Cold-brew Coffee: Cozy up to the Wave
By Perry Luckett, aka CoffeeMan1
You might associate cold-brew coffee with summer, but that’s because you’re thinking it’s just iced coffee. But there's a big difference! Iced coffee is usually brewed hot and poured over ice, whereas cold brew is ground coffee steeped in cold water and strained. This different process results in generally less acidity, more sweetness, and higher caffeine content.
The difference in flavor between the two methods also is huge. Iced coffee is fast to make but must be brewed stronger than standard coffee to make up for the severe dilution caused by the ice. This method tends to make a more bitter drink because the hot water rapidly extracts more concentrated flavor from the beans. Cold brew’s longer, gentler infusion process produces a naturally sweeter coffee, and you can pour it over ice without extreme dilution because it’s already cold. For these reasons, coffee fans usually regard cold brew as the best cold-coffee drink.
How do I make cold-brew coffee at home?
Keep in mind that cold-brew coffee takes much longer to make than hot coffee: usually from four to twenty-four hours. Thus, most people make it in batches, store it in the refrigerator, and pour it “on demand.” If you have the right equipment, you can choose from two main methods: immersion or ice drip. They’re both variants of a basic formula: cold water, coarse coffee grounds, and an overnight brew. Changing a variable will produce slightly different results: a longer brew or stronger coffee-to-water ratio produces a stronger cup, and a finer grind results in a cloudier drink.
The Immersion method is as simple as brewing coffee can get. You combine water and ground coffee in a container and let it sit for a few hours. Then strain out the coffee grounds and your cold brew coffee is ready. Immersion tends to be very consistent and requires no extra special equipment. All you need is a container, water, coffee, and a filter. Immersion cold brews are typically very balanced with low-acidity levels and no bitterness. Most coffee professionals and enthusiasts say they use this method.
A practical way to create immersion cold brew is with the Toddy system – often used in coffee shops. Affordable and simple, it produces a consistently good cup of coffee.
Another option is the various self-contained “cold-brew systems” on the market for home use. I've shown a few common examples below, ranging from Breanas Mason jar to popular Takeya or Willow&Everett "pitcher-style" cold brewers:
You can even cold brew in a French press (or cafetière to our European friends) by following the guide at this link to our earlier blog post: https://www.koffeekompanions.com/blog-cozycomments/71?rq=iced%20coffee. For this method, you simply press down the plunger after the brew is finished. Just be sure your press has an effective steel filter to keep grounds out of your poured-off coffee. Your only negative is the limited amount of cold-brew you can make at one time, which means you will take 12 hours to produce perhaps 8-12 cups for future use.
A general downside of immersion cold brew is that your coffee’s nuanced flavors become harder to differentiate. The lengthy extraction period causes them to mix together in a kind of stew. Baristas usually say the result is a smooth coffee with “lower flavor notes,” such as caramel, brown sugar and cola. If you prefer brighter flavor variations, you may find this coffee a bit less satisfying. Still, if you want to give immersion coffee a try, you can use a common recipe:
- Coffee: 1060 grams (37oz)
- Water: 8480 grams (299oz or 2 gallons)
- Water-to-Coffee Ratio: 8:1
- Grind size: medium-coarse—toward the French press setting on electric grinders
- Steep time: 18 hours 20 minutes
- Grind coffee and place in large container.
- Fill the container with cold water, making sure all the grounds are saturated.
- Let the coffee steep for just over 18 hours.
- Filter out the coffee and store cold brew in the fridge.
Ice drip coffee
This process results in a complex cup of coffee with a wide range of nuanced flavors while still maintaining a thick, syrupy body. Fans of ice drip believe it brings out the coffee’s true flavors. This cold-brewing process is deceptively simple: cold water slowly drips onto coffee, seeps through a bed of grounds, and drips into a carafe (or beaker) underneath as cold brew. A filter at the top spreads out the drip to avoid tunneling in one spot, and you can adjust the drip as the coffee blooms.
But ice drip takes a little more investment than immersion. It requires more work to dial in the right drip rate and keep it steady all day. It still takes nearly a full day to complete, and you will have to buy a dedicated ice drip cold-brew device to make a significant amount of cold brew at one time. Ice drip coffeemakers range from the elaborate Yama Glass ice-drip tower (with permanent ceramic filter) to various two-level canisters (with filters and drip-control valves), such as the Cold Bruer or DRIPO ice-drip systems.
If you want to try ice drip cold brew, the recipe below is typical for this method. Experiment with the water-coffee ratio to adjust flavor and strength to your liking.
- Coffee: 60 grams (2 ounces)
- Water: 660 grams (23 ounces)
- Water-to-Coffee Ratio: 11:1
- Grind size: Medium
- Drip speed: 1 drip per every 0.8 seconds
- Hours: about 10
- Insert filter at bottom of coffee cylinder.
- Place ground coffee in cylinder and shake or tap to level the grounds. Place filter on top of grounds.
- Saturate the surface and perimeter of the coffee bed with approximately 200 ml of water, ensuring entire perimeter is wetted and you can see damp grounds the whole way as you rotate the cylinder.
- Load water into the upper vessel above the coffee cylinder (you can also use a combination of water and ice to brew cold; just make sure the total weight of water and ice is the total allotted for the recipe).
- Set drip rate to 75 drops/min (1 every 0.8 seconds). Every 90 minutes, check and adjust the drip rate if necessary to maintain it.
What if I don’t want to cold brew at home?
Easy. Just find a favorite coffee shop in your area that serves cold-brew coffee and enjoy. Because I live in Colorado, I recommend several shops in Denver and Boulder whose baristas have the cold-brew method down.
I consider Corvus Coffee Roasters, Fluid Coffee, and Metropolis to be the top three cold-brew coffeehouses in Denver.
Corvus was one of the Denver coffeehouses who led the cold-brew movement, so they have excellent coffee developed through innovation. Besides standard single-origin cold brew, they've produced nitrogen-infused immersion coffee that reminds Coloradans of the craft beers for which the state is famous. Corvus says it's a "hopped cold brew coffee" that's made with actual dry hops. It's still non-alcoholic, but the hops add a citrusy-floral flavor that supplies a new dimension. Made without artificial ingredients, Corvus's cold brew has become so popular that it's bottled and available in Whole Foods and Safeway, as well as in cold-brew kegs for committed consumers in area offices.
Fluid Coffee Bar offers great coffee from beans supplied by Denver roaster, NOVO Coffee, ensuring a quality and palatable beverage in every cup.
Espresso drinks--from lattes to cappuccinos, and from cold brew to coffee blenders--are carefully crafted, and can be tastefully customized to your liking.
Metropolis Coffee uses the Japanese cold-brew system called a Kyoto tower. This is a variation on the Yamaha Glass ice brewer shown above. It uses 3 liters of ice water and 300 grams of coffee for one batch. Water drips once every 2 or 3 seconds into the coffee grounds, slowly saturating it. The whole process takes about 12 to 15 hours and produces a cold-brew coffee that isn’t concentrated, so baristas don't need to add water. They explain that it’s a gentler extraction than the typical toddy method, in which the coffee is fully immersed in cold water. It draws fewer oils out and yields a sweeter result.
Many of Boulder’s coffee shops offer cold brew, and the flavor varies from shop to shop. You can cold-brew hop down the Pearl Street Mall if you want to find a style that best tickles your tongue. My favorites are at three Boulder coffee houses:
The Cup Espresso Bar on the Pearl Street Mall offers a nitro tap (nitrogen-infused) or an eight-hour Kyoto-style cold brew coffee, served in a bourbon glass over ice. This is a Japanese style of making cold brew in a beautiful glass tower, a process brought to Japan by Dutch traders, so it’s also sometimes called Dutch coffee. It’s very smooth and feels like a special treat.
Boxcar Coffee Roasters on the Pearl Street Mall is one of Boulder’s best coffee shops, and the cold brew here is one of the best in town. They share a space with Cured, a gourmet grocery store and cafe, so you can enjoy an accompanying sandwich or cheese and meat selection as you sip a Boxcar cold brew.
Laughing Goat Coffee House on the Pearl Street Mall is another great maker of cold brew. This artsy, upbeat shop always seems to have something cool going on. They have a small stage to highlight local musical talent and often hang local artists' work on the walls.
Have a favorite recipe for cold-brew coffee or a local shop you think deserves mention? Please share in the Comments section below.
References for Cold-brew Coffee
- Scott, 4 Things You Need to Know about Cold Brew Coffee. https://driftaway.coffee/coldbrew/ 5/02/2015
- Merlin Jobst, How to Make Cold-brew Coffee, in https://www.jamieoliver.com/news-and-features/features/how-to-make-cold-brew-coffee/ August 4, 2014
- Julie R. Thomson, How to Make Cold-brew Coffee at Home, Every Way Possible. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cold-brew-coffee-concentrate_us_5967c3cae4b0d6341fe78d16
- HandGround.com, The Beginner’s Guide to Cold Brew Coffee: Recipes and Tips From The Pros. At https://handground.com/grind/beginners-guide-to-cold-brew-coffee-recipes-tips-from-the-pros