Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a little while, by now you’ll have come across cold brew. The now-ubiquitous drip tower is a fixture in hipster cafes across the country. But cold brew is certainly more than a fad.
Cold-brew coffee not only offers a fruitier, sweeter alternative to traditional brews: its low acid content is much easier on the stomach, meaning cold brew has made coffee accessible to a whole swathe of people who might otherwise need to abstain.
So, not only delicious but a true coffee for the people. Or at least it would be, if only you didn’t need a multi-thousand dollar drip tower in your living room, right? Wrong. Cold brewing, even in it’s more technical drip form, can be done at home, and easily too, with a cold brew coffee maker. With cold brew and cold drip coffee makers, the key ingredient is patience.
Read on to find out what’s so great about cold brew, and everything you need to know about how to make your own cold brew coffee at home.
What is Special About Cold Brew Coffee?
Believe it or not, cold brewed coffee has been produced in some form since the 1600’s. Originally conceived to save space so that Dutch sailors could still enjoy coffee on their voyages, there are mentions of cold brew coffee concentrates on sale throughout the 1800s across the world. For more information on the history of cold brew check out our article.
There are also accounts of Japanese cold drip tea making methods from around this time. Wherever it originates, for whatever reason cold brew seems to have been forgotten about for nearly a hundred years, until it suddenly exploded back in the public consciousness. So why the sudden reemergence? What’s so special about cold brew?
Well, first there’s the taste. It is sweeter, lighter and less acidic and bitter than hot brewed coffee. The reason for this is that cold brew uses time to extract the flavour from the coffee, whereas traditional brew methods use heat.
The acids and oils that can make coffee bitter or sour extract far less at lower temperatures, meaning the sweet, floral and fruity notes of the coffee are not obscured. This means it’s easier to create a drink with a more balanced and complex flavour profile.
The lower amounts of acid also mean it's easier on the stomach, and so many people who might avoid normal hot brew find they can enjoy cold brew without issues. It’s also lighter in terms of the caffeine hit.
Properly brewed and stored, it lasts for up to 10 days, which means you can brew a batch for the whole week if you wish! Generally, cold brew coffee is made in a concentrate which can be diluted or used in various recipes (we’ve included some below!), which is normally diluted 50/50 with water to serve.
Is Cold Brew Coffee Stronger Than Regular Coffee?
The amount of coffee used vs water in many cold brew recipes would imply that cold brew is strong, but the much lower rate of extraction balances this to some extent. In terms of caffeine most concentrates will be deliberately at least twice as strong as normal coffee, but as they are watered down to serve the amount is roughly the same.
You can make it stronger simply by adding more coffee if you wish. Unlike with hot coffee, adding coffee won’t make the coffee overly harsh or bitter, you’ll just end up with a stronger concentrate.
Also, even though cold brew is as (or more) caffeinated as normal coffee, it is released into the system much more slowly, meaning cold brew is less likely to give you the jitters if you drink too much! Unlike, say iced coffee.
How is Cold Brew Coffee Made?
Cold brew coffee has two variations: drip and immersion. Although they vary in method quite dramatically, the basic principle is the same: by using time instead of heat to extract the coffee from the grounds, they produce coffee that is sweeter and lighter, as the lack of heat means less oils and acids are taken into the final cup.
We’ll get into the differences a little later. First here’s a super recipe for a simple immersive cold brew, with minimum specialised equipment, which gives you a feel for the process and how easy it is:
Place 1 cup coffee beans, coarsely ground in a mason jar.
Add 5 cups filtered water.
Give this a good stir.
Steep in the fridge for 15 hours.
Then use cheesecloth, a paper coffee filter or a fine sieve to strain the coffee grounds.
And your coffee is brewed.
Serve with equal parts water, and add ice and milk to taste.
It really is that simple. Of course, as you learn there are many things you can tweak and improve as you go. Mastering cold brew might take a little while, but getting started couldn’t be simpler.
What Grind to Use for Cold Brew Coffee?
For cold brew you want the coarsest grind possible. For both methods the water has all the time in the world to work on the coffee and so there is no need for medium or coarse grinds, as these are designed to maximise the amount of surface area that is exposed to the coffee for short, hot brewing.
If you use a medium or coarse grind for cold brew you will end up with a bitter, over-extracted coffee, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid.
What is the ratio for cold brew coffee?
As a general rule, you should use a coffee to water ratio of around 1:5 for a nicely balanced concentrate which you can drink straight, or mix 1:1 with equal parts water, milk, tonic, or to include in whatever recipe you decide. We’ve suggested some at the bottom of this article. By far the most popular serving choice is to simply add water at 1:1 with some ice cubes.
The amounts you want to use do vary depending on the method though so here’s a few different suggestions - you should consult the instructions for advice if using a dedicated cold brewer too:
DESCRIPTION COFFEE TO WATER RATIO
General ratio 1:5
Batch Brew and cold brew concentrate ratio 1:2
High strength French Press brew 1:7
Low strength French Press brew 1:12
How Long Does It Take to Cold Brew Coffee?
No matter what method you’re using, preparing all of your equipment should take you next to no time at all. After all, all you need to do is grind your coffee nice and coarse, and add that and the water to your mason jar or cold brewer, and that’s it.
Most of the time the coffee’s brewing you will either be busy doing something else, asleep, or a combination of both. That’s the beauty of cold brew - all you need is a little patience. Once you’re all set up, a drip cold brew should take 2-3 hours, whereas an immersion needs way more - from 12-15 hours.
How Long Should You Let Cold Brew Sit?
Depending on your method, and the equipment you’re using, you’ll need to steep your coffee grounds from between 12-15 hours for immersion, or 2-3 hours for drip. Ideally, immersion cold brew should be steeped in the fridge, but if you’re making at home it’s possible that you can’t fit the brewer into your model at home.
If so it’s fine to brew at room temperature, but try to make sure you leave it somewhere relatively cool and definitely not in direct sunlight, or you might start hot brewing your cold brew. This could make your coffee taste bitter, which is exactly what we don’t want from our cold brew.
Why Does My Cold Brew Taste Bad?
The same rules apply here as they do to hot brews - just on a longer time scale. If you under extract, as in you don’t steep it long enough, you might find that your cold brew is a little sour. So, next time try to leave it an extra hour and see if that helps.
If your coffee is bitter however, this might mean that you have over-extracted it, and you will need to take some time off for your next brew to see if this solves the problem. You might need to experiment with the timings a little to get it spot on, as each bean will be different, and each method will have its own peculiarities.
Cold Brew Vs. Cold Drip Coffee Makers: What's the Difference?
Cold drip coffee makers have one major advantage over immersion brewers: they are quicker. That’s because they are set up to allow water to flow over the coffee, meaning they extract the flavour faster.
Cold drip coffee makers have three (but sometimes two) chambers. Number one contains the water to be dripped, and below this is the chamber containing the coffee grounds. Below this is a chamber to collect the extracted cold brew. Cold drip coffee needs a regular flow of water, with a drip rate of 1 drip every 1-4 secs.
The longer the gap between drips, the slower the brew. Even so, cold drip makers will normally produce a batch in around 3-5 hours, compared to 12-15 for immersive brewers.
Cold drip coffee is generally more intense and concentrated than cold brew. Cold brew is lighter and more floral, and whereas cold brew will typically be served diluted to 300ml, a cold drip would normally be served more like an espresso, at 45ml. COld drip, although more intense, is still sweeter and less acidic than espresso.
Cold Brew and Cold Drip Coffee Makers
Bruer Cold Brew Coffee Maker
The Bruer Cold Brew System is a fully functional drip brewer which is designed for the home. Unlike the huge centerpiece drip brewers you might have seen in coffee shops, the Breur is compact and easy to find space for.
It uses the exact same science as other drip brewers, and in 3 to 12 hours yields up to 600 ml of concentrate. With variable drip speeds, you have the flexibility to experiment and find your favourite brew. The bottom chamber collects the cold brew
concentrate as it slowly drains from the coffee bed and through the filter, meaning to serve you simply unscrew the top and pour.
You can learn exactly how it works with our Bruer Cold Brew Guide.
Hario Mizudushi Cold Brewing Pot
Hario have been producing world-beating coffee equipment for decades, so it’s no surprise that they also make an excellent and very affordable immersion cold brewer. The Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Pot is that brewer, and it doesn’t disappoint. Brewing with the Hario couldn’t be simpler: simply place the ground coffee in the holder, and fill the carafe with water, and wait.
Here’s a brief recipe:
Coarsely grind 80g of coffee into the mesh filter.
Add 1 L of cold, clean water to the pot.
Let it steep for 12-18 hours in the fridge.
The carafe has a mesh filter built-in with 60-micron holes, too small to allow coffee grounds to enter your final brew. Once your brew is finished, you simply remove the coffee filter and leave in the fridge ready to serve. It’s easy to clean and should last a lifetime. Looking for more Hario options? See our review of Hario Cold Brew Coffee Makers.
Toddy Cold Brewing System
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The Toddy Cold Brewing System is not only super easy to use: you can cold brew tea AND coffee, so whatever cold brew you fancy this puts control in your hands.
Designed with beginners to cold brew in mind, this all-in-one cold brew system produces stellar coffee and tea with a very straightforward process that anyone can follow.
The filter is built-in, so with the Toddy Cold Brew System all you need to do is unplug the stopper when the time is up. Your coffee or tea will decant into the carafe through the inbuilt filter, so you can then simply remove the brewer and you’re ready to serve.
The Dripster Cold Brew Coffee Maker
The Dripster Cold Brew Coffee Maker’s innovative design brings drip brewing to the home. Compact design means the drip tower is no longer the preserve of the hipster cafe - this is small enough to fit on any kitchen side, yet still produces 600ml of cold drip coffee per use. The water tank is made with durable food-grade plastic and the carafe made from borosilicate Pyrex glass, and both are completely transparent.
Combined with the sleek design, this is as good to watch as any drip tower, and with the fully adjustable dripper valve fully visible you can see your coffee brew drip by drip. And as this is a drip and not immersion brewing, you can go from brew to cup in as little as 2-3 hours.
The Dripster comes with a permanent stainless steel filter, meaning there is no need to buy replacements. Simply remove and clean between uses. 100% sustainable, the mesh filter eliminates paper waste, is easy to clean, and gives you a brew with a rich flavour and smooth body.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee in French Press
Maybe you’re into the idea of cold brew, but you don’t want to commit just yet? Well, if you already have a french press you can get started making your own cold brew already without making any investment.
All you need is:
Your French Press
60g of Coffee
500g of Cold Water
Pour Over Cone + Filter
Second Carafe / Mason Jar
For the second carafe and the pour-over cone, anything you have lying around will do. A coffee filter in a kitchen funnel will be fine, and any food-safe jar can be used as the second or final carafe.
Grind your beans coarsely, and add the coffee to the french press. Then pour the water in slowly making sure to saturate all of the coffee grounds. Wait 5 mins, and stir to make sure any grounds that have floated to the top are submerged. Add the top and plunger but do not plunge yet: set aside for 12 hours.
After 12 hours, plunge the french press slowly. Then pour the coffee through the pour-over cone into your second carafe, to filter out any remaining coffee grounds. And that’s it!
This recipe makes a concentrate at a 1:8 ratio, so you will want to dilute 50/50 with water to serve. The full recipe and more can be found in our guide to how to make cold brew in a french press.
Do You Need Special Coffee for Cold Brew?
You don’t need special coffee to make cold brew: you can probably even use regular coffee, or the coffee you regularly use at least. Like all coffee though, of course the type and quality of bean you use are going to affect the final flavour profile, so you want to choose your beans carefully.
Avoid using cheap beans though if you can. The beauty of cold brew is the gentle extraction method really brings out the more complex notes in the coffee, so you want a bean that has something to say for itself. Although cold brew made with average beans will still be light and refreshing, you’re missing out on the real joy of this method.
What Coffee is Best for Cold Brew?
There is no straight answer to this question as it will depend on your taste. If you’re already well versed in coffee then you probably know which beans you prefer: however, with cold brew it might be worth branching out and trying something different, as what works with hot water doesn’t always translate to cold brew.
All beans have their own distinct characteristics. Generally speaking, for a stronger, more full-flavoured brew Central or South American Beans are great. African beans will be fruitier or have a more wine-like profile. Trying out a variety of beans from different regions will help you isolate what works for you when cold brewing.
Immersion Cold Brew
As we covered earlier, this describes the process where you literally immerse the coffee in cold water and leave it to extract over a long time period. Immersion cold brews are easily performed without specialised equipment: so long as you have a mason jar and filters, you can easily have a go at this at home.
See our instructions above in this article, as well as instructions for french press cold brew: both are immersive techniques. Some bespoke cold brewers come with fitted filters, removing the need for to even filter the grounds from your final cup. Immersion cold brew is one of the most accessible types of brewing - the only thing you really need is patience.
To learn all about immersive brewing techniques, check out our immersion cold brew guide.
The Best Cold Brew Coffee Recipes
Not only is cold brew super easy to make, it’s versatile enough to lend a hand in all kinds of different drinks and treats. Before we get to that though, here’s a few extra tips to keep in mind when making your own cold brew (which I didn’t find space for yet).
When you strain out your coffee grounds, you need to be patient to get the best flavour. If you feel like the amount is overwhelming your filter, slow down and strain slowly and gradually in batches if you need to. If you rush, you will end up with a bitter and lifeless cup, but your reward for patience will be a brew full of the complex fruity notes which you expect from a cold brew.
Keep it stored tight.
Cold-brew lasts longer than other iced coffees, but you want to make sure it is covered in the fridge to protect all the tasty flavours you’ve worked so hard to extract. Like nearly any foodstuff, you don’t want it exposed to oxygen as this will degrade the flavours, so it’s worth investing in a proper airtight container.
There are so many variables to play around with, so be sure to experiment to find your best balance. Grind size and extract time are the most obvious to change in immersion brewing, whereas the drip rate will be the bigger factor in drip brews. Of course, the beans you choose will have a pretty massive impact too. There are more than two ways of cold brewing too: in this article we compare Japanese iced coffee to cold brew for inspiration.
Cold Brew Recipes
Cold Brew Tonic
Your fresh cold brew coffee concentrate
One of the best known for a reason, cold brew and tonic pair perfectly. All you need to do is combine in the glass with ice, stir and serve.
Iced Cafe Suada
100ml of your cold brew concentrate
100ml of sweetened condensed milk
“ca phe sua da”, or “Cafe suada” as it’s known in the west, translates roughly as 'Vietnamese iced coffee'. Simply combine the ingredients and pours. Simple, and perfect.
100 ml of cold drip concentrate
300 ml of coconut water
Not rocket science: put the cold brew, the coconut water and the ice in a glass, and stir. You can add variety to this easily though: if you have a sweet tooth, you can use sweetened coconut water, or just add sugar. Vanilla will add richness or a squeeze of lime will add a little citrus kick, it’s up to you.
Cold Brew Ice Cubes
Your own fresh cold drip or brew concentrate
An ice cube tray
OK so a very cheap recipe admittedly, but worthy of mention simply because it’s such an amazing way of storing and then serving your cold brew. All you need to do is pop a few cubes into a glass and add water, and wait.
These can also be used in place of normal ice in our cold brew cocktails if you want an extra kick. Talking of which …
50ml bourbon whiskey
2 tablespoons of orange syrup
6 oz of cold brew concentrate
1 maraschino cherry
Combine the Bourbon, orange syrup, and bitters in a glass. Stir and let sit, then add your cold drip concentrate. Slowly place your ice cubes in, leave to sit for 30 secs, garnish and enjoy.
100g golden caster sugar
For the cocktail:
100ml premium vodka
25ml cold brew concentrate diluted 1:1 25ml water
4 coffee beans (optional)
Start by making the sugar syrup. Put the caster sugar in a small pan over a medium heat and pour in 50ml water. Stir, and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Put 2 martini glasses in the fridge to chill.
Once the sugar syrup is cold, pour 1 tbsp into a cocktail shaker along with a handful of ice, the vodka, your cold brew and the Kahlua. Shake until the outside of the cocktail shaker feels cold.
Strain into the chilled glasses. Garnish each one with coffee beans if you like.
Cinnamon and Orange Cold Brew
A wedge of Orange
50ml cold brew
Warmed cinnamon sticks
A pinch of powdered cinnamon
A pinch of coconut sugar
Squeeze the orange into a glass with the crushed ice, and then ub the peel of the orange around the lip of the glass. Add the warmed cinnamon sticks, and the cold coffee. To finish it off, add the powdered cinnamon and the pinch of coconut sugar.
180ml cold brew (diluted 1:1 water)
1 large scoop of chocolate ice cream
60ml iced water
Whipped cream (to top)
No pretending here, this is just decadence in a glass. Throw everything except the whipped cream into the blender and blend until frothy. Once everything is mixed, pour it into a tall glass, top with whipped cream, sit back and think about how far you’ll have to run to work this off (don’t).
Cold Brew Ice Lollies
230 ml of fresh cold brew
3 tbsp of sweetened condensed milk
A drop of vanilla essence
All you need to do is stir the ingredients together thoroughly, and pour into your popsicle molds. Leave in the freezer overnight, and enjoy.
One of the best things about cold brew is the fact you can store it easily without losing freshness. Unsurprisingly then, cold brew is perfect for freezing, and a cold brew popsicle will keep for weeks.
Even better, cold brew's fruity and sweet flavour profile is perfect for a refreshing iced treat on a hot day, and with the condensed milk and vanilla, this is sure to satisfy your sugar cravings too.
Cold Brew Ice Cream
75ml of cold brew concentrate
300ml of heavy whipping cream
300ml of sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp of Kahlua
Mix the Kahlua, sweetened condensed milk, and your cold brew concentrate. Whip the cream slowly and steadily and keep going until you see peaks forming. Now it is time to fold in the coffee, milk and Kahlua mixture. Once you are satisfied it is all mixed, place in the freezer for 3 hours, and wait.
Big Batch Cold Brew Coffee
Last but definitely not least on the list of reasons to convert to cold brew: the ability to batch brew. Cold-brew coffee beats hot coffee on one crucial count: it can be easily stored.
The reason is simple: hot coffee’s flavour degrades if it is reheated, but will become bitter if kept on constant heat. The time window in which you need to consume hot coffee is considerably narrower than cold brew. Meaning that if you have the brewing capacity, you could do one brew a week and have all the coffee you need right there.
It’s really no surprise that the world has finally woken up to the wonders of cold brewing. Not only is it lighter, easier on the stomach, and less ‘buzzy’ than hot coffee due to the slow release of caffeine: it’s incredibly easy to brew at home.
Whether you repurpose equipment you already own or jump in for a dedicated brewer (recommended if you want to make drip for sure!), with a little bit of care and patience you could be drinking your first batch in hours - if you start now. Check out Alternative Brewing's full range of cold brewers and accessories and get cold brewing today.