How to make cold brew coffee — no equipment needed!

Plus, how it's different from iced coffee

By Food52

Published May 6, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

 (James Ransom / Food52)
(James Ransom / Food52)

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Maybe you wait for the summer months to enjoy your coffee over ice. Or maybe you're someone who has iced coffee all year round. Either way, for coffee fans, there's no denying how refreshing an iced coffee can be when the weather warms up. But buying a cup of cold brew from the local coffee shop every day adds up, which is why we like to make cold brew coffee at home — and it couldn't be easier. There are so many different methods for making cold brew — you can purchase pre-portioned packets of cold brew coffee from brands like Grady'sChamberlain Coffee, or Stone Street Coffee, which are blindingly easy to use. Just place one steep packet in a large mason jar, fill it with water, and let it sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. While these are by far the most convenient method for making cold brew coffee at home, there are even more cost-efficient ways to do it.

For the least expensive way to enjoy cold brew, turn to other methods like making cold brew coffee concentrate in a French press, which requires nothing more than your favorite coffee grounds and cold water. There are a lot of pricy coffee makers that promise to make delicious cold brew coffee at home, but I promise that you don't need them, coffee lover.

What is cold brew coffee?

But first, what's the difference between iced coffee and cold brew? Cold-brewed coffee (or just cold brew) is like iced coffee's cooler sibling. They're made of the same stuff, but one's a little more "in" — and one's well-known and loved, but a bit passé. Dare we say it: Cold brew is the summer beverage — caffeinated and cold, two adjectives you and your money can get behind.

The main difference between cold brew and iced coffee involves temperature and how you make it. That is, cold brew is brewed cold and never heated, while iced coffee is normal coffee that's brewed with hot water and then cooled down. For more detail on how this affects taste, concentration, and all that coffee jazz, see below.

Here are a few things that transformed cold brew from alternative iced coffee to ubiquitous coffee shop darling (and why we're all about it):

  • Lower acidity level: The coffee grounds aren't subjected to the intense heat of boiling water, making the chemical profile of the final brew different than that of conventionally brewed or drip coffee. Lower acidity creates a smoother cup that's mellower on the stomach. Similarly, rapidly cooling hot coffee yields a slightly bitter taste. Cold brew's lower acidity means it naturally tastes sweeter, so you don't need to add as much sugar or syrup if that's your usual preference. 
  • Watery problems, no more: Ever poured hot coffee over ice? Then you're familiar with diluted coffee. And watery coffee is sad. Cold brew puts the dilution in your hands. Since it's already cold or at room temperature, the addition of ice or added water is entirely optional. Take your glass of cold brew coffee one step further with iced coffee cubes, so that as they melt, your coffee gets even coffee-ier. 
  • A more caffeinated cup: While caffeine is more soluble and extracts more easily at higher temperatures, cold brew's high bean-to-water ratio and longer brew time give it more buzz. Add milk or cream to temper the intensity (and the subsequent jitters), if you like.

While iced coffee is expensive, cold brew coffee is even pricier, especially when you're buying it at coffee shops. It's an issue, though, with an easy solution: Make cold brew at home — in 3 steps. It can be done in any sort of large container, French press, or even a Mason jar (there's also specific cold-brewing contraptions, if this is going to be your new morning drink). Really, if it holds coffee and water, you can cold brew in it. We're focusing on the container and French press methods because those are the contraptions we (and likely you) use most and will readily have around. Here's why cold-brewing might just be the easiest coffee method out there:

Grind

The ratio of coffee grounds to water is subjective and depends on personal taste. A good place to start is to grind 3/4 cup beans for 4 cups of cold water — the size of a 32-ounce French press. You can double — with 1.5 cups beans for 8 cups water — or even triple the quantities depending on the size of your container. Next, grind the beans very coarsely. We mean it. A smaller grind will result in cloudy coffee. If you rub the grinds between your fingers, there should be a coarse, slightly scratchy texture to them.

Soak and wait (and wait, and wait . . .)

Put the coffee grounds in your container, which can be plastic, glass, or ceramic and doesn't need to have a lid. The container should be deep enough to hold the coffee and water and light enough you can pick the whole thing up to strain. For a French press, pour the coffee into the bottom of the canister. For both a container or a French press, gradually add the water. Stir gently, making sure all the coffee grounds are moistened.

If you're using a large container, cover the top with cheesecloth. For a French press, place the top on (but don't press down on the plunger). Let stand at room temperature for at least 12 hours.Don't rush this. The long steep time is important for proper extraction and good flavor.

Press

If you're using a container such as a mason jar, take the cheesecloth from the top of the container and use it to line a fine mesh sieve. Pour the coffee through the sieve, waiting a minute or two until the coffee's filtered out, and discard solids and cheesecloth.

For the French press, simply press down on the plunger to move the grounds to the bottom. Pour.

That's it! You have cold brew. The concentrate will keep for up to 2 weeks covered and chilled in the fridge. Add ice, milk, or your other favorite coffee things such as vanilla or caramel syrup and enjoy.

Written by Amelia Vottero, Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, and Kelly Vaughan.


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