What is Cold Brew Coffee?
Unlike regular hot coffee, cold brew coffee uses time rather than heat to extract oils and caffeine from coffee beans. It is made using an immersion technique where coffee grounds and cold water are left to “brew” over an extended period of time (usually 18 to 24 hours), and then filtered for drinking. The resulting brew is treated as a concentrate, and is generally served over ice.
The first thing to know about cold brew is that it takes a long time to make. This is because without heat, the extraction rate is radically reduced. You know how sugar is harder to dissolve in cold water? Well, it’s the same thing with all the flavor elements of coffee, but inside the beans. The cold brewing process will also change the nature of the extracted flavors. Generally you’re going to see a reduction in acidity and bitterness – although with the right coffee and technique, some remarkably fruity brews can be achieved. You will also miss out on all the astringent bitterness which can come with cooling down hot coffee. This drink can be enjoyed black without having to add milk and ice cream! Also, once you make a batch, it stores well in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. It doesn’t get much easier – cold brew is quite happy just chillin’ in the fridge.
What is Cold Drip Coffee?
While cold brew coffee is an immersion of coffee and cold water, cold drip coffee quickly separates the cold water from the coffee grounds. The technique requires a cold drip apparatus or ‘drip tower’. Towers usually contain three glass vessels that allow iced water to slowly drip over freshly ground coffee. The ground coffee absorbs each drip of water, which then drops into a separate vessel at the bottom of the tower. The process of making cold drip coffee can take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours, depending on the desired amount. Cold drip coffee is usually served over ice as an espresso-sized shot.
What’s the difference between cold drip and cold brew coffee?
Cold brew coffee in general is a lighter, simpler alternative to cold drip coffee. Cold drip coffee tends to have a fuller, richer body, while cold brew coffee is a lighter, fresher tasting brew. Preparation time is a bit shorter for cold drip coffee and less coffee grounds are required. However cold-brewed coffee can easily be made at home without specialist equipment.
The coolest thing about cold brew is that it doesn’t require any specialized equipment to make it. It can be made in a plunger or a jar. Cold brew is the clear winner for the ease of preparation and the consistency of the results.
Cold Drip Coffee is very different from other cold brewing methods like Immersion and Japanese Iced Coffee. While not as popular as the other two methods, its unique style and method make it a favorite for the adventurous looking to express the mad scientist side of their personality.
Advantages of Cold Drip Coffee
- Great for experimenting – If you like to tinker with the finest details of coffee brewing, then you will love slow drip. You can then adjust the brewing process down to the drip, allowing you to extract the exact flavor you’re looking for. Some of the coffee professionals and enthusiasts in the community believe slow drip gives a truer taste of the coffee bean.
- Visually appealing – Cold drip coffee towers are typically made of clear glass to allow easy observation and adjustment to the slow drip process. A proper tower with a drip control feature looks more like a science experiment than a kitchen appliance. The size and glass structure gives these brewers strong visual appeal. and always make great conversation starters.
- Ideal for making a personalized cold brew – The slow drip method doesn’t muddle the flavors of the coffee like Immersion cold brew, which steeps coffee grounds in all of the water overnight. The consistent slow drip brewing process captures the basic coffee essence. This method is great for making a mellow, yet full body, flavorful cold brew.
Drawbacks of Cold Drip Coffee
Cold drip isn’t always the answer to your cold brew needs. Here are a few of the drawbacks of slow drip brewing.
- More to Manage – It is not a true “set it and forget it” process. Instead of sticking coffee and water into a container, slow drip also requires that you set the proper drip rate, which can change over the course of brewing as water empties from the top vessel. You must periodically readjust the drip rate if you are trying to keep it consistent throughout the brewing process.
- Expensive Equipment – Unless you want to build a homemade tower out of water bottles, you will have to buy a dedicated slow drip cold brew maker. These can range from $40 bucks for simple plastic containers with no drip control, all the way up to $500 and more.
- Brewing Takes Most of the Day – Slow drip doesn’t take quite as long as immersion cold brew, but it still takes most of the day- anywhere from 6-12 hours. It also requires some planning if you want to keep the drip rate from slowing down too much towards the end.
- Equipment is Fragile – Most slow drip cold brew coffee makers are made almost entirely of glass. This makes them rather fragile compared to plastic immersion buckets.
Is cold drip coffee worth the wait?
Cold drip coffee results in a pretty mellow cup of concentrated coffee. The brews are usually concentrated and require water and ice to bring the resulting cup to a normal-strength coffee beverage. The result is usually a very mellow, very muted, nice rounded body taste. Unfortunately, the cold drip method tends to obliterate much of the subtle flavors available in quality coffee grounds. Acids and flavor compounds that require hot water to dissolve are simply left behind in a cold drip process. The resulting brew usually just tastes like “coffee” – although mellow and smooth. Regardless, you still need to use a very good quality roasted coffee with this method. Grocery-store whole beans or pre-ground commodity coffee results in a pretty average final product. Use a good specialty coffee that is freshly roasted (within 10 days or less) to get the best result.
Cold extraction retains the unique flavors of each coffee bean and eliminates most of the bitter oils. So you are left with a mellow, yet full body coffee taste.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee
Basic Cold Brew Coffee Ratio
Here’s the deal, this ratio is flexible. You’re making cold brew concentrate, and you can dilute the concentrate to suit your taste once it’s finished.
- Per 1 cup of water, you’ll need 1 ounce coarsely ground coffee (about 1/4 cup whole coffee beans, which yields about 1/2 cup ground coffee).
- For bigger batches, use the same ratio – 1 cup of beans to 4 cups water (1 cup of whole beans yields about 2 cups of coarse ground coffee).
- You’re going to end up with a little less concentrate than the amount of water you used, since some of it will be absorbed by the coffee grounds. However, you’re going to dilute it with an equal amount of water, so you will be doubling your final yield.
You can also adjust the concentration of your cold brew coffee, making it stronger or less strong to suit your taste. Start with one cup of beans, then grind and steep in four cups of water. This will make a fairly concentrated coffee on its own, but it’s perfect for pouring over ice or mixing with milk – or both. If that ratio of beans to water isn’t quite to your taste, adjust it up or down until you hit the balance that is perfect for you.
Recommended steeping time
The steeping time is flexible as well. I’ve read suggestions everywhere from overnight to 24 hours. I tend to mix the ingredients in the evening after dinner, and pop the jar in the refrigerator. I like hot coffee first thing in the morning so I don’t reach for the cold brew until noon or so. That lets it steep a minimum of 16 hours. Do what works with your schedule. For your reference, Starbucks steeps their cold brew for 20 hours.
If you accidentally steep yours longer, it’s OK. Your resulting brew may taste a little stronger, so just dilute it with some extra water. Pretty simple, really. This is not rocket science…
Strain your cold brew
Once you’re done steeping the coffee, you may want to strain the coffee grounds out of the water. If a fine-mesh sieve or French press filter isn’t sufficient for your tastes, most methods suggest you run it through a cheese cloth. You can also pour the mix slowly through your drip coffee maker using a fresh drip filter. This is entirely up to you and how fussy you are about eliminating coffee sludge from the bottom of your cup.
Tips for success
- Make sure your beans are coarsely ground: Beans that are ground to a sandy powder, like for drip coffee, can result in an over-infused coffee and make the strained coffee gritty and muddy. Your beans should look like coarse cornmeal, or even slightly rougher.
- Use filtered water, if possible: This is just good coffee advice in general, really. Your cup of coffee will have a cleaner, sweeter flavor if you use filtered water to make it.
- Steep for at least 12 hours: It’s fine to cut this time a little short, but don’t get too stingy. The coffee needs this full time to fully infuse the water. Straining too early can give you a weaker cup of coffee. Also be careful of over-steeping, which can start to extract some of those bitter flavors we’re hoping to avoid. I’d say not to steep for more than 15 hours or so.
- Strain slowly: You’ll need to strain the cold brew gently through cheesecloth and a strainer. Avoid pressing or squeezing the coffee grounds. That can extract bitter flavors. Work in batches to strain as gently as possible letting gravity do all of the work for you. You might be wondering if you can’t just strain the coffee with a regular coffee filter. You can, but it slows the straining process and can create more of a mess.
Cold Brew Coffee Recipe #1
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 5 cups coffee
- Category: Drink
- Method: Cold brew
- Cuisine: American
Let’s make cold brew coffee! It’s easy to make, and it’s so nice to have coffee ready to go. This recipe is written for a 1-quart wide-mouth mason jar; you can scale it up or down using 1 ounce coffee per 1 cup water. The quantities provided will produce about 2 ½ cups concentrate, which is enough for 5 cups of cold brew.
- 3 ounces coarsely-ground coffee (that’s about ¾ cup whole coffee beans turned into about 1 ½ cups coarsely-ground coffee)
- 3 cups water (filtered water if you have it)
- Put a lid on your container and refrigerate it for 12 to 18 hours.
- When you’re ready to strain your cold brew, place a thin paper coffee filter or a small, thin cotton napkin or handkerchief over a small fine-mesh sieve. Pour the concentrate through the prepared sieve into a liquid measuring cup or pitcher. Let it rest for a few minutes to let the last of the cold brew trickle down.
- To serve, fill a glass with ice and fill it halfway with water. Then fill the rest of the glass with cold brew concentrate, and stir to combine. Cold brew concentrate will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, although I find that it has the best flavor within the first week.
Cold Brew Coffee Recipe #2 – Make Starbucks-Style Cold Brew Coffee at Home
The first secret to enjoying cold brew at home is to make a big batch in advance. Believe me, it will take you less time than hopping in the car and heading over to the local coffee shop. The second secret? Using the same technique that Starbucks and other big coffee shops use to make cold brew in bulk.
You’ll just need some coffee beans, a jar, and a cold overnight soak. Here’s how to make Starbucks-style cold brew coffee at home – MAKES 2 quarts:
- 8 ounces whole coffee beans
- 8 cups
- (2 quarts) water, preferably filtered
- Coffee grinder
- 2 (3-quart) jars or pitchers with lids
- Rubber band
Grind the coffee beans into a coarse grind. Grind the coffee beans in a coffee grinder until they are coarsely ground. Depending on the capacity of the coffee grinder, you may need to grind the coffee in batches. The goal is a coarse grind about the size of raw sugar.
Combine the ground coffee and water in the jar. Pour the ground coffee in to a 3-quart jar or pitcher. Add the water.
Stir to incorporate. Gently stir the coffee with the water until well-blended. The coffee will float to the top as it sits, but don’t stress about that — just make sure all of the coffee gets wet.
Steep the coffee overnight in the fridge. Cover and refrigerate the cold brew for at least 18 hours or up to 24 hours. If you forget about it, no problem. You DO want to strain it before storing, but a longer brew time ends up producing a stronger coffee – it just may be a bit more bitter.
Strain the coffee concentrate. Line a small fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a large measuring cup. Slowly pour the coffee concentrate through the strainer. Depending on the size of your strainer, you may need to strain the coffee in batches. Fight the temptation to squeeze or press the coffee grounds in the cheesecloth.
Transfer to the cold brew to a clean jar for longer-term storage. Once strained, transfer the coffee to a clean, airtight jar for long-term storage. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Make your iced coffee. To serve, fill a glass with 1 cup ice cubes. Pour 1/2 cup the cold brew over the ice, add 1/2 cup cold water, and stir to combine. Add sweet cream or half-and-half if desired and enjoy.
Storage: Undiluted cold brew will last for up to 2 weeks refrigerated; diluted cold brew will last 2 to 3 days refrigerated.
Cold Brew Coffee vs Cold Drip Coffee – Bottom Line
Cold brew coffee is a very simple way to consistently brew coffee. In general, it produces a light, simple, and repeatable beverage. Cold drip coffee tends to have a fuller, richer body, but some of the subtle flavors and nuances are lost in the process. Nevertheless, the result is still a very nice, mellow coffee drink – and the cold drip tower looks impressive. Preparation time is a bit shorter for cold drip coffee and it uses less coffee grounds. However cold-brewed coffee can easily be made at home without specialist equipment.
Cold brew is the clear winner for the ease of preparation and the consistency of the results. It is a simple, basic process that doesn’t require any specialized equipment to make. A batch can be whipped up by throwing coffee grounds into a french press – or a 1 quart mason jar and letting it brew in the refrigerator overnight. It doesn’t get any easier than that…
Does cold brew coffee have more caffeine than hot coffee? Yes. The slower process of cold brew and cold drip coffee means that they have a higher concentration of caffeine compared to regular hot coffee.
What’s the difference between iced coffee and cold brew coffee? Iced coffee is simply regular hot coffee that has been cooled down so that it can be served over ice.
Is cold brew coffee less acidic than hot coffee? Yes. Coffee that is prepared at cooler temperatures draws out less oils and acids, resulting in a much smoother and less bitter taste.
Can you heat cold brew coffee? Yes you can. Cold brew coffee should be treated as a concentrate; therefore the way to heat it up is simply by adding boiling water.
What is Caffeine Withdrawal? – Caffeine withdrawal is a temporary reaction when a regular user of caffeine abruptly stops. Withdrawal symptoms can be reduced by tapering off gradually. For more information check out What Is Caffeine Withdrawal? How to Stop Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms…