How to Make Perfect Iced Coffee

You can thank us later.

June 15, 2020
Photo by Bobbi Lin

When the morning air starts to get warm and a bit sticky, windows cracked open never to shut, and sills fill with fuzzy fruits of varying ripenesses—these are the signs iced coffee season has begun.

For my partner Trevor and I though, iced coffee season is also in the dead of winter. And spring. And fall—and all the mid-seasons between.

Specifically cold brew. A few years ago, we invested in a cold brew drip tower. Every few nights we set up a batch to drip overnight: Cold water filters down through our medium-fine ground Ethiopia Kossa Geshe beans which drips coffee through a squiggly glass apparatus at the rate of one drip per second into a serving carafe. Without the addition of heat, we’ve found that our morning cup tastes smoother, fruitier (like blueberries!), and less acidic. Also, a shorter cup goes a longer way—the slowed extraction makes for an extra-caffeinated cup (begging to be topped with extra-creamy oat milk).

That being said, there are supposedly others that prefer their iced coffee to have started off hot. As Moka Origins co-founder Jeff Abella explained it to me, “when you brew at room temperature—for enough time to, essentially, replace the extractive powers of heat—the water only extracts the richer flavors and caffeine, leaving behind the acidity. Brewing with 200°F water, on the other hand, pulls more flavors out of coffee—including acidity and bitterness."

But first, a word about beans.

Dialing in a perfectly flavored cup begins even before brewing—in the careful consideration of roast degree. “A light-roasted coffee will taste fruity, tea-like even, as its sugars don’t get inordinately caramelized during roast,” Abella says. “I like medium-roasted coffee for my cold brew, because its sugars have been taken just far enough to yield chocolatey, caramelly notes—not burnt—in the cup.” Because a hot brew teases out coffee’s acidity, Abella’s noticed that same medium-roast coffee will sport lemony notes when brewed hot, then chilled.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I love to use lighter roast for my ice coffee it’s so light and full of a punch of flavor. Not only that I use dealer roast for my cold brews. I think tasting the coffee first plain will give you a sense of what you working with. I also use this method when freeze ice cubes. Just add milk. Warm or cold. Great article ”
— kimikoftokyo

As for dark roast? “I’ve been burned by too many cups of bitter, watery cups of iced dark roast coffee from cafés,” Abella laughs. Dark roasted beans are, as you might imagine, aggressively toasted—which might comes across as cozy in a hot cup, but just tastes bitter, acrid on ice. “Any of the nuanced flavors that once existed in the coffee are muddied,” Abella says. “That’s why cold brew is my preferred method for cold coffee, made from light- to medium-roasts."

Whether you prefer hot coffee that’s gone cold, or just cold coffee, know that dilution via ice is the universal enemy. Here are guides to both methods, with tips for preventing a watery cup.


How to Make Iced Coffee

1. Grind.

Grind your beans for your preferred brewing method (powder-fine for espresso, medium-fine for pourover, medium for drip, coarse for French press).

2. Fill your brewing carafe with ice.

Remember, ice is iced coffee’s necessary evil; work with, not against, its dilutive powers. For pourover and drip, fill your brewing carafe halfway with ice; the brewed coffee will be chilled immediately upon drip (“flash-chilling”). To prep an iced Americano or French press, simply fill your serving glasses with ice.

3. Halve the water.

To account for the dilution via ice, reduce your brewing water by half. Doubly concentrated hot coffee plus ice equals correctly concentrated cold coffee. Remember: You can always add more ice cubes, but you can’t reintroduce strength.

4. Brew on ice.

Brew the coffee using your chosen method—right over the ice with pourover and drip, or as usual with espresso and French press. Swirl to combine the ice and serve as-is, or with a splash of milk.

How to Make Cold Brew

1. Coarse-grind your beans.

Given the extended brew time, a coarse grind is fine enough to allow extraction, but not so fine that the cold brew emerges unpleasantly bitter. For cold brew, Abella estimates 1 cup grounds to 7 cups room temperature water. Feel free to play with these ratios, though—and for even finer tweaks, with the grind-size—in finding your ideal strength and flavor.

2. Combine & let sit.

Combine the ground coffee and water in a large sealable jar or French press and stir well. Let sit for anywhere between 12-24 hours before fine-straining or plunging. (Any longer, and you risk an overextracted, bitter brew; any shorter, and it will be weak and flavorless.) Drink straight, on ice, or with a splash of milk.

More ways to consume cold coffee

How do you take your coffee? Tell me about it in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Marcylawrence
  • deb oswald
    deb oswald
  • kimikoftokyo
  • kitchenpursuit
  • carrie henderson
    carrie henderson
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.


Marcylawrence August 10, 2021
If you put ice in your glass carafe and then brew the hot coffee into it, won’t it crack the carafe?
deb O. August 7, 2020
I brew coffee every morning and then in the summer have cold brew in the late morning. I pour any left over coffee from the pot in ice cube trays and freeze- and use in my cold brew. No loss of strength
Coral L. August 11, 2020
kimikoftokyo June 21, 2020
I’m here for this. I love to use lighter roast for my ice coffee it’s so light and full of a punch of flavor. Not only that I use dealer roast for my cold brews. I think tasting the coffee first plain will give you a sense of what you working with. I also use this method when freeze ice cubes. Just add milk. Warm or cold. Great article
Coral L. August 11, 2020
Love a light roast!
kitchenpursuit June 18, 2020
Specifically cold brew, yes, I just love it!
carrie H. June 15, 2020
If you're making drip coffee and you put ice in the caraffes how much water do you use to make the coffee . I mean in measurements ty

Elizabeth D. August 11, 2020
Hi Carrie H., :)
If you normally use two tablespoons of coffee per six ounces of water for hot-brewed coffee, you'd use the same amount of coffee (two tablespoons of ground coffee) to three ounces of water.

To avoid diluting your iced coffee, make ice cubes out of left-over coffee. It adds a nice richness to your drink.
Coral L. August 11, 2020
Hi Carrie! If looking for measurements, I might actually weigh the ice, and subtract that amount from the brewing water (i.e. place your brewing device onto a scale, tare, add a handful of ice—let's say it's 60 grams; brew your coffee with 60 grams less water.)

If looking to just eyeball—if you estimate using roughly 1 cup of ice, then I'd subtract around 3/4 to 1 cup water from the brewing step.
Frank May 24, 2021
I think the easiest way to determine what you want to know would be to fill your carafe with the amount of ice you want, leave it on the counter to melt, then figure how much water you'll need to fill the rest of the way. No guessing.