Turn Off the Stove

The Absolute Best Way to Cold-Brew Coffee, According to a Barista

August 30, 2018

We're in the dog days of summer, when all you want to do is sit by the A/C with a pint of ice cream. But don't sweat! We've got the best no-cook recipes to beat the heat in our newest series, Turn Off the Stove (A/C optional, ice cream included).

A little over a year ago, I was in Asheville, North Carolina on a business trip. I brought my boyfriend so we could eat our way around the city, which led to sourdough doughnuts and fried chicken and the best coffee I ever had in my life.

And we weren’t even looking for it. We went to Old World Levain Bakery (affectionately known as OWL) for their naturally leavened breads and extra-buttery pastries—and only ordered the cold brew to wash down our cream cheese Danish.

View this post on Instagram

Staying in Asheville forever someone mail me my cat

A post shared by Emma Laperruque (@emmalaperruque) on

It was a moment, like I had been drinking blurry coffee my whole life, then put on glasses. Was it their bean supplier? The way the beans were roasted? Was it, dare I say, magic?

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“BTW, will adopt the smaller bottles instead of the big toddy container, had noticed towards the end, my delicious cold brew is not the same - oxygen... I brew mine for about 14 hours, is it necessary to leave for more time? U mentioned 48 hrs. Thanks.”
— Yolanda

“It’s the way we cold-brew,” the barista told me. “In a kimchi crock.”

the classic way to cold-brew

“Kimchi!” The secret ingredient we never knew our coffee needed. I had to tell the world.

“No, a kimchi crock, like a fermentation crock,” he said. “We don’t use it for kimchi, just coffee.”

Still! That’s pretty out there. Why do this? Is it a lot more work than regular cold brew? Is it possible at home? I reached out to OWL’s beverage director, Brett Wyatt, and asked him all that and more. Here’s everything you need to know:

There isn’t much to classic cold brew. You combine coarsely ground coffee beans and water, wait, then strain. That’s it. This coffee style has recently become all the rage (last summer we called it “iced coffee’s cooler sibling”) and indeed there are a lot of perks: Because there’s no hot water involved, the end result is less acidic (your stomach thanks you). The stronger bean-to-water ratio yields more caffeine in each cup (your brain thanks you). And it’s the easiest, breeziest way to get your iced coffee fix. But apparently, we’ve been doing it wrong.

Kimchi Crock, Meet Cold-Brew

What’s the problem with the run-of-mill method? It’s not you or the water or even the coffee. It’s the air. Yep, the air. OWL opts for fermentation crocks instead of a Mason jar or quart containers “to achieve a cold and slow extraction while completely eliminating oxygen,” Wyatt told me. “When oxygen comes into contact with coffee it allows the release of tasty volatile flavors.” We want those flavors to stay put until we pour a glass and take a sip.

In other words, the less oxygen your coffee comes in contact with, the more coffee-y it will taste.

“We have been brewing this way since we opened in May 2016,” Wyatt said. “The original recipe came from the experience of our first coffee manager, John Linch, who worked at Black Tap in Charleston, now known as Second State Coffee.”

In the years since, they’ve adjusted everything from the coffee-to-water ratio to bottling: “We are constantly working on how to make it better.”


Want to be more like OWL? (Raises hand.) Hi, hello, I do. According to Wyatt, “Anyone can brew coffee this way.” Here are the steps:

Get yourself a crock. OWL uses this one. It features an adjustable inner vacuum lid, which keeps that pesky air out. The fermentation crock in our Shop also features a watertight seal (and looks pretty on the counter).

Can you use it for more than coffee? Maybe. Wyatt says “ideally your oxygen-free container would only be used for coffee.” While he hasn’t tried the alternative, he says that shouldn’t stop homebrewers from experimenting: “I say, go for it. It doesn’t hurt to try.”

The basic recipe. Our go-to ratio is 3/4 cup beans for 4 cups of cold water. Grind the coffee coarsely “so it extracts slowly.” Add these grinds to a filter bag (OWL swears by Toddy, “which provides a very clean and crisp coffee” with no sediment). Combine the filled bag and water to the crock, vacuum seal, and brew at room temp for 48 hours.

Store in smallest-possible containers. Even though OWL pours lots of cold brew each day, they opt for liter containers “because the last cup poured still has minimal oxygen contact. Gallon containers proved to be too large, too much oxygen, and too much flavor loss.” In a home setting, you can get even tinier: Try a pint-sized container or a single-serving cup. Just make sure it has an airtight lid.

Treat your coffee like wine. Wyatt’s latest experiment involves “wine stoppers that allow you to hook on a small hand pump that removes the oxygen from the bottle. That means there won’t even be oxygen in the bottles its chilling in.” After each pour, remove the remaining oxygen from the bottle, and rest assured that your last glass will be as flavorful as your first. “I may have gone a little crazy about this,” Wyatt said, “but my team is into it." And so are we.

More from Food52

What are your cold-brewing tricks? Spill ’em in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • fdonnelly
  • Yolanda
  • ruan0019
  • Jerry
  • jennifer
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


fdonnelly January 8, 2021
48 Hour brew time? That seems excessive, most brewers recommend a minimum of 12 and a sweet spot of 16-18 hours. Is there a reason they brew for such and extended period of time?
Chloe January 8, 2021
In our experience, 12 to 24 hours is more than enough =) It's hard to wait longer (and the additional benefit of doing it longer is probably marginal).
Yolanda September 25, 2019
Little confused, I do my brew on the today - you mention the kimchi container, how is THAT used? BTW, will adopt the smaller bottles instead of the big toddy container, had noticed towards the end, my delicious cold brew is not the same - oxygen... I brew mine for about 14 hours, is it necessary to leave for more time? U mentioned 48 hrs. Thanks.
ruan0019 August 16, 2019
Hi! Love this idea but Im always a bit paranoid of the fermenting process. What are the chance of Botulism from this method vs others? I am using filtered water and cleaned the vessel pretty thoroughly.
Emma L. August 16, 2019
Hi! Just to clarify, you aren't fermenting the coffee—you're just cold-brewing it in a fermentation crock to eliminate any oxygen.
Jerry April 30, 2019
I use basket style coffee filters - five total - 26 level scoops of coffee to 144 ounces of H2O. Brew for 24 hours in a sealed decanter with spigot. Pull the coffee pods pour and drink.
jennifer January 9, 2019
Coffee aside, what I'd really like to know is what the plant in the instagram shot is.
Ann S. May 5, 2019
That looks like what's commonly called a "ZZ" plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia).
Rich S. January 8, 2019
Love the article, thanks
ace December 3, 2018
I asked this ques on twitter and didn't get an answer. Do I pour the water ( all 4cups) in the filter bag with coffee or in the kimchi container around the filter with the coffee?? I doubled the batch this time so I hope it comes out as good as it did last time.
Emma L. December 4, 2018
Hi! Just combine the coffee-filled filter bag and the water in the crock, then seal and brew. (So, no need to pour the water through the filter bag.) Hope this helps!
jennifer August 31, 2018
My question relates to Hckygoalie31's - how do you strain the coffee? Are you using a giant filter bag inside of the crock? Or, is it all poured through the filter afterwards?
jennifer August 31, 2018
ech, never mind. I reread the directions more carefully. But I still wonder about the draining part - does the filter then lift out of the container w/out tearing?
Chloe August 31, 2018
I think you can fully open the container after you’re done brewing. Seems like it’s about min Mixing oxygen during the brewing and in-between pours from the container. don’t think you can avoid opening the container to remove the filter + grounds!
Chloe August 31, 2018
We like to use reusable cotton bags instead of the Toddy. Doppelgänger Goods has a good one: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077YFNF6Q
Hckygoalie31 August 31, 2018
How do you remove the coffee from the kimchi pot without it touching oxygen? It sounds like it never touches oxygen until it’s in a glass which seems impossible.
Katharine K. August 30, 2018
I make mine with fresh mint. It tastes so good!