Cold brew is definitely one of the rising stars among coffee drinks. It has a lot going for it: in each refreshing cup, a sweet, low-acidity flavor profile unites with an almost zen-like purity and simplicity of preparation.

As with all simple things, the details are essential. But they’re also easy to master. Here, we’ll introduce you to science of cold brew, the best coffees to use, the factors that make the difference between an average cold brew and an excellent one, and the variety of methods you can use to make your own cold brew at home. Get ready for a seriously smooth and rich cup of coffee.

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee — What’s the Difference?

If you’ve tried cold brew coffee, you may have noticed some differences between it and iced coffee. They look more or less the same, but the difference in brewing methods leads to a noticeable difference in taste.

Iced coffee starts its life as hot coffee. It’s coffee extracted with one of the familiar methods using hot water — like drip coffee, pour-over, or French press coffee. The brewed coffee then cools off at room temperature and gets chilled in the refrigerator before being served with ice cubes. This means that it has the flavor profile of coffee brewed with hot water.

Cold brew coffee uses a completely different brewing process. Just as it sounds, cold brew is made with cold to room temperature water. Rather than using heat to extract the coffee — a relatively fast method — cold brewing relies on time.

The Power of Patience

The temperature of the water used to brew coffee affects the flavor. The conventional brewing methods that use hot water extract certain characteristics from the coffee beans. It brings out acidity and brightness — coffee’s higher notes.

Cold brew, on the other hand, emphasizes coffee’s smoother, deeper notes. In cold brew coffee, the coffee grounds never come into contact with hot water. Using cold water brings out coffee’s richness and depth, while also making a brew lower in acid. But without heat, the process is much slower. The cold brewing process rewards your patience with a balanced, smooth cup of coffee.

How much patience? Some cold brew methods may get you a cup in 5 or 6 hours, but 12 to 24 hours is the norm. But cold brew takes pretty much no hands-on effort — just a little advance planning.

What Makes a Great Cold Brew

Cold brewed coffee has a rich, smooth taste, often with notes of chocolate or toasted nuts. Many people who generally drink regular coffee with milk find that they like their cold-brewed coffee black. Because of its low acidity, cold brew is already so smooth-tasting that many people find that no milk is needed.

And because cold brew can bring out coffee’s sweet notes while reducing the bitter ones, coffee drinkers who usually like their coffee sweet find that cold brew needs no added sugar because there is less bitterness to balance.

How to Make Excellent Cold Brew

There are two basic extraction methods for making cold brew coffee. Both are simple to master at home, and one of the two methods requires no special equipment.

Cold Brew by Drip

Making drip cold brew involves slowly dripping cold water over ground coffee. The extracted coffee is then collected drop by drop in a carafe below the brewing device. Cold brew coffee makers are low tech and high style. These sleek and handsome devices look like they would be equally at home in a chemistry lab. Some commercial coffee makers, like the Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System, also make cold brewed coffee.

Cold Brew by the Immersion Method

Minimalists will embrace this basic coffee extraction method. Ground coffee is mixed with cold water and left to steep for 12 to as many as 24 hours. Then the coffee grounds are filtered out and the result is a rich and bold coffee. Some people make a cold brew concentrate to dilute for an excellent cold coffee drink.

All you really need to make your own cold brew at home is a mason jar and a way to filter your brew when it is done steeping. You can also make a great cold brew with your French press — it’s perfect for both steeping your ground beans and then filtering them out.

Which Coffee Roast Makes the Best Cold Brew Coffee?

A Look At Peru Atlas Coffee Club copyThe degree of roast plays a decisive role in coffee’s aroma and flavor. Learning how the color of coffee beans translates into flavor in the cup is a fun part of the journey.

The cold brewing extraction method brings out a different spectrum of flavors in coffee beans — something to keep in mind in choosing your coffee beans. You may find that you prefer a different roast coffee for your cold brew coffee than you use for coffee brewed with hot water.

Since this brewing process results in a low acidity, those brighter notes that characterize light roast coffee will be muted, which can make for a delicate taste. Some people find that a light roast’s qualities are muted in the cold brewing method.

Since the cold brewing process brings out those richer, more chocolatey notes that are so satisfying in a dark roast coffee flavor, many people feel that a medium or dark roast makes the best cold brew. While it brings out the rich coffee flavors in medium or dark roast, cold brewing also tones down the bitterness, making for an unusually smooth and full-flavored cup of cold brew.

The Best Beans for Cold Brew

Explore More Brazil Coffee Atlas Coffee Club Coffee SubscriptionSince the cold brewing process brings out such a full and nuanced flavor profile, this is definitely a time to go with a coffee bean you really want to get to know better. The qualities that make a single origin coffee special will truly shine with this brewing method. With a coffee subscription, you can discover new varieties that make the ideal cup of cold brew for you. We’d love to help you find some new favorites among our collection of sustainably sourced, single origin beans.

The Best Grind for Cold Brew

A coarse grind is the best choice for making cold brew coffee. If you’re getting pre-ground coffee, make sure to ask for a coarse grind. A finer grind can tend to clump together, and the cold water needs to circulate freely through the ground coffee for optimal extraction.

Many coffee lovers prefer to start with whole bean specialty coffee and grind it themselves with a home coffee grinder. This gives the maximum level of control over the experience. Grinding your own whole beans freshly each time you brew ensures maximum flavor retention (and it also makes your kitchen smell delicious).

How to Serve Cold Brew

Best coffee for cold brew with milkNothing looks more refreshing than some cold coffee in a tall glass over ice. But ice melts.

After carefully extracting all of the subtle aromas out of your perfectly roasted and ground single-origin coffee beans, it would be a shame to dilute your cold brew. There’s a simple solution for the uncompromising purist in you. Fill an ice cube tray with some of your cold brew to chill your coffee. As the frozen cubes melt, they won’t throw the flavor profile out of balance.

We’ve already talked about the lack of bitterness and the low acidity of cold brew. That smoothness means that even people who like their coffee with milk or sugar may find they like their cold brew straight. Even still, adding some sweetness and some milk, alt-milk, or cream can really play up those rich and chocolatey notes and transform your cold brew coffee into a delicious dessert. Try using a quality natural sweetener like agave syrup. Make sure to slowly add your milk, alt-milk, or cream right before serving to watch the ribbons bloom in the glass for a visually satisfying coffee experience.

Satisfy Your Cold Brew Craving

Try your hand today at making your own home cold brew. It’s a satisfyingly simple and elemental process. Experiment with different coffees, times, and proportions until you find your perfect signature brew. Coffee purists will love both the process and the result.

With some advance planning, this rich, subtly complex brew will be ready when you want it. Having a jar of smooth, ready-to-drink cold coffee in your refrigerator can’t be beat, and it’s also a perfect base for creative refreshing coffee drinks. Easy to master, cold brew makes a bold and refreshing addition to your regular brewing routine.

About The Author

Michael Shewmake

An entrepreneur and musician, Michael quit his full-time job in the corporate world to assemble a band of fellow storytellers, travelers, and coffee-lovers as enthusiastic as himself to share the unique stories and coffee from around the world.