Kitchen Confidence

How to Make Cold-Brewed Coffee

by • July 11, 2013 98 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: What's the big fuss about cold brew? Let us explain.

Cold Brew Coffee

Iced coffee in the summer -- it's a given. It's cold, it's refreshing, and for many of us, it is a necessity. But what's the big fuss over cold-brewed coffee? 

There are a few things about a cold-brew that have made it into the summer beverage du jour. The first thing most people note about cold-brewed coffee is the lower acidity level. Since the grounds never come into contact with the intense heat of boiling water, the flavor profile of the final brew is different than with drip coffee. Similarly, when hot coffee is rapidly cooled, it creates a slightly bitter taste. One of the major draws of a cold-brewed cup of iced coffee is that it will have a smoother, slightly sweeter flavor.

Cold Brew Coffee 

Finally, a cold brew is pretty much ideal for iced coffee because it is more concentrated than a traditional, hot-brewed cup o' joe; the addition of ice and cold milk or cream will dilute it just enough without watering it down.

Iced coffee is more expensive than hot coffee, and cold brew is even pricier. Yet many people are willing to pay extra because they are intimidated by making it at home.

You're in luck; with only three steps, cold-brewing might be the easiest coffee method out there.

Cold Brew Coffee

Grind, Soak, Wait

The ratio of coffee grounds to water is pretty debatable; personal tastes will dictate your own. A good place to start is 1/3 cup of ground coffee to 1 1/2 cups of water. After you find the ratio that you like best, you can adjust the size to fit as large a brewing vessel as you want. The type of grind, however, has been universally decided upon: it must be coarsely ground. A smaller grind will result in a cloudier liquid.

Put the coffee in your brewing container and add the water.

Cold Brew Coffee

Stir to make sure all the grounds have been moistened, then cover and place on the counter or in the fridge over night, for at least 12 hours.

Cold Brew Coffee

In the morning, strain twice through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve.

Cold Brew Coffee

Add ice, milk, or your other favorite coffee companions and enjoy.

Note: To make a simple process even simpler, this can all be done right in a French press: Add the coffee and water and put the lid on but do not plunge. In the morning, press, pour, and drink -- easy enough to do without caffeine.

Cold Brew Coffee

What are your tricks for cold brewing? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

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

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Comments (98)

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17 days 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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17 days 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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17 days ago Kate McGinnis

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

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20 days 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!

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22 days ago Keita Jordan-Sa'ad

I worked at a coffee house for years and we made our cold brew by using a giant filter. The coffee comes out excellent and you avoid the straining and the mess.

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22 days ago Kate McGinnis

This is exactly the way I have been making cold brew coffee for years! I have found that one 10oz gag of beans in any flavor ground COARSE, dumped into a 10 Quart Stock Pot with lid, fill stock pot with water leaving 1 inch of space at the top so it doesnt over flow. Stir. Put lid on. and let it sit on the counter for 6-8 hours. I have found if you let it over 8 hours it can become a bit bitter and too strong. 6-8 hours gives it a really nice mellow and smooth flavor.

Also you have to make your own simple syrup to give that baby a little sweetness! simple syrup ratio is 1:1... so one cup sugar and one cup water dissolve over low heat in small pot. let cool. and pour into a condiments bottle and refrigerate. Tablecraft condiments bottle works best!

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22 days ago Jim Wangsness

At the end you mention something about no caffeine. Does cold brewing affect the caffeine content?

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22 days ago Jessica Matta

I think she meant ising the french press in the morning isceasy enough to do before you've had your morning cup of coffee.

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22 days ago Liz Shelton Richardson

I just use two k-cups with the smallest amount of water in my Keurig add whole milk and sugar-free flavoring over ice. If I have it half and half for a treat!

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22 days ago Chris Glenn

I made coffee extract or coffee concentrate a "few years ago, for a while." I used 1 pound of ground coffee, which I put in a one gallon jar with lid, filled it with water, and let it steep or infuse for approximately 24 hours in the refrigerator. I then strained it through a large, very fine mesh nylon filter bag that I purchased from my employer, while working at a meat packing plant.My next step, since this did not remove all the grounds and fine particles was to do a secondary straining though a very tightly woven cotton terry cloth hand towel. (One I had permission to "RUIN" from the wife person.) If I remember correctly, I think I got about 3 quarts of extract and a big mess! One must be dedicated to use this process but it yields a very concentrated extract that I used for making my hot coffee. (never been one to drink Iced Coffee, but might try it with some sweetened condensed milk and some Kahlua Liqueur.) How much of this extract you use to make hot coffee or iced coffee, would be up to personal taste, that is, how strong do you like your Hot or Iced Coffee? This process yielded very good coffee without the oils and acidic taste you get from making coffee in the usual way. (I made my coffee by filling a coffee mug full of hot water and adding about a tablespoon of the extract.) This extract makes a superior cup of coffee!

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2 months ago Mike W

Every+cold+brew+recipe+I've+tried+produces+a+beverage+that+I+find+to+be+undrinkably+watery.+For+a+long+time+I+kept+using+a+bit+more+coffee+and+letting+it+sit+an+additional+24+hours+until+it+evolved+to+the+following:
I+use+Costco's+Colombian+pre-ground+which+comes+in+a+3+lb.+can.+This+is+a+medium+grind+(I+didn't+get+enough+flavor+from+a+coarse+grind).
Put+5+rounded+half-cup+scoops+(total+2.5+cups)+into+1+gallon+of+water+and+let+it+sit+for+5+days+(stir+morning+and+evening).+I+leave+it+on+the+kitchen+counter.
Filter+through+a+Melitta+#6+cone+and+enjoy.
Refrigerate+after+filtering.
This+has+sooo+much+flavor+and+the+most+caffeine+per+ounce+I've+ever+had.+I+seriously+don't+recommend+a+16+oz.+portion+for+a+small+person.

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6 months ago skm818

The cost of the lab friend rules it out for me. Staying with my tea brewer or mesh strainer. Regardless of apparatus: cold brew is worth it! Loved the homemade vanilla syrup recipe idea!

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6 months ago Anna Lisa

Sounds great! I heard from a friend about one available from LabFriend http://www.labfriend.com... they have two sizes - and the glass ware is for labs so you know it is good. its easy to clean too!

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10 months ago falko

Very nice article (especially I like the Pictures with cream) on how a Cold Brew Coffee can be easily done with a traditional steeping method.
You also mentioned the way using a French Press and there are a bunch of other methods avialable. We from ColdBrewTest.com compared them (e.g. French Press, Toddy, Cold Drip...) and gave some comments on each methods advantages. Feel free to have look.

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10 months ago Sheri

I use a nut milk bag and a 2 quart pitcher. Easy filtering. When I'm ready, I wring out the nut milk bag. Very few containers, and the only waiting time is the brewing.

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10 months ago cattyb

I've tried the nut milk bag route, but the mesh wasn't quite fine enough for the cheapie store brand ground coffee I use most of the time...lots of gritty sediment. I plan to try again with some coarse ground coffee, though!
I'm still loving my muslin bags -- a 6x8" one holds a good 1.5 cups of grounds with room for them to swirl around a bit for maximum grounds to water contact in my 2 quart pitcher!

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11 months ago STCY

I'm employing a somewhat more haphazard/renegade cold brewing system right now...

Empty fresh juice bottle from a uk supermarket full of ground coffee and water. Refrigerate 12-18 hours.
Filter through aeropress into mug, then pour into jug (yup- super time consuming).
Wash bottle. Pour filtered cold brew back into juice bottle and return to fridge.

It worked pretty well when I tried it a few days ago, though It didn't come out quite as concentrated as I was hoping. I've now changed quantities a bit- I'm actually taking a punt at the ratio I go for when brewing a cup of aeropress (1 level scoop, inverted method plunger at about number four, water up to just below the end of the device- theres about 4.5 times that mix in the juice bottle) hoping that will produce a meatier concentrate that will last longer and will stand up to milk a bit better (last brew was a bit weak for the milk, though was fantastic with a dash of extra cold water and some ice)

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12 months ago cattyb

I've tried the "loose in a bucket" method described above, but got tired of waiting for FOREVER for it to strain through, plus too many vessels and tools. I then bought a 1.25 quart french press, but it doesn't make enough at once - having to wash it out every day sucked. I still had to filter out some grounds, too (cheapie press, filter has tiny gaps at the edges).
I then thought of big muslin bags! Ordered sme 5x7 cotton bags from amazon, park 1.5 cups grounds in one, use a rubber band to clse and plunk it into my 2.5 quart pitcher in the fridge. I just leave the bag in until I've finished the pitcher and let the brew get stronger each day...even sometimes adding a bit more water if I see there's not going to be quite enough for the next morning. When I'm done, I squeeze the loosely packed bag of the last drops I can get, then 'flatten' it out on a small wire rack over a plate to dry for a day or so, then dump it out in the garden or sprinkle it over the lawn.
The bags are totally washable, reusable and I never have to mess with a strainer or filter. I never worry if my grind is too fine because the bags hold all but the very finest silt (less than a tsp per pitcher) inside.

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12 months ago beejay45

Are you making this regular strength? Because I'm one of the French press users, and I make mine very, very strong -- coffee concentrate in fact. If you make it that strength, no matter what your method, you'll have plenty to last more than one day. Just be sure to keep the concentrate refrigerated, then just dilute to the strength you desire. You can even make a hot coffee with the concentrate.

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12 months ago cattyb

Hi, beejay45 -- The main reason my press didn't work out for me is because my son and I both consume cold coffee drinks at a phenomenal rate! Even with the 3 cup yield of concentrate (1 part coffee 3 parts water) from my press, we still would have to set it up every night and wash it out every day. More grounds added, the less actual liquid yield...and since I also strongly believe that there's a certain saturation point where the water just isn't extracting any more goodness, adding much more coffee would be a pointless waste of money.
I've experimented with ratios and found that the 1.5 dry cups (probably a bit more as I use a heaping 1/4 c. scoop times 6) of grounds in 2 quarts (8 cups) of water (so that's...um...about 1:5? I think that's the ratio most recipes I've seen recommend) gives the results that suit us. We use it with flavored simple syrup and half n half either over coffee ice cubes or blended into a frappe. I will fill a 1 liter bottle halfway with the coffee/syrup/half n half, freeze it overnight then fill up with more in the morning before work to have cold coffee all day (I use a nifty crocheted 'bottle cozy' to carry and prevent condensation drips). My son jokes that he'd do a coffee IV, but then he wouldn't be able to taste the flavors he's come to love from "Mom's Brew". His friends envy his great tasting drinks and I can't keep the pitcher full when one of them visits our house.

I'm very glad that your press works so well for you, though!!

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12 months ago beejay45

Hi, cattyb! Wasn't touting the press, just the concentrate. ;) Are you familiar with kakegori (if I'm spelling that right), the Japanese shaved ice thing? I use my coffee ice cubes in that for hot weather, top with sweetened condensed milk, or your choice of creamer and/or syrup or liqueur. Whatever you like, it's great and really hits the spot when you're sweltering.
I'm not supposed to drink coffee at all, but the cold brew doesn't release all the oils that cause me problems, so I can have the occasional indulgence. Have to choose my moments, though. ;)

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12 months ago cattyb

Oh my stars and garters, that sounds heavenly! It was 98 degrees here yesterday and I could have used two or three coffee 'snow cones' throughout the afternoon.

About the press/concentrate thing... I didn't mean to de-mean, if you know what I mean. :-} I really AM glad it suits your needs so closely! I just tend to get all wordy and go off on tangents when I get excited about something.

We'll occasionally use our "dregs", which are pretty concentrated, to make coffee ice cubes that strengthen rather than dilute... or for baked goods...or just as an excuse to add even more sweet creamy goodness to the last cup. >^..^<

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about 1 year ago paulinchen

Hmmm so if you only have to let it sit over night, why not just use coffee pads that you can take out and discard after?

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about 1 year ago maggie

Is the water supposed to be hot (boiling?) or cold when added to the ground coffee?

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about 1 year ago dymnyno

cold water to make cold brew

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about 1 year ago skm818

I make cold brew as per instructions above and strain thru a few un bleached coffee filters (I need to use them as my brewed coffee is made with keurig style refillable pods or an old school italian Moka pot). It works pretty well and I'm rewarded with wonderful coffee! May try my tea infuser "kettle" , but this works. Tomorrow I'm definitely tryng the martini shaker idea with almond milk, sans agave!

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about 1 year ago Marky

I make cold brew all the time. After many times of straining the grounds out of the coffee I found a better way, for me anyway. I use NEW knee highs/panty hose. I wash them and put my grounds in and tie them up. You can get several out of one knee high. It's the same as nylon bag/filter. When coffee is done just remove bag and use it on plants discard. Nothing fancy at all but it works good.