I come from the Lorelai Gilmore school of coffee drinking. I like my coffee really strong, really dark, really often, and preferably served to me by a cute guy in a backward baseball cap and flannel. Unfortunately, my body doesn’t agree with my desperate desire to achieve Gilmore Girls’ levels of caffeine addiction.
I have to be very intentional with how I drink coffee. If I have any caffeine after noon, I can’t sleep a wink at night. And ever since I was pregnant, too many cups of the tar-like coffee I love gives me the worst heartburn ever. Lots of folks have suggested moving to a lighter roast (ha!) or even cutting out the coffee all together (HA!) to solve the heartburn issue, but I found an even better solution—cold brew!
If you’ve never made or had cold brew before (it’s everywhere now, I can’t imagine if you’re a coffee drinker you haven’t at least dipped your toes into the cold brew pool yet), it’s exactly what it sounds like—coffee that is brewed without heat. Coffee is steeped over a long period of time (12-48 hours) with cold/room temperature water. What’s the advantage of doing it this way? Well, the big one for me and my esophagus is that it lowers the acidity of coffee without sacrificing flavor or boldness. So I still get my pitch black, rich cup of coffee, but with about 60% less acid than a “regular” hot brewed cup of coffee.
That reduction in acid also changes the flavor—there isn’t a single hint of bitterness or that burnt flavor that you sometimes get when coffee is brewed with too hot water (if you’ve ever thought your cup of coffee tasted like old cigarette smoke—that’s probably because the water used to brew it was too hot). Cold brew coffee is smooooooooooooooooooth.
Unlike iced coffee, cold brew isn’t watered down or weak—in fact, when I make my cold brew (and most other folks do this, too), I make a cold brew concentrate that can be “watered” down using water, milk, or cream to make your perfect cup of coffee. Even this dark coffee loving girl couldn’t stomach drinking a full-leaded cup of my cold brew. But it works for me, because I like cream in my coffee, and this way, I can add cream without losing any of that amazing coffee flavor. Friends don’t let friends drink watered down coffee, and you’re my friend. SO I WON’T LET YOU.
I thought today I’d show you my method for how to make cold brew. There are a million different versions and “rules” out there for making cold brew (man, people get awfully pretentious about their coffee). I don’t know what is right or wrong when it comes to coffee, but I do know I’ve landed on a method that makes a dang good cup of coffee that doesn’t make me feel like my throat is on fire. So, that’s a win, no? Let’s dig in.
One of my favorite things about cold brew is that it doesn’t really take any special equipment. You can buy special equipment (there are even cold brew machines), but honestly, you probably have just about everything you need already kicking around your house. Which means you can make cold brew almost anywhere. I once made cold brew using an empty peanut butter jar while in a vacation house. Here’s what I use:
A) Big Jar — I use a half-gallon canning jar with a plastic cap when I make cold brew. After all is said and done, this gives me about five cups worth of cold brew concentrate which turns into 10-12 cups of actual, drinkable coffee. Honestly, you can use any container that has a lid. A French press works well, too.
B) Coffee Grinder — For cold brew, you want very coarsely ground coffee—which you just aren’t going to be able to find in the store. Pre-ground coffee is almost always ground for a drip machine. Also, freshly-ground coffee just tastes SO MUCH BETTER. If you are a coffee drinker and haven’t invested in a coffee grinder, do it. Now. There are expensive ones out there, but I have had this $15 grinder for well over a decade, and she is still going strong.
C) Whole Bean Coffee — Grab the kind of coffee you like to drink normally—for me, that’s the darkest, strongest roast I can find. There are special cold brew coffees out there, and they are good, but I don’t notice much of a difference between those and just a really good regular coffee. I usually grab an espresso roast or a French roast from my favorite local coffee shop.
D) Strainer, Cheesecloth, Spoon, and Water — To strain the coffee once it’s brewed, you’ll need to fit a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth. Alternatively, you can use a nut milk bag/jelly bag/brew bag (all the same thing—just different names based on what you use it for!). You’ll need a spoon for stirring, and then, of course, water.
For cold brew, you want a very coarse grind—in fact, some people use whole beans to do a cold brew (and steep it much longer than what I recommend here). The finer the grind of coffee, the cloudier/sludgier your end result will be. No one wants to drink sludge.
When you grind your coffee, it’s okay if some of the grinds are big chunks of beans—err on the side of too coarse instead of too fine. Alternatively, if you buy your coffee from a coffee shop, you can ask the barista to grind the coffee for you. Just make sure to tell them to grind it for cold brew.
When I make cold brew, I do a 1:1 ground coffee-to-water ratio. This sounds like a crazy amount of coffee—but this results in a very strong concentrate that can be easily watered down using milk, water, or cream. For the half-gallon jar I recommend, I use four full cups of coarsely ground coffee to four cups of water. If you prefer NOT to make a concentrate, you can get by with doing a 1:2 (one cup coffee, two cups water) or even more water.
The truth about cold brewing is this: everyone likes a different cup of coffee. It’s going to take some experimenting to find your perfect cup of coffee. That’s one of the reasons I like making the concentrate so much—with one jar of concentrate, you can satisfy all kinds of coffee drinkers.
Go ahead and fill your jar up with all the coffee, and then pour in the water (again, I use four cups ground coffee to four cups water). Some folks swear by using filtered water—and if you have not-so-great tap water, you might want to do this—but I just use regular, ole, room temperature tap water.
This next part is surprisingly controversial among cold brew aficionados. Wait for it…next, you stir.
Some folks SWEAR that the devil himself will appear if you dare stir your cold brew. Others (like me) feel like it’s a good way to make sure all the grounds get nice and wet and get you a stronger cup of coffee. Do whatever makes your heart happy. I stir. I stir it really well and make sure it gets all sludgy. Sometimes I even close the lid and shake it. SHOCK. AWE.
And then you…hurry up and wait. I think that’s the one drawback of cold brew as opposed to hot-brew coffee—it takes time. How much time depends on (like everything else here) on what kind of coffee you like. Since we like super strong, dark coffee, we tend to let our coffee brew for more like 24-36 hours. Others only let it brew overnight. Again, experiment.
You do want to make sure to put a good, tight lid on the sucker, and keep it in a dark spot (but not in the fridge). We set the jar on top of a dish towel, because sometimes it gets a little “bubbly” because of all the air between the grinds and overflows a bit.
While it’s brewing, I normally stir it one more time about halfway through the brew time (OH THE HORRORS), and then top it off with more water. When you first put the coffee in the jar, it is very fluffy because of all the air added during grinding. As it soaks up the water, it condenses, and after 6-8 hours, you’ll have some extra space in your jar after stirring. I normally add about an extra cup of water at this point.
Once your brew time is up, it’s time to strain all that coffee goodness. If you are using a French press, in theory, you can just press (SLOWLY!) on the plunger and you’re good to go—although I’ve never had great success with this. It’s always been a little sludgy.
If you’re using a jar like I am, you can dump the mixture through a nut milk bag/jelly bag/brew bag and let it drain over a glass measuring cup or bowl. But I actually prefer to use a few layers of disposable cheese cloth layered over a fine mesh strainer. I’m not usually a fan of using disposable products when a perfect good reusable one is available, but in this case, the hassle of getting all the coffee grinds out of the nut milk bag isn’t worth it to me. I much prefer to just toss the grinds and cheese cloth in the compost and move on with my life.
Another controversial tip: I press down on the coffee to really get every last drop of cold brew from the beans. Some folks say this releases more acid (and therefore bitterness), but I’ve never had that issue.
Once it’s all drained, I then let it rest for 5-10 minutes so the sediment settles. After coarse-grinding and straining through cheesecloth, there isn’t much left, but there is some. It settles pretty quickly, and then I pour off all the good, yummy, amazing cold brew concentrate into a jar for storage.
Cold brew gets stored in canning jars in concentrate form in the fridge (it saves space). Don’t throw out those coffee grounds yet! I’ve actually found I can get a second, long, non-concentrate brew out of the grounds when I do a 1:1 ratio. I just drop the beans back into the big jar again, fill it water again, and then let it brew for 48 hours (at least). That coffee is NOT a concentrate, but still very strong and good.
Between those two batches, we are able to get a full week’s worth of coffee—using only four cups of coffee grounds. Not too shabby for folks who like really dark coffee.
Now it’s time to figure out your perfect coffee! My perfect cup is half cold brew concentrate, half whole milk, and a splash of real maple syrup. Served over ice and with a straw. Depending on how strong you like your coffee, you might want to dilute your cup even more (you probably will).
The concentrate will last in the fridge for a week or more—but let’s be honest, we can plow through a jug of the stuff in a few days so I have no real idea how long before it goes bad. The coffee does get less and less smooth the longer it rests, so drink up relatively quickly if you’re looking to avoid bitterness.
And before you ask, YES you can have hot (well, warm) cold brew! I know some folks out there just can get behind the idea of drinking cold coffee. If that’s you, then when you go to dilute your concentrate, do it using hot water. You don’t want to get it too hot, especially if you’re trying to enjoy the low-acid, no-bitterness benefits. But if you use a 2:1 ratio of hot water to concentrate, you’ll get a very good cup of moderately hot coffee. (Related: skip the microwave on this—it’ll break down the coffee resulting in more acid and bitterness, too).
Once you figure out your perfect cup of coffee, you can decide if you’d rather store your cold brew in concentrate form, or already made up—so all you have to do is pour and go. When we’re particularly swamped, I go ahead and dilute and sweeten the cold brew, and stash it in the fridge in a jug.
Now go off and make Lorelai proud, friends! Enjoy.