What is Cold Brew Coffee? A Comprehensive Guide

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In this guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about cold brew coffee, from its history and brewing process to tips and recommendations for making your own at home.

2 Glasses Filled With Cold Brew Coffee, A Carafe Half Filled With Cold Brew In The Background
Cold brew coffee can be used as a concentrate

Key Takeaways

  • Cold brew is made by steeping coffee in cold water, while iced coffee is made by pouring hot coffee over ice.
  • Cold brew is less acidic with a smoother flavor than hot-brewed coffee.
  • Unlike iced coffee, which begins as hot coffee before being cooled down, cold brew never encounters heat.
  • It requires a higher coffee-to-water ratio due to its extended steeping period.
  • Cold brew dates back to 17th-century Japan, where it was used to make tea-like beverages with coffee and cold water.

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brew coffee is a popular coffee drink that’s made by steeping coarsely ground coffee in cold or room temperature water for several hours, typically 12-24 hours. This slow, cold extraction process creates a concentrate that’s then diluted with water, milk, or other ingredients to make a smooth, less acidic, and naturally slightly sweet cup of coffee.

Cold Brew Coffee In A Mason Jar With A Handle
Cold Brew coffee is commonly served in a mason jar

Here are some key things to know about cold brew:

Taste

Compared to regular hot-brewed coffee, cold brew is known for its:

  • Smoothness: The cold brewing process extracts less of the harsh, bitter-tasting elements that can come from hot water.
  • Less acidity: This makes it easier on the stomach and can be a good choice for people who are sensitive to acidic drinks.
  • Natural sweetness: Cold brewing can bring out some of the subtle sweetness present in coffee beans, making it less reliant on added sugar.
  • Boldness: While less acidic, cold brew can be quite strong in terms of caffeine content and overall flavor.

Preparation

You can make cold brew at home using simple methods and basic equipment like a pitcher or French press. Alternatively, you can find bottled cold brew concentrate in many stores or cafes.

Infographoc How To Make Cold Brew Coffee

Serving

Cold brew is often served cold over ice, but it can also be enjoyed hot or incorporated into various coffee drinks like lattes or cold foam cappuccinos.

Caffeine content

While cold brew concentrate is strong, it often contains less caffeine per serving than a regular cup of coffee when diluted. This is because you typically use less concentrate than brewed coffee.

A Man Reaching For A Glass Of Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew has slightly less caffeine vs hot coffee

Benefits

Some potential benefits of cold brew include:

  • Easier on the stomach due to lower acidity
  • Naturally sweet, requiring less added sugar
  • Smooth and refreshing taste
  • Convenient to make at home or purchase ready-made

From the basic immersion technique to the visually striking cold drip towers, the evolution of cold brew methods is a testament to the craft and creativity behind this beverage. Each method, whether it’s the simple toddy or the elaborate Kyoto-style drip, contributes to the unique taste and experience of cold brew.


How to make cold brew coffee at home:

Making cold brew coffee at home is easier than you might think! You only need good-quality coffee beans, a container, water, and time.

Ingredients:

Infographoc How To Make Cold Brew Coffee

Steps:

  1. Coarsely grind your coffee beans.
  2. Place the ground coffee in a pitcher or a mason jar.
  3. Add cold water to the pitcher or jar and stir.
  4. Cover the pitcher or jar and let it sit in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  5. Strain the coffee mixture through a coffee filter, fine mesh sieve, or cheesecloth.

Coffee-to-Water Ratios for Cold Brew Coffee

Here is a table showing the common ground-coffee-to-water ratios for making cold brew.

Weaker
(0.5:1 Ratio)
Balanced
(1:1 Ratio)
Strong
(2:1 Ratio)
Coffee
Maker Size
CoffeeWaterCoffeeWaterCoffeeWater
OzCupsOzTbspCupsOzTbspCupsOzTbspCups
3241.893.531635262.5
364.51.9103.753.5183.55.5292.75
4052.1114.253.8203.756323
445.52.4124.754.3224.256.5343.25
4862.51354.5244.57373.5
526.52.8145.552658424
56731665.3285.258.5454.25
607.53.3176.55.8305.759474.5
6483.4186.7563269.5504.75

Varieties and Traditions of Cold Brew Coffee

Cold brew coffee is enjoyed worldwide and comes in several distinct styles and traditions. Let’s explore some well-known variations of this refreshing beverage.

Kyoto Style Cold Brew Coffee Tower
The Kyoto-Style cold brew tower is available on Amazon
  1. Kyoto-style Cold Brew: This traditional Japanese method from Kyoto involves slow water drip over coffee grounds. A three-part glass tower, often seen in specialty cafes, facilitates this process. It’s a meticulous method, taking 8-12 hours or overnight, resulting in a distinctive flavor profile. You can snag one on Amazon for $280.
  2. Toddy: Initially a brand name, “Toddy” has become synonymous with cold brew. The Toddy Cold Brew System, launched over fifty years ago, is still popular today for making cold brew at home and is available on Amazon.
  3. Nitro Cold Brew: A modern twist introduced in the early 2010s, Nitro cold brew infuses nitrogen into the coffee, creating a smooth, creamy texture. It’s a testament to the evolving coffee culture and is now widely available in cafes and through home-brew kits like NitroTapp.

The Story of Cold Brew Coffee: A Detailed Look

Tracing its roots to the 17th century, cold brew coffee likely originated in Japan or the Netherlands. The renowned Kyoto-style method from Japan involves a slow-drip process, creating a coffee that’s smooth and less bitter. Interestingly, Dutch traders might have adopted this technique for transporting coffee, highlighting cold brew’s role in historical global trade.

The method spread across Europe and Asia, favored for producing a concentrated coffee that was easy to transport. However, it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that cold brew became a prominent feature in the American coffee landscape.

90s “Cold Coffee”

A deeper dive into the history brings us to “The Coffee Companion: A Connoisseur’s Guide” by Jonathan Thorn1. Published in the 90s, this book provides an early mention of cold brew. Thorn describes a method where ground coffee is mixed with about a quart of cold water and left to steep for 12 hours. After straining, the strong-flavored extract is stored in the fridge. Interestingly, Thorn suggested mixing this “cold coffee” concentrate with regular coffee to enhance strength and flavor, not considering it a stand-alone drink as we often do today.

This insight reflects how cold brew’s perception has evolved over time. Thorn also noted the extract’s robust flavor and digestibility, mentioning that this method pulls fewer oils and significantly less acidity than hot brewing (Thorn, “The Coffee Companion”).

Modern Cold Brew

Today, cold brew is widely popular, particularly among younger and health-conscious consumers. It’s become a signature drink in both specialty cafes and major coffee chains, celebrated for its distinct taste and style. Its journey from a historical transport method to a modern-day staple is a testament to its enduring appeal and the evolving tastes of coffee drinkers worldwide.

Exploring Flavorful Additions for Cold Brew Coffee

If you want to elevate your cold brew experience, why not explore some flavor variations? Here are a few options to tantalize your taste buds:

  • Vanilla Cold Brew: Request a few pumps of vanilla syrup in your cold brew for a smooth, vanilla-flavored enhancement.
  • Coconut Cold Brew: Add coconut milk, cream, or syrup to cold brew for a tropical flavor reminiscent of the beach and sun.
  • Mocha Cold Brew: Combine coffee and chocolate for a rich, balanced mocha cold brew.
  • Caramel Cold Brew: Add caramel syrup or sauce for a subtly sweet flavor enhancement.
  • Hazelnut Cold Brew: Infuse with hazelnut syrup or extract for a comforting, nutty depth of flavor.
Adding Coconut Milk To Cold Brew Coffee
Coconut milk brings a nostalgic, refreshing flavor to the otherwise rich & bold cold brew coffee.

What Is Cold Brew Coffee

Cold Brew Coffee

Kelsey Todd
Making cold brew coffee at home is easier than you might think! All you need is good-quality coffee beans, a container, water, and time.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
1 day
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people
Calories 5 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
  

Instructions
 

  • Coarsely grind your coffee beans.
    8 oz coarsely ground coffee
  • Place the ground coffee in the metal filter of the cold brew coffee maker. You can also use a glass pitcher or a mason jar.
  • Fill the cold brew maker with cold water (stir if using a pitcher or mason jar)
  • Cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Remove the metal filter and pour yourself a glass. If using a pitcher or mason jar, you'll need to strain the coffee mixture through a coffee filter, fine mesh sieve, or cheesecloth.

Notes

Caffeine: 205 mg

Nutrition

Serving: 16ozCalories: 5kcalSodium: 15mg
Keyword cold brew, iced coffee
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Top Coffee Beans for Cold Brew

Here are my personal top picks for cold brew beans, selected for their flavor and perfect roast level.

  1. Spirit Animal Coffee Bourbon Roast – $36: This medium roast is known for its unique flavor profile, ideal for those who love a complex and rich taste in their cold brew.
  2. Koa Coffee Medium Roast – $33: A fan favorite for cold brew, this medium roast offers a smooth and balanced flavor, making it a great choice for a refreshing iced coffee.
Spirit Animal Coffee
Koa Coffee For Cold Brew Coffee

Related: Explore My Comprehensive Review of Spirit Animal Coffee.

Essential Cold Brew Equipment: 5 Must-Haves for Brewing at Home

While you can make cold brew coffee with just a mason jar and a strainer, having the right equipment can make the process easier and more consistent. Here are 5 of my top choices for cold brew equipment that I recommend. I have the Ovalware one.

  1. Hario Mizudashi – $21.50 (Amazon)
  2. Cascade Mason Jar – $32.99 (Etsy)
  3. Ovalware Cold Brew Jar – $35.99 (Amazon)
  4. Kitchenaid XL – $139 (Kitchenaid) (Amazon)
  5. Toddy – $39.99 (Amazon)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What’s the cold brew coffee-to-water ratio?

A commonly recommended ratio is 1:10 of coffee to water.

What coffee grind is best for cold brew?

The best coffee grind size for cold brew coffee is a coarse grind​.2

What are the best coffee beans for cold brew?

Spirit-Animal-Coffee

My favorite coffee for making cold brew is the Bourbon Roast from Spirit Animal Coffee. Its distinct brightness and smoothness, coupled with floral undertones, are truly highlighted when used for cold brew. They have a wide range of single-origin, organic coffee beans roasted explicitly for cold brew.

Can cold brew coffee be heated?

Cold-brew coffee can be heated, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Heating it will change the flavor and texture of the coffee, as it was specifically brewed to be served cold. Heating it up can result in a bitter taste and a loss of some of the smoothness and sweetness of cold brew coffee.

Will drinking cold brew coffee break a fast?

It depends on the type of fast you’re doing and how you define “breaking” a fast. Cold brew coffee has zero calories or sugar, which makes it a popular beverage for people who are fasting for weight loss or health reasons. However, it does contain some caffeine, which can impact your metabolism and blood sugar levels.

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee vs. Iced Americano

Cold brew involves steeping coffee grounds in cold water over time. Iced coffee is regular brewed coffee that is chilled and poured over ice. An iced americano is made by mixing espresso shots with cold water and serving it over ice. Check out my detailed post for more info.

Can cold brew coffee be frozen?

Yes, cold brew coffee can be frozen, and doing so in an ice cube tray can provide convenient serving options.

Why is cold brew coffee so expensive?

Cold brew coffee requires a larger amount of coffee beans and a longer brewing time, contributing to its higher cost.

Are cold brew coffees sweet?

Cold brew coffee itself isn’t inherently sweet. It often has a smoother, less acidic taste compared to hot coffee, which can give the impression of mild sweetness.

How to cold brew with a French press?

To make cold brew in a French press, mix coarse ground coffee with cold water, let it steep in the fridge for 12-24 hours, then press and strain.

Which cold brew has the least caffeine?

The caffeine content in cold brew varies by brand and brew concentration. Look for cold brews labeled as lower in caffeine or diluted more.

Conclusion

You’ve now learned everything there is to know about cold brew coffee, and let me tell you, it’s worth trying! Whether you like it black, with milk, or even as a cocktail mixer, cold brew coffee is an amazing and versatile drink that has gained popularity for a reason.

Don’t miss out on the trend – give cold brew coffee a chance and discover your new favorite way to enjoy coffee!

Infographic: Cold-Brew Coffee Ratios Simplified
Infographic: Cold-Brew Coffee Ratios Simplified
  1. https://amzn.to/3TSJUuu β†©οΈŽ
  2. https://yourdreamcoffee.com/cold-brew-coffee-frequently-asked-questions/ β†©οΈŽ
Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.

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