It’s officially cold brew season. Die-hard cold brew fans know it’s wildly different than iced coffee, which can simply be made by pouring coffee over ice or refrigerating leftover coffee. Cold brew, on the other hand, is the beloved liquid resulting from the process of slowly steeping coffee grounds in cold or room-temperature water for a number of hours, resulting in a silky smooth, less acidic and highly caffeinated coffee.
And though that may sound complicated, with the right process, it can be ultra simple. Ben Helfen, education support specialist at Counter Culture Coffee, says it comes with a flavor of its own.
“There’s a comfort level with the flavor of cold brew, which often tastes very similar, even with different coffees, so most folks have a good idea of what to expect, which isn’t as true with espresso or hot coffee,” he says.
And then there’s the gear factor. “Espresso and hot concentrate poured over ice are more intimidating to the average consumer because they require brewing devices they might not have handy,” Helfen says. “Whereas, cold brew can easily be done in a Mason jar or French press.”
And when it comes to choosing specific coffee for cold brew, Trade Coffee director of coffee Maciej Kasperowicz says what you’ll ultimately like is also a matter of personal preference.
“Because ultra-light roasts can be less soluble, it’s hard to extract all the good stuff out of those beans without hot water, so I wouldn’t go for those,” he says. “So, if you’re looking at, say, an East African coffee that features juicy citrus acidity and floral aromatics, those qualities have a hard time showing up in cold brew. It won’t taste bad, certainly, but if you’re buying specifically for cold brew, you might be better off buying a coffee that has a lot of chocolatey sweetness and a big body — qualities that cold brew brings out well.”
There are a variety of cold brew devices on the market, but Helfen says that aside from convenience, these don’t necessarily create a better drink. Some of the devices, such as a Toddy or Filtron, can make bigger batches, but he says, “I use what’s easy and cheap for making cold brew at home, which for me is usually just a Mason jar.”
Read on for Helfen’s easiest at-home cold brew primer.
How to make cold brew coffee
- Start with a 32-ounce wide-mouth Mason jar. Thoroughly clean and sanitize the mason jar, including the lid.
Ball Regular Mouth 32-Ounce Mason Jars with Lids and Bands, 2-Pack ($16.99; amazon.com)
Mason jars also give this process a more homey feel, if you’re into that vibe. And now that you have Mason jars, you can try to make Mason jar ice cream.
- Using a kitchen scale, measure 100 grams of coffee. Grind coffee to a medium grind (somewhere between table salt and coarse sea salt).
Counter Culture Coffee, Apollo, 12-Ounce Whole Beans ($17; amazon.com)
“Most folks that I know that enjoy cold brew don’t particularly like some of the brightness or perceived acidity that lighter roasts can have,” Helfen says, pointing to his brand’s Apollo as his favorite for cold brew.
“Cold brew drinkers are usually looking for chocolatey and sweet flavors, and a little more developed roast can help with those flavors,” he says. “Apollo is available year-round, always has a washed Ethiopian coffee in it, and is more in the middle of a darker roast and a lighter roast. To me, it’s the best of both worlds — a little bit chocolatey and sweet, but also has some nice delicate floral and citrus flavors.”
Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder ($169; amazon.com)
“A decent burr grinder makes any brew better,” Kasperowicz says. “The Baratza Encore is a favorite; it grinds evenly enough, plus Baratza is known for their customer service and parts program, so it’ll be easier to fix should something happen, instead of having to buy a new grinder.”
And to see more coffee grinder options, check out our comprehensive coffee grinder test.
Hario V60 Drip Coffee Scale and Timer (starting at $56.01; amazon.com)
Similarly, a kitchen scale, like this Hario specifically made for home brew drip coffee making, is key to the exact ratio of grounds to water.
- Heat a kettle to 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit or so, and, using a glass measuring cup, add 100 grams of this water. “Wetting the grounds a bit with hot water is sometimes referred to as a ‘hot bloom,’ Helfen says, which brings out the flavors of the coffee.
- Using the measuring cup, add the rest of the water (700 grams) at room temperature, making sure the grounds are completely saturated (no dry pockets). Helfen insists on using filtered water for the best tasting coffee.
Brita Grand 10-Cup BPA Free Water Pitcher (starting at $29.99; target.com)
“Always use filtered water for your coffee brewing! Hot or cold,” Helfen insists. “Even if it’s just a Brita pitcher or simple carbon filtration, it will improve the flavor of your coffee significantly.”
Serious baristas recommend a gooseneck kettle for home brews — this one’s also efficient for a pour-over drip method or a French press for hot coffee.
Taylor Precision Products Allergen Waterproof Digital Pocket Thermometer ($14.99, originally $17.60; amazon.com)
Some people make cold brew without measuring the water, but the professionals insist the hot bloom is key to the process. “It highlights a little bit more brightness and more of the delicate flavors of a coffee,” Helfen says.
- Tightly cover the Mason jar with plastic wrap to make sure there’s no air in the brewing environment. “I’m obsessive about putting off oxidation as long as possible,” Helfen says, to control the taste of the final brew.
Glad Cling Wrap Plastic Food Wrap, 4-Pack ($11.92, originally $14.99; amazon.com)
“Because of the longer brewing and holding times of cold brew, having super clean brewing equipment and keeping as much air out as possible will dramatically improve the flavor of the beverage,” says Helfen, who always wraps his Mason jar with plastic before replacing the lid. “Oxidation and bacterial growth are the enemies of cold brew!”
- Put the lid on the Mason jar and refrigerate for 12-14 hours.
- Retrieve the Mason jar and pour the contents slowly through a flat-bottom paper coffee filter into another receptacle (Helfen uses another 32-ounce Mason jar). Be patient: This process could take 15-20 minutes. Cold brew is a slow brew! If the first filter gets clogged with grounds, dispose of it and start the filtration with a new filter.
Melitta 8-12 cup Super Premium Coffee Filters ($4.99; target.com)
Any flat-bottom paper filter that fits your home automatic drip brewer will work for this process.
Five Star — Star San Brew Sanitizer High Foaming Acid Anionic ($12.99; amazon.com)
Helfen says highly sanitized brewing equipment is key for the best tasting results. He washes his Mason jar in soapy water, or if time permits, will boil it for 10 minutes, or deep clean it in a solution of this brewing sanitizer.
- Once brew is filtered, pour desired amount into a glass, with an equal amount of water and ice. Enjoy!
You can also use a simple French press to make your own cold brew. “There’s no real need for complex machinery in cold brew making,” Kasperowicz says. “It’s one of the easiest methods to make in your home at a similar level to what you’d get at a coffee shop.”
Kasperowicz is biased toward Trade’s pre-prepared cold brew bags, which can be used in almost any vessel — he favors a clean, sanitized takeout quart container — which makes cleanup effortless.
Trade Cold Brew Bags ($7.50; drinktrade.com)
These are convenient for making cold brew at home — or wherever you’re parked right now — and are made from corn-based fiber and commercially compostable.
They also help filter some of the finer grinds, which a lot of cold brew enthusiasts like. “But if you’re fine with a little more silt, a French press absolutely does the trick,” he says. “And if you’re fine having a little more grit than that, just throwing grinds and cold water in any container and straining with a regular mesh strainer is A-OK as well.”
Bodum Caffettiera French Press Coffee and Tea Maker, 12-Ounce ($15.99; amazon.com)
Kasperowicz loves this when he runs out of cold brew bags — or for just daily hot brewing.
Here’s his French press cold brew method:
- Coarsely grind 3 ounces/85 grams of coffee
- Put the grounds into the French press
- Add 24 ounces/680 grams of water
- Cover without pressing the plunger
- Let brew at room temperature for 12 hours
- Plunge and pour out. Enjoy!
If you have a smaller French press, just use less coffee and water, while maintaining the same ratio (for example: 1.5 ounces/43 grams coffee and 12 ounces/340 grams of water), he advises.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.