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Taste Test: 11 Excellent Cold Brew Coffees

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These are the best nationally available cold brew coffees.

These cold brews rock.
These cold brews rock.
Alex Ulreich

Imbibers no longer need to reside in major cities to score a cold brew coffee fix. Earlier this year Starbucks released its first ever "small batch," 20-hour cold brewed beverage in stores across the country, signaling an all time high for a drink which was, not long ago, the darling sophisticated (and pricey!) sibling to iced coffee.

Unlike iced coffee, which is standard hot coffee with added ice, cold brewed coffee is, as its name suggests, coffee brewed without heat. Basically, one steeps coffee grinds in cold or room temperature water for the desired number of hours (usually between 12 and 24), then filters them out for a concentrated elixir. One would then want to cut that with water or milk.

For the last few years Whole Foods has stocked bottles of jet fuel-strength concentrate cold brew from brands like Grady's and Chameleon, which are both worthy players and only demand that the consumer mellow out the solution a bit. But much of the good stuff has been fixed to third wave coffee shops since cold brew is best kept, well, cold, making it more challenging to ship.

Cold brew coffee is anything but cheap. And while ready-to-drink bottles are convenient, diluting a concentrate at home isn't much more of a hassle. Based on the chart above, out of the 11 bottles we tried, Installation proved the best bang for your buck.

But that's not to say some aren't trying. Stumptown, the praised Portland, Oregon-based roaster which is increasingly making its name known across the country, was an early third wave cold brew player, first releasing those squat chocolate-colored bottles of crack coffee (need to get 15 tasks done in 10 minutes? try this stuff) in 2011. Since then Stumptown has gone on to experiment with cold brew in other ways, launching pre-mixed cold brews with dairy and, this past April, a nitro brew in a can.

With so many great cold brew coffee options, Eater decided to taste through the best of what's available on a national levelboth concentrates and ready-to-drink bottlessold at major markets like Whole Foods or via the internet.

Of course we tested out the usually suspects like Stumptown and San Francisco's Blue Bottle, along with smaller brands like Denver's Corvus Coffee and Chicago's Bow & Truss. Some coffees were brewed with chicory, while others followed a different flavor route, incorporating hops. Anchorhead out in Seattle makes a stellar hopped cold brew.

In general though, we were especially impressed with the whole Stumptown line, but our office-wide favorite came from lesser-known California supplier Secret Squirrel. Below, in no particular order, our picks.

11 Excellent Cold Brew Coffees

Installation Coffee Company (two 32-ounce bottles for $37)
Beans: Proprietary blend from Central America
Strength: Concentrate

Los Angeles-based Musician Ben Usen founded his online cold brew coffee company Installation two and a half years ago, well before the present wave. To prepare his brew, he cold soaks grinds for 24 hours, which yields a floral-tasting coffee. Out of all the cold brews we sampled, this one screamed passionfruit, channeling an overall tropical profile. One 32 ounce bottle makes about 12 cups and Usen suggests diluting his concentrate with water or milk over ice.

All photos by Alex Ulreich.

Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee ($4)
Beans: Source from Northern Peru
Strength: Ready-to-drink with dairy and sugar

Blue Bottle's signature calling card is its addictive New Orleans-style chicory coffee. The cold brew itself, a blend of coffee beans and chicory, is cold brewed for 12 hours before whole milk and sugar join the party. Really though, the sugar serves to round out and balance the drink as opposed to adding a saccharine quality. At Blue Bottle cafes, baristas have long made this drink to order, but last year the chain released pre-packed versions appropriate for grab and go. In comparison to Stumpton's newer cold brews that also come pre-batched with dairy and sugar (mentioned below), Blue Bottle's flavor is a bit more complex and sophisticated (Stumptown tasted slightly flatter in a side-by-side comparison), and the drink itself is less sweet. Do note though, despite its creamy flavor, this one packs a caffeine punch!

Stumptown, Cold Brew ($4)
Beans: Typically sourced from Latin America
Strength: Ready-to-drink

Stumptown is the OG player in the third wave cold brew game. This original brew was released in March of 2011 at various cafes and better retail shops, and is made (as are Stumptown's other cold brew options) from grinds stepped for 12 hours in room temperature water. The coffee is then double filtered for a smooth, chocolatey ride. Although Stumtown files this brew in the "ready-to-drink" category, it's incredibly potent, and I personally like to cut it with half water or a quarter water plus a quarter milk. And definitely drink it on the rocks.

Stumptown, Cold Brew with Milk ($4)
Beans: Typically sourced from Latin America
Strength: Ready-to-drink with dairy and sugar

Stumptown's sophomore effort to its original cold brew (pictured just above) is, perhaps, a move to compete with Blue Bottle's beloved New Orleans Iced. Released in 2013, Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee with Milk combines Sunshine Dairy half and half plus sugar and its original cold brew. We were fans with the above carton, though it's worthwhile to note that those keen on mochas might also like the chocolate-flavored version. Overall this drink is round, smooth and totally user-friendly.

Stumptown, Nitro ($5)
Beans: Typically sourced from Latin America
Strength: Ready-to-drink

Coffee in a can is just cool. And Stumptown's newest release, canned nitro cold brew, absolutely wins out. Consider the rich, smooth, chocolatey flavors of Stumptown's original cold brew, just lighter. Not lighter in flavor, but lighter in body. This guy is easier to drink than Stumptown's original, and it really doesn't need any added dairy to cut the brew's richness. Cans have only been available since April of this year, and they were inspired by the success of the nitro on tap dispensed at Stumptown cafes.

Red Thread Good ($4)
Beans: Fair Trade Organic Nicaraguan Purist Single Origin
Strength: Ready-to-drink

Sometimes extra strong cold brews aggressively attack your tastebuds, even once dilated. For those who opt not to cut cold brew with dairy, Red Thread Good is a great choice for a slightly lighter style cold coffee that's ready to drink. When it comes to brewing, Red Thread soaks coarsely ground Fair Trade Organic Nicaraguan Single Origin coffee for 12 to 17 hours in room temperature water. The result is a clean-tasting cold brew with hints of cinnamon. And, for every serving of coffee sold, Red Thread donates 2-cents to charity.

Secret Squirrel ($4, and three 16-ounce concentrate bottles for $30)
Beans: An organic and Fair Trade blend
Strength: Ready-to-drink and concentrate

Out of all the bottles on this list, Secret Squirrel was, across the board, Vox's office-wide favorite. Available as a concentrate or in ready-to-drink form, these cold brews are beautifully and elegantly flavored, round and almost devoid of acidity, with subtle floral and chocolate notes. As far as prep, Secret Squirrel cold brews its organic beans for between 20 and 22 hours, then double strains the grounds (like Stumptown), and quickly bottles the brew so it doesn't oxidize. While Secret Squirrel sells its concentrate online, RTD bottles are on offer around Los Angeles. And owners Trevor and Rebecca Smith just recently debuted three dairy-spiked cold brews in flavors Dark Chocolate, Caffe Latte plus sugar, and Vietnamese Latte with condensed milk.

Chameleon ($4)
Beans: A organic and Fair Trade blend sourced from Latin America
Strength: Ready-to-drink espresso-based

Chameleon makes a whole slew of cold brew drinks sold at Whole Foods, the most ubiquitous of which is its signature black coffee concentrate. Newer to the line is the above pictured espresso-based cold brew, in addition to Chicory and Mexican-flavored cold coffee drinks. For the last three month they've been sold exclusively from Whole Foods. Those who enjoy the roasty flavors of an Americano will want to opt for this bottle.

Seaworth (two 32 ounce bottles for $25)
Beans: Organic and Fair Trade beans from an undisclosed Costa Mesa, CA roaster
Strength: Concentrate

Based in Newport Beach, California, surfers Darren Peralta and Bryan Marseilles are behind Seaworth—which is straight up just great cold brew devoid of acidity and full of richness. While you'll want to dilute this strong brew, Seaworth also bottles a coconut simple syrup to which one adds cold brew and half and half for an addictively rich drink. Seaworth's concentrate is made with grinds steeped for 18 hours, double strained, then bottled. In addition to drinking Seaworth cold, one can consume the concentrate hot.

Slighshot ($12 to $34 for concentrate and ready-to-drink)
Beans: Seasonal, single origin organic beans from Counter Culture 
Strength: Concentrate and ready-to-drink

Slingshot, based out in Raleigh, North Carolina, produces a concentrate brew and bottles that are ready to drink. Local roaster Counter Culture is the preferred supplier of single origin beans, yet couple Jenny and Jonathan Bonchak (baristas themselves) pick coffees with varying flavor profiles based on seasonality.  And their brewing method changes based on the chosen beans. While winter brews skew creamy, the summer cold brew available now tastes delicate and floral.

Anchorhead, Hopped (four 12 ounce bottles for $16)
Beans: Anchorhead's Narwhal blend, a mix of Guatemala and Sumatra beans roasted in house
Strength: Read-to-drink

When coffee meets beer, Anchorhead's hopped cold brew is born. And this too was another office-wide favorite. Imagine the flavor of cold brew with a subtle hoppy bite reminiscent of an IPA, plus the accompanying herbals notes of Citra hopsFor a totally new take on coffee, this is the move. Do note that Anchorhead also makes a 20-hour cold brew concentrate (not hopped), and to prepare this bottle the concentrate is dry hopped for a few days then cut with water.

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