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.

Key Takeaways

  • Cold brew is made by steeping coffee in cold water, while iced coffee is made by pouring hot coffee over ice.
  • It has less acidity and a smoother flavor than hot brewed coffee.
  • It requires a higher coffee-to-water ratio due to its extended steeping period.
  • It can be stored for up to two weeks in the fridge.
  • Cold brew’s rich flavor is also popular in cooking, baking, and cocktails.
  • 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 brewing method that involves steeping coarsely ground coffee beans in cold or room temperature water for an extended period of time, typically 12-24 hours.

This slow process results in a smoother, less bitter coffee concentrate that can be diluted with water, milk, or other ingredients.

2 cold brew to-go cups on a park bench
Cold Brew | Photo by Amelia Hallsworth

Cold Brew Coffee Around the World

Cold brew coffee goes by many names and variations around the world, from Kyoto-Style Coffee to Dutch coffee and Toddy coffee.

Here are some of the most popular and unique cold brew coffee drinks from different countries and cultures.

Dutch Coffee: This name is thought to have originated from Dutch traders who brought the cold brewing technique to Japan in the 17th century.

Kyoto-style Coffee: This name references the Japanese method of cold brewing coffee using a slow-drip tower.

Toddy: “Toddy” has become a popular term for cold brew; however, it’s actually the brand name of a popular device introduced 50 years ago for making cold brew.

This is similar to how we say Kleenex instead of facial tissue. Or how we say Q-Tips instead of Cotton Swabs.

Toddy Brew System
A workhorse of a brewing tool, the Toddy Cold Brew System will likely become a favorite addition to your cold brew repertoire. With a filtration system that makes for crystalline flavor and silky texture, its the method we use to make the cold brew coffees we serve daily in our cafes. We heartily recommend it if youre interested in making larger batches of your favorite single-origin cold brew or cold brews at a higher concentration. And if youre a lover of our New Orleans-Style Iced Coffee and plan on making that at home, too, we believe in the Toddy System so much that we portion our New OrleansStyle Coffee and Chicory to fit its dimensions exactly. No matter the coffee you choose to brew, the Toddys filtration system removes all of the coffee sediment, so the resultant cold brew will stay vibrant far longer than it will take you to drink it all up. The Toddy Cold Brew System includes 2 Toddy Felt Filters and 3 Toddy Paper Filter Bags ; you can also order additional filters and bags on our website.
Toddy Felt Filters
A workhorse of a brewing tool, the Toddy Cold Brew System will likely become a beloved addition to your cold brew repertoire and its one of our favorite tools for making our New Orleans-Style Iced Coffee. You can use the felt filters 10 to 12 times or for up to three months. For the most crystalline cold brew, use the felt filters in conjunction with the paper filters. Toddy Paper Filter Bags
Toddy Paper Filter Bags
A workhorse of a brewing tool, the Toddy Cold Brew System will likely become a beloved addition to your cold brew repertoire and its one of our favorite tools for making our New Orleans-Style Iced Coffee. The key to creating crystalline cold brews in the Toddy is its dual filtration system, which relies on a fine felt filter as well as paper filters. These paper filters make for easier cleanup and allow you to brew up to 1 pound of coffee at a time. Toddy Felt Filters


Historians speculate that cold brew originated in Japan or the Netherlands during the 17th century. Read the full history of Cold Brew Coffee here.

In Japan, the Kyoto-style of cold brewing coffee using a slow-drip tower gained popularity for producing smooth and less bitter coffee.

japanese coffee shop serving cold brew

This brewing method was introduced to Japan by Dutch traders1, who would brew coffee using cold water and then store it in barrels for long journeys.

This method was found to produce a concentrated and easily transportable form of coffee, which was later popularized in Europe and the United States.

Despite its long and storied history, cold brew coffee only gained widespread popularity in the United States in the mid-2000s, where it has since become a staple in the coffee culture.

It’s amazing to think that a centuries-old brewing method has taken the modern world by storm, proving that, sometimes, old-fashioned techniques can still hold their own in a world of constantly evolving technology.

brief history of cold brew coffee
Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

How to make cold brew coffee at home:

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.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • Coffee beans (ground coarsely)
  • Cold water
  • A pitcher or jar
  • A coffee filter or cheesecloth
  • A strainer

Here are the 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.

Here’s a handy infographic showing common coffee-to-water ratios to reference when making cold-brew coffee.

coffe to water ratio cold brew coffee infographic
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Cold Brew Coffee Variations

Cold-brew coffee has become a popular way to enjoy coffee without the bitterness of traditional hot-brewed coffee. Here are some variations of cold brew coffee that you can try:

Vanilla Cold Brew: Vanilla cold brew is made by adding vanilla syrup or vanilla extract to cold brew coffee. This adds a sweet and subtle vanilla flavor to the coffee.

Coconut Cold Brew: Coconut cold brew is made by adding coconut milk or coconut cream to cold brew coffee. This adds a creamy and tropical flavor to the coffee.

Nitro Cold Brew: Nitro cold brew is cold brew coffee infused with nitrogen gas, which creates a creamy, velvety texture.

nitro coffee maker

It’s typically served from a tap, like a beer, and is great when drank black (it tastes naturally sweet and velvety) or with some cream.

Access to Nitro cold brew is no longer limited to specialty coffee shops. Nay, plenty of coffee lovers are experimenting with making their own Nitro cold brew at home.

In my personal experience, NitroTapp is a good resource for fairly inexpensive ($175) entry-level equipment for making Nitro cold brew.

3 Must-Try Coffee Beans for Cold Brew

Here are three of my favorite coffee beans for making cold brew. I chose them based on their flavor profile and roast level (medium roasts make great iced coffee).

  • Spirit Animal Coffee Bourbon Roast – $36
  • Deathwish Coffee Columbian Blend – $20
  • Koa Coffee Medium Roast – $33
Spirit Animal Coffee
death wish coffee for cold brew
Koa Coffee for cold brew coffee

Want to learn more? Here’s my complete review of Spirit Animal Coffee.

5 Cold Brew Equipment Must-Haves

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 – $35.99 (Amazon)
  4. Kitchenaid XL – $139 (Kitchenaid) (Amazon)
  5. Toddy – $39.99 (Amazon)

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee vs. Iced Americano

Cold brew, iced coffee, and iced americano are popular iced coffee drinks that differ in their brewing methods.

Cold brew is made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water over a long period. Iced coffee, on the other hand, is regular brewed coffee that is chilled and poured over ice.

Finally, an iced americano is a shot or two of espresso mixed with cold water and served over ice.

If you’re interested in the differences between cold brew, iced coffee, and iced americano, check out my full post, where I delve deeper into each drink’s brewing method and flavor.


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

The general cold brew coffee-to-water ratio is around 1:4 or 1:5. For every 1 part of coffee; you’ll use 4 to 5 parts of water. For example, if you’re using 1 cup of coffee grounds, you would mix it with 4 to 5 cups of water.

Which cold-brew coffee should I buy?

spirit animal coffee

If you’re looking for a great coffee bean for your cold brew, I recommend trying Spirit Animal Coffee. They have a wide range of single-origin, organic coffee beans specifically roasted for cold brew. Plus, their beans are ethically sourced, sustainably grown, and roasted fresh to order.

Can I make cold-brew coffee with a French press?

Using a French press is one of the more popular methods for making cold brew. Instead of using hot water, use cold water, and let the coffee steep for 24-48 hours in the refrigerator.

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.


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!


  1.  Hof, Karina (August 13, 2015). “Dutch Coffee: Batavia’s Slow-Dripped, Cooled Down Take On A Classic”Sprudge.
Avatar of Kelsey Todd
Kelsey may not know everything about coffee, but after two decades as a barista in Seattle and Santa Barbara, he knows a thing or two. When he's not obsessing over the perfect cup, you can find him hanging out with his wife and daughter or sharing his java gems on this here blog.

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