How to Make Cold Brew Coffee -
The Ultimate Guide

Cold brew coffee is totally in right now, so it makes sense that you want to jump on the bandwagon. You can pay out the nose for it at your nearest ‘bucks, or you can easily make it at home for pennies on the dollar.

I’m all for saving some moola when I can, and, truth be told, cold brewing is by far the easiest method for making truly delicious coffee. I’m here to help, my fellow coffee lover, because I’m going to tell you how to make cold brew coffee.

The Prologue

Our story begins approximately 6,303 miles away, in Japan. Specifically, in Kyoto, Japan, a place I adore. It makes all the more sense why I love it so much — my coffee senses were telling me this place was significant to my morning joe.

It began in the 1600s, and Kyoto-style coffee is the first documented time of making anything resembling a cold brew coffee. Much like most other things that come from this unique country, even their cold brew is made with an artistic, quirky flare.

Rather than submerging the grounds for 8-24 hours, the fancy-schmancy contraptions they use let cold water drip through the grounds one drop at a time every 1.5 seconds. The devices look exactly like the kind of thing you’d find in a hipster coffee shop and I’ve already added one to my cart to be delivered in t-minus 2 days. Will report findings.

After this point, you can trace some sort of cold-brew-type coffee to wartimes, but the French came the closest to making an actual cold brew for their troops. Called “Camp Coffee,” you can imagine that there was nothing pleasant about it.

“Camp Coffee” is a coffee concentrate mixed with sweetener. It was transported in a treacle-like consistency, the thought of which makes my stomach lurch. It was then reconstituted by soldiers using cold water. It was those soldiers returning from the Mazagran fortress that distributed the idea of this cold cup of morning caffeine to the surrounding population.

There was some of a dissemination after that, selling cold brew coffee at markets and whatnot, but it actually wound up back in Japan to seal the deal — in 1960, Japan’s Ueshima Tadao took a twist on the popular coffee-flavored milk craze and essentially inverted the ratios. I know, I know, what?! Just what. Coffee-flavored milk? I feel you. I do. Japan is a strange, magical place. 

coffee flavored milk

Either way, those were the first canned coffees sold — cold brew, mixed with milk and sugar.

Let me tell you, though, I bought one while I was bumming around Kyoto. They use a syrupy sugar in there and it is deadly. Just from one coffee lover to another, unless you can figure out what’s in the can, watch what you sip.

Fast forward to the US though. You’ll probably notice that those cool, kyoto-style makers aren’t commonplace in the US. Only recently can I say that I’ve seen them in some of the smaller, hipper coffee shops.

Nah, we opt for a much less fussy route: steeping. Cafes quickly glommed on to selling cold brew coffee this way because, well, it’s super easy. Pretty much anyone can do it, and that anyone includes you.

The story doesn’t really end there, though, even though we’ve wound our way back to making it in our own kitchens. You can find pre-made cold brew bottles in grocery stores, even gas stations, and you can also buy some seriously wicked versions, like this one that’s made using “sonication-assisted extraction.” They use sound to extract the flavor into the cold water.

There’s some that even use pressurized nitrogen gas.

What is this magic?

Why Can’t I Just Add Ice Cubes to My Heated Coffee?

I mean, physically, I’m assuming that you can. I’m mostly just saying it’s a total cop out. If you’re pondering the difference, I’ll try to lay out plainly for you.

Hot coffee is made by quickly applying heat to ground beans — they oxidize and release all of their flavors. Whether it be the bitterness, the acidity, or the oils, it’s all getting steamed up and dumped into your mug.

Dropping ice cubes into that aggravated mixture changes the composition. It also waters the coffee down, but, hey, if you want to go to your nearest coffee chain and pay for half a cup of ice cubes at no less than 5 dollars a pop, that’s your hard-earned cash.

Cold brew coffee is different — the coffee-to-water ratio is higher, lending to a more caffeinated, smooth cup of the good stuff that doesn’t skimp on flavor. It also leaves out the excess bitterness that comes along with heating.

To sum it up, cold brew coffee has a deeper taste, one that’s more concentrated, contains less acid, and can highlight the subtle notes of your grounds. 

Wait...Less Acid?

Yes, sir or madam! Acid and acidity are two different things in the coffee world, as much as the words look alike. “Acidity” refers to the flavor and is being swapped with “bright” more and more to allay some of the confusion, but we still have a while to go before there’s a full switch over. Lots of paperwork to sign and whatnot.

“Acid” is the stuff that can be harsh on your stomach. It’s one of the cool side effects of not dumping superheated water onto your ground beans — less acid. If your morning coffee is doing a number on your gastrointestinal tract, cold brew coffee is about to become your best friend.

The Toddy, a cold and hot coffee maker, is a pro at this acid-reduction, claiming to reduce as much as 67% of the acid.

It’s also generally believed that cold brew coffee releases its caffeine slower, which can lead to a gentler jolt of energy without the subsequent crash. Just something to think on.

So...What’s the Drawback?

You are a shrewd one, my friend. It’s easy to make, it produces a smooth flavor, and… it can take as long as 24 hours to make.

Okay, I know, that’s one hell of brew time, but haven’t you ever heard of the saying, “good things come to those who wait?” Plus, cold brew is best made in large batches, especially since it stays golden for as long as two weeks.

Think of it: on Saturday, you load up the device, drink your first cup Monday morning, and don’t have to start the process again until two Saturdays later! That’s some perk to go along with that drawback, huh?

Secondly, it does take about twice the amount of grounds as a brew made hot. It is what it is. To get the concentrated flavor, you need to add more magic beans. ‘Tis the way of the world.

Fine. I’ll Bite. Tell Me How.

Yay! Let’s get to this. You honestly don’t need a whole lot and, if you’re skeptical, you can even make it work with things that you already have around your house.

You need a: 

  • Large carafe (or other large container)
  • Bag of whole coffee beans
  • Conical burr grinder
  • Something to strain with
  • Your mobile phone

If you’re cool with dropped between 20-40 bucks on a cold brew coffee maker, though, I really do recommend that. They’re pretty affordable, so heavily consider it. Straining out the grounds yourself be messy. Take a look at our top picks here.

However, if you’d like to give it a shot before you drop any cash on the endeavor, you can grab any sealable container. A mason jar, a lemonade pitcher, whatever you’ve got handy really.

What we really need to chat about is the bag of whole coffee beans and conical burr grinder. These are pretty non-negotiable items. Conical burr grinders are superior to the blade versions for a number of reasons, but primarily because they don’t create heat while chopping up the beans.

You want a bag of whole coffee beans because they’re the freshest and easiest to control. The moment beans are chopped up, they begin to stale much quicker. Also, you can’t manipulate the beans to the grind you need. For cold brew coffee, you need coarse grinds. Medium grinds, which is the way most beans are sold, will over-extract if you attempt to throw those in the container. We put together this handy coffee grind chart to help you get it just right!

Step By Step

Okie dokie. We’re ready. A lot of this is subjective, to be straight with you, so what I’m essentially giving you is a place to start. We’ll make 8 cups of coffee to begin with, so you can move the ratios around depending on how you feel about the results.

1

Coarsely grind up 1.5 cups of your favorite whole beans. Go ahead and dump that into the container of your liking.

2

Measure out 8 cups of water, and you can go ahead and dump that on in that container, too. 

3

Throw it right on into the fridge. I mean, that’s just about it, really.

4

Set a timer on your smartphone for 12 hours ahead.

5

Wait. I like waiting around 12 hours. What I typically do is pop it in the fridge at around 6 pm so that it’s ready at about 6 am the next morning, which is, unfortunately, what time I have to get up for that little ol’ thing called a 9-to-5.

On the flip side of this, you can also wait up to 24 hours. Just know that the longer the coffee steeps, the stronger it’s going to get. I recommend trying the 12-hour version of the brew and upping it from there if you’re still craving something stronger.

Also, you can pop it in the refrigerator or leave it on the counter. It works both at room temperature as well as at colder ones. Typically, the colder the temperature, the longer it should steep. Again, though, you do what tastes good to you. 

6

See, the primary reason why I think it’s worth it to snag a container made to steep cold brew is because they usually have super convenient ways to strain out the grounds. If you have a mesh filter on your percolator, you can use that. Many tutorials recommend cheese cloth, but that’s just not one of those things I have just… lying around, you know?

Either way, once the allotted time has passed, strain out all of the grounds. 

7

Pour what you want into a mug, put the container holding the rest back in the fridge, and enjoy! Top it off with some ice for a refreshing summer drink that easily trumps all competition. 

cold brew heating argument

Heat It Up

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to drink it cold. It’s concentrated, so it actually works out well that you can add hot water to a cuppa cold brew to warm it up. Use a simple 3:1 (coffee: hot water) ratio to accomplish the task.

If you want it a tad hotter, you can pop it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. The longer you heat it like that, though, the more it’ll bring out the bitterness, so just be aware. 

Troubleshooting

It’s a pretty subjective art, like I said, but the cool part is that you have total control over it. We’ll talk through some of the most common issues and how to compensate for them the next time you make a cold brew batch.

Scenario #1

You: It’s stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger during the 1980s. Like, I think it could wake the dead.

Me: Totally done it. How long did you leave it to steep? If you stuck to the 12 hours, cut back to ten and see if that suits you better. You can also opt to use less grounds. Take it down to about a cup and a third, instead of a cup and a half. Finally, make absolutely sure that you’re using the coarsest grounds possible.

Scenario #2

You: I just drank the last cup and it was… I don’t know, silty

Me: Ooh, yeah. Okay. So you’ll probably want to coarser when you grind your beans next time. That can happen when the grind is too fine.

I mean, fact of the matter is, I can sit here and go through a few more of these, but they’re all really common sense. If the coffee doesn’t taste strong enough, steep it longer or add more grounds. Cold brew is really all about experimentation, and if that sounds exciting to you, then get to it. If the thought of figuring out your favorite combination of water and coffee and steeping time is purely exhausting, cold brew might not be the best route for you.

In Conclusion

Cold brew coffee is a fun adventure in cool caffeine, and, with spring finally officially here, now’s a good time to give it a go. Grab your favorite bag of beans, a sealable container, and get ready to enjoy a delicious cup in anywhere between 10 to 24 hours!

This has been a PSA on how to make cold brew coffee. Experiment, enjoy, and thank me later! 


About the Author Rachel Bean

Hi! My name is Rachel Bean and I love coffee. Despite what it may seem like, my last name and deep love for a cup of black brew is a total coincidence. While I was informed at the wee age of 18 that majoring in coffee wasn't really an option (at least not the way I wanted to major in coffee) (i.e. drinking it day in and day out), I do have an MA and an MFA in Writing. I type words day in and day out, for both work as well as fun, and coffee is the magic bean juice that lets me do that. And that's pretty much me. Writing and coffee. Oh, and rescue dogs. Writing, coffee, and dogs. You get me.

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