the bottom of the canister. For both a container or a French press, gradually add the water. Stir gently, making sure all the coffee grounds are moistened.

  

If using a large container, cover the top with cheesecloth. For a French press, place the top on (but don’t press down on the plunger). Let stand at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Don’t rush this. The long steep time is important for proper extraction.

Press

If you’re using a container, take the cheesecloth from the top of the container and use it to line a fine mesh sieve set over a large pitcher (or bowl or whatever else you’d like to store your cold brew in). Pour the coffee through the sieve, waiting a minute or two until the coffee’s filtered out, and discard solids and cheesecloth. 

For the French press, simply press down on the plunger to move grounds to the bottom. Pour. 

That’s it! You have cold brew. The concentrate will keep for up to 2 weeks covered and chilled in the fridge. Add ice, milk, or your other favorite coffee things and enjoy.

Have a method for making cold brew you'd like to share? Tell us in the comments below! 

Photos by James Ransom. Additional reporting contributed by Amelia Vottero.

Tags: kitchen confidence, coffee, cold-brew, tips, summer, brewing, how-to & diy

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Comments (136)

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9 days ago Brian

A lifelong avid coffee freak, I just learned about the cold-brew method and was so impatient to try it I didn't first research preparation methods and just put some canned (probably too-finely ground) coffee into my trusty stainless steel tea infuser, put into a tall glass of room temp. water and steeped overnight. Next day, a beautiful dark brew ready to drink, no pressing or filtration necessary. As advertised, smoother than hot brewed.

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9 days ago Brian

Reading down a few comments I see Marika has already shared the tea infuser idea 9 days ago!

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10 days ago Juju Sprinkles

Thank you for the instructions! Here is an illustrated infographics about Cold Brew http://bit.ly/1GL1Gik

Juju Sprinkles
http://www.jujusprinkles...

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16 days ago Live Peachy

Thank you for this. I've always made hot brew coffee and cooled it down. The problem was that it always made for a watery beverage. :-( I've tried a number of contraptions that allow you to cool it down with ice without letting the ice actually be in the drink, but 2 of them actually warped slightly slightly from the heat! Thank you again.

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17 days ago bejugo

My current approach works very well, and uses two very simple tools: 1) a 1-qt mason jar (wide-mouth, 3inches), and 2) a Cold Brew Coffeesock filter (http://www.coffeesockshop...). Weigh roughly 3 oz (85ish grams) of medium-ground coffee (which is approx. 1.5 cups), put the sock in the mason jar, with its neck stretched around the mouth of jar (thereby sealing all grounds inside the sock), put grounds in sock, bloom the grounds with a little water, let sit for 60 seconds, then pour cold water into the sock until the jar is full. Take sock off jar mouth, roll that top inch or two into a tight bunch, then wrap it with a few revolutions of the little strap, and then put that bunch through the class ring. Tuck it in, put on the lid, and let sit in room temperature for 10-12 hours.

It's important to use the wide-mouth jar, b/c with the smaller mouth jar it is very difficult to get the sock out of the jar in the end, b/c the grounds bunch up larger than the lid. This isn't a problem with the 3 inch wide-mouth mason jar. Squeeze the water out of the sock of grounds, then you're done. The mason jar takes up little space in the fridge, and is concentrated (so mix with water to taste.) The bag is real easy cleaning, and is supposed to last a pretty long time.

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16 days ago beejay45

I went to the site for this sock, but the info was minimal. In your
experience, does the sock retain a lot of odors? For example, if you made
a flavored coffee, like hazelnut mocha, will subsequent batches taste of
Hazelnut and mocha?

I'm also thinking of using this for tea, and I don't want everything to taste like Earl Grey, or whatever.
Thanks!

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15 days ago bejugo

I've only ever used it for coffee, so i can't say for sure. The filter, right now, doesn't seem to be holding coffee scent, after hand-rinsing with some water and mild soap.

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19 days ago Marika

I have discovered my tea steeper which I rarely used is the perfect tool for cold brew coffee since the filter is included. http://www.davidstea.com...

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20 days ago Amanda C. Thompson

Pro tip: Add mint. It tastes even more refreshing that way. Just include a few sprigs when you mix your water and grounds and steep them with the rest of the brew.

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19 days ago Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

What a wonderful suggestion! I am doing that with the next batch.

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15 days ago Roy Camacho Jacome

There is more contact surface with ground coffee. It's like when you have little ice cubes they melt faster than bigger ones.

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21 days ago aleeda

I've always done my cold brew with whole beans. Is there a better reason to use ground coffee?

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19 days ago Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

Ground coffee allows for more to be extracted from the beans!

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15 days ago Roy Camacho Jacome

There is more contact surface with ground coffee. It's like when you have little ice cubes they melt faster than bigger ones.

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22 days ago Wendy Perrotta

Acidic coffee has always bothered me so I switched to cold brew a few years ago. After much experimenting I use the Bodum bean french press which holds 6c water. I prefer to just make full strength coffee, not a concentrate and the ratio I use is 1/8 cup coarse ground (3 clicks shy of coursest setting on my cuisinart burr grinder) to 1 cup coffee. So for the Bodum Bean that means 3/4 cup coffee to my 6 cup press. (On the burr grinder if you set it at the 8 cup setting you get 3/4 cup of ground coffee). I also throw in half a cinnamon stick into the french press with the grounds for flavor and as an additional acid neutralizer. The Bodum Bean comes with a separate lid for storing coffee during "brewing" phase. You then swap that out for a lid with plunger and pour spout when you want to press it. I've experimented with then transferring what I don't drink in 24 hrs to glass bottles for storage but quite honestly I've also let it just sit in the press in the fridge for a week or so until I finish it all and I haven't noticed a difference. It takes a bit of getting used to the sludgy bottom you get with unfiltered grounds but I am now used to that and it doesn't bother me to leave that last little bit in the cup. For a delicious mocha cold brew try Jim's Organic Double Chocolate coffee beans!

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22 days ago Antonia AT

I've been making cold brew since I first tasted it in Ecuador 40+ years ago (where they mix the concentrate with hot water—no iced coffee for them—as I do in winter). The easiest recipe I've found, because it uses a standard 12 oz. bag of coffee, is one from the Wine Spectator: 1) 12 oz. coarsely ground coffee beans (roast depends on your preference) + 7 oz. tepid water. 2) In an 8 cup or larger container (I use an old lemonade pitcher), pour in a cup of water; add some coffee; take care to NOT stir; repeat (finishing with coffee) until water and coffee are all in container. Allow to sit 8-12 hours at room temperature—without stirring!!—then, filter. (I use paper.) You can keep the concentrate in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, but it never lasts that long in my house.

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15 days ago Sharon

Why no stirring? I have never read that before so I always stir mine.

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15 days ago Antonia AT

I don't know—but I do know that it makes a difference. If there's what looks like "dry" grounds on top, I give it a stir before filtering but never do so during the brewing period. Both the Ecuadorian cook who first showed me the method and the venerable Wine Spectator are in agreement on this.

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15 days ago Antonia AT

Joyce, If you like the flavor of espresso, buy the espresso roast beans and coarsely grind them. You'll get the espresso flavor you're looking for.

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7 days ago Nick

Antonia... What is the total amount of water used in your recipe? 7oz looks like a typo. Thx.

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7 days ago Antonia AT

7 oz. is correct. This makes the Ecuadorian cold brew "syrup" that has cold water and ice or hot water added. You're able to make as strong or mild a cup as you wish. (I confess, I've made it w/ 8 oz. of water but for strength not much water should be used.)

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6 days ago Nick

I'm sorry but I don't understand. Your instructions say to add one cup of water and then some coffee and to repeat this until both the water and coffee are all in the container. One cup is equal to 8oz. Your first addition of one cup of water to the container already exceeds the total 7oz you initially indicated. I apologize if I'm missing something. I just want to get it right and not waste good coffee. Thanks!

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23 days ago Joyce

my thanks to Kate McGinnis, after an 8 hour steep the decaf was perfect. Has anyone cold brewed Espresso? If so did you use coarse ground and for how long did you steep it? Thanks Joyce

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22 days ago Kate McGinnis

Glad it worked out Joyce! in regards to espresso, Espresso is the result of boiling water being forced through very fine grounds of coffee to give you a strong black coffee. Espresso in the coffee aisle will typically be super fine coffee grounds. I have tried cold brewing coffee before with finer grounds and it just does work. You end up with a lot of coffee particles in your drink. My rule of thumb is always course ground coffee so it is easier to filter. And if you are looking for just a stronger coffee to say make a Iced Latte (half cold brew coffee and half milk) I would say buy a stronger coffee bean, course ground, and then let it steep for about 8-10 hours.

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22 days ago Kate McGinnis

"finer grounds just does not work"

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24 days ago Xenia Buckley

My favorite way of making the most Primo Iced Coffee, an inexpensive coffee cone, a glass of ice, boiling water and a tablespoon or two of grounds....caffeine perfection! I have described it right here, http://www.becuriouscuisine...

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26 days ago Mike

I love it!
Do you just let it sit or do you riddle it somehow?
Also, do you dump the bags after and then rinse, wash or what?
I was going to ask where to get them but then had an immediate 'duh' moment and looked on Amazon.

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26 days ago GretchinF

I always keep two gallons of cold brew in the fridge and I have found the best short-cut is to use jelly strainer bags, twist-tie closed, like gigantic tea bags for the coffee grounds. I use to do the brew&sieve method but this is just SO! Much! Faster! and cleanup is a breeeeeeeze.

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23 days ago jpriddy

Brilliant!

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19 days ago Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

I will have to try this method! Thanks for the tip.

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27 days ago Arthur Sudler

Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publications notes that filtered coffee likely has little effect on cholesterol levels since the cholesterol-raising ingredients in coffee - oily substances called diterpenes (cafestol and kahweol are trapped by paper filters. Any evidence that cheesecloth works as well as paper filters in trapping cafestol and kahweol?

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26 days ago Mike

I'll weigh what I actually use and post it in the near future (as soon as I aquire a scale).
It hadn't occurred to me how much faster and accurate weighing it all will be. Thanks for the idea. =-)

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27 days ago Johanna

Coffee should be weighed, in grams. Could you please post appropriate grams and liters for coffee:water. Thanks

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26 days ago Jacen

3/4 cup is 12 Tbsp, which is 63.8 g of coffee, to 4 cups water, which is just under a liter (.95 L)

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27 days ago Mike

I continue to brew my coffee for 5 days or more (yes, 120 hours). I make a gallon at a time and have three 1.25 gallon containers that I keep in constant rotation. I put 2.5 cups of ground coffee in 1.15 gallons of water (when filtered = 1 full gallon). I don't dilute it at all.
I share it with 8 co-workers, all of whom get almost giggly whenever I bring them some. 2 drink it black, no sugar, 3 like it with a little cream, the others (and I) go cream and sugar (but not too much of either).
I'm sure some people are more sensitive to 'bitterness' than others but there are also those of us who love bold coffee.
My technique makes strong, delicious coffee that has more caffeine than anything I've found elsewhere.
Please forgive my shaky handwriting. Lol!

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27 days ago CulinaryKate

1) you should weigh your coffee
2) 24 hours is way too long 8-12 hours is perfect.
3) the pH level doesn't actually differ in cold press, but the flavor people identify as being acidic is lower in cold press

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about 1 month ago Rona Gail Stern

24 hours may be too long. I used decaf (see comment below) with the proportions recommended and waited 12 hours. I dilute the concentrate to my taste , the coffee is delicious.

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about 1 month ago Joyce

Hi All,
Has anyone done this with coarse ground decaf coffee? I did it a while ago letting it steep in the fridge 24 hrs, the taste was very bitter. Did I steep it too long or should you not do this with decaf coffee. Thanks Joyce

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about 1 month ago Kate McGinnis

24 hours is way too long. I only steep mine for about 6-8 hours.

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about 1 month ago Rona Gail Stern

After initial experiences using recipes demanding filtering, I decided to use my French press. PERFECT! My press must be really good, no residue, delicious coffee. Thank you soo much!