If you’ve set foot in a coffee shop in the past five years or so, you’ve probably seen cold brew on the menu. Cold brew — made by steeping ground coffee in cold or room-temperature water over a number of hours — is different from the iced coffee you can make by pouring hot coffee over, you guessed it, ice. When done right, Eater Young Gun Sumi Ali (’18) of Yes Plz explains, cold brew tastes sweet and “extremely chuggable.” It’s typically smoother and less acidic than iced coffee, hence the hype.
The cold brew trend shows no signs of dying out. In fact, it’s only expanded. Cafes and grocery stores sell bottled and canned cold brews, including nitro cold brew, infused with nitrogen for a foamy texture. Coffee cocktails made with cold brew peaked years ago, and now coffee and alcohol brands are making spiked cold brew in cans.
But you don’t need to navigate this world of options if all you want is well-made cold brew — you can simply, and easily, make your own cold brew at home. Here’s what you’ll need.
Grinding your own beans can be inconvenient, but coffee experts swear it’s worth the payoff for freshness and flavor. “Inconsistency with your beans leads to uneven extraction and a subpar brew,” explains Jordan Rosenacker, co-founder of subscription service Atlas Coffee Club. Rosenacker says a burr grinder, which grinds coffee between two abrasive surfaces, is usually a better choice than a blade grinder, which chops up coffee beans sort of like a blender would. He recommends the Baratza Encore coffee grinder.
Ali approves of the Encore, and also recommends the Breville Smart Grinder Pro “if you are looking for something a little nicer that can handle anything from drip to espresso.”
Chi Sum Ngai, co-founder of New York City coffee shop Coffee Project NY, is a third Baratza fan, opting for the the pricier Baratza Virtuoso. Ngai says medium-coarse grounds, about the size of sea salt flakes, work best for cold brew.
Ali uses the Escali scale to ensure an exact coffee-to-water ratio, recommending five milliliters of water for every two grams of coffee (that’s about five tablespoons of coffee per cup of water). Ngai prefers a concentrated cold brew, shooting for a coffee-to-water ratio of 1:5.
If you’re not sure of your own cold brew strength preferences, you can your err on the side of more concentrated and dilute your results with milk ice cubes as necessary. Ali considers experimenting with different brew times, temperatures, and dilution levels all part of the fun.
Coffee containers and filters
You can steep your grounds in water either at room temperature or in your refrigerator. The timing depends on your personal preferences — Rosenacker suggests somewhere between 15-24 hours, Ngai says 12-15 hours, while Suyog Mody, co-founder of Brooklyn-based coffee subscription service Driftaway Coffee, recommends 12-16 hours. (Trial and error is likely your friend here — longer steeping results in a more concentrated taste.)
You can purchase container and filter combos designed specifically for this purpose — Ngai uses the Hario Cold Brew Coffee Bottle, which has a built-in filter made from polyester resin. Rosenacker’s vehicle of choice is a French press, which works just as well for cold brew as it does for hot beverages. He’s partial to the Bodum Chambord.
Mody uses Alto Home Cold Brew Filters, designed specifically for cold brew, steeped in a 32-ounce mason jar. He says the container holds a week’s supply of cold brew for two coffee drinkers — “and it looks great, too.”
But if you don’t want to purchase fancy equipment, don’t sweat it — Ali says putting the grounds in (clean) sock inside a water-filled jar will do the trick. Seriously.
If you don’t have time for cold brew...
Even Ali, who likes to set up cold brew bars for dinner party guests, says there’s no shame in simply making iced coffee in a pinch. He uses the Coldwave instant beverage chiller to cool down hot coffee without watering it down.