Nick Carr on February 12, 2020 0 Comments It’s 9 a.m. on a summer morning and it’s warming up fast. You wipe the sweat away from your eyes as you survey the finished yard work and think about how absolutely nothing could hit the spot like a nice cold glass of…coffee? You thought I was going to say something else, didn’t you? It’s a little early, isn’t it? Well, maybe not. And yes that would hit the spot too, but today we’re talking about coffee. Particularly, how to make your own cold brewed coffee for those summer days when a hot-anything just sounds unappealing. Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brewed First, we have to address the elephant holding the iced coffee in the room. He’s not holding cold brew. Though cold brew can be iced (and often is) it’s not the same thing. Not only do the brewing methods differ, but the flavors are also quite distinct. Iced coffee is brewed just like regular coffee (with hot water) though often with double the grounds to account for the ice dilution. On the other hand, there’s no heat used whatsoever in the making of cold brew. Room temperature water is used in the steeping process along with a larger amount of grounds. And because of the cool water, the steeping process is extended from a few minutes to 12-24 hours. The resulting coffee will be a concentrate of varying strength depending on what water-to-grounds ratio was used. It can then be mixed with hot water to make hot coffee, with cream, or enjoyed as is with or without ice — all depending on how you like your coffee. The difference in flavors will also be immediately noticeable. Brewing coffee with heat will make a more acidic, bright cup. Cold brewing tends to mellow the flavors. It will be less acidic and have more of the earthy, roasty flavors present. A Quick Review Cold Brew is: brewed with room temperature water Takes 12 to 24 hours to steep Uses more grounds Often used as a concentrate Can be served several different ways less acidic (easier on the stomach) More rounded and mellow earthy flavors Iced Coffee Is: Brewed using hot water Often uses more grounds than conventional hot coffee but less than cold brewed More acidic Usually served over ice Tends to have more of the bright, sometimes fruity, flavors Now that we’ve educated the elephant, let’s get into how to avoid those expensive, coffee cafe cold brews altogether by making your own. The Coffee You don’t need a special type of coffee for cold brewing. The same stuff you normally use to brew hot will work just fine for your cold brew. That being said, cold brewing does use more grounds than brewing hot, so if you have very expensive single-source coffee you may want to save it — or maybe you don’t. It’s just something to keep in mind. Type and Age Many cold brewing tutorials on the web will say you don’t need good coffee to make cold brew. This is true up to a point. Cold brewing tends to be more forgiving when it comes to variables such as how the coffee was roasted, freshness, and how it is stored. Also, certain flavors in coffee only truly come out at higher temperatures. Generally, cold brewing will extract far less of the bright floral and fruity flavors. Instead, it will make a cup concentrated in the darker flavors of earth, chocolate, nut, and roast. Two of my favorite, mid-price range, coffee roasting companies, easily available through Amazon, are: Kicking Horse Coffee Abbey Roast I’ve used products from these roasters for both hot and cold-brewed with wonderful success. First Timer Tip: At the beginning, when you’re experimenting with batches of cold brew, don’t spring for the expensive stuff. Save it for down the road, when you have some experience and a better idea of what your cold brew palate is like. Don’t use the worst possible beans either, though. Try to stay middle-of-the-road with a good quality bean. If it happens to have two or three weeks of age on it, that’s okay too. Again, cold brew is forgiving, don’t overthink it. Roast Level Everyone has an opinion on the right roast for cold brewing, be it dark, light, or somewhere between. There are a few things to consider, but overall, this is going to be a matter of preference more than anything else. Things to keep in mind: Cold brewing makes a coffee that is less acidic. Because light roasts tend to be more acidic than the dark roasts, many people choose to go with lighter roasts they may not consider brewing a hot cup of coffee with, because of the acidity. Lighter roasts also tend to be higher in caffeine than darker roasts. Cold brewing, generally, will extract about twice as much caffeine than will hot brewing. So, some folks may use the light roasts to get even more caffeine in their coffee. Others stay away from light roasts for the same reason, not wanting to raise the caffeine to excessive levels. As I stated above, cold brewing also tends to extract more of the darker earthy flavors like chocolate, nut, and roast. So, many people choose to augment these flavors by using darker roasts. But, others will say using dark roast gives too much of a “burnt” or “ashy” character to the coffee. Clear as coffee sludge right? Well, again it’s going to depend a lot on your own tastes. First Timer Tip: If I had to pick one for those just getting into cold brewing, I’d say go with a good medium roast. It’ll give you a nice round body, possibly a little sweetness, and some good chocolatey/nutty/earthy flavors. The Grind Choosing the right grind is probably one of the main places first time cold brewers slip up. If you look at high-quality coffee grinders you’ll see that there are several different grind settings, each used in a certain type of brewing — drip, pour-over, espresso, etc. For all your cold brewing you’ll want coffee that has been ground coarse. In most cases, this will be the coarsest setting on the grinder. Think bread crumb size. Why this coarse grind? It has to do with extraction and filtering. Because of the length of time, cold brew is allowed to steep, if the coffee is ground too fine it will over-extract, giving it a bitter, sometimes burnt flavor. We’ve all tasted hot coffee that has steeped for too long. Same thing. Filtering is also easier with a coarse grind. After the cold brew is done steeping it’s hard enough to get all the sediment out, but make the grind too fine, and it becomes much more difficult and time-consuming to get a nice clean cold brew. If you don’t have a coffee grinder most places you buy whole bean coffee will have a grinder available. Most co-ops, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, even many supermarkets, have a coffee grinding station where you simply pour your coffee in, choose your grind, and press the button. If you’re looking to buy a coffee grinder, one of the best rated for under $50 is the Cuisinart DBM-8. If you’d rather have something with a better grind-consistency there’s the Baratza Virtuoso. The Water Water can make or break a cup of coffee. It’s no different for cold brewed. Unless you’re lucky enough to get your water from a well, you’ll want to use filtered water. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has a set of standards for good brewing water. You can try to follow these standards if you want to be meticulous; but really, if the water tastes good (no off-flavors) it’ll likely work well for brewing. Also stay away from using distilled water, unless you’re going to add minerals back in. Distilled water doesn’t have the required mineral load to extract all the flavors from the coffee. But, using distilled and adding something like Third Wave’s mineral mixes is an easy way to get close-to-perfect brewing water. The Water-To-Coffee Ratio The water-to-coffee ratio is another element of the cold brewing process much discussed and argued over. And again, this mostly comes down to preference and how you plan to use the finished coffee. If you plan to use this as coffee concentrate and add water before drinking then a water-to-coffee ratio of 1:1 works great. But, if you’re not making concentrate and plan to drink it as is, or maybe with a bit of cream, then you’d be looking at anywhere from a 4:1 to an 8:1 ratio. It will probably take some experimentation to get the exact ratio that best pleases your palate. One thing I will say, and this goes back to cold brewing requiring more coffee, don’t skimp on the coffee. Don’t try a really high ratio of water-to-coffee just because you’re afraid of the amount of coffee you’re about to use. Not enough coffee equals a subpar cup of cold brew. Yes, cold brewing takes that much coffee. It’s just a fact. Some things that might change the ratio you use: You may want to consider decreasing the ratio of water-to-coffee for lighter roasted coffees because of their inherent lighter aromas and flavors. How you plan to drink it (straight; or dilute it with cream, milk, or more water). First Timer Tip: If this is your first time, I’d go with a ratio of 6:1. This will give coffee that’s not too concentrated the opportunity to be enjoyed on its own, but strong enough that adding a nice portion of cream (or even cutting it with some water) won’t make it overly weak either. The Time Finally, we come to the steeping time and I know you’re getting tired of hearing it, but once again, preference is going to be the biggest factor. Steeping times range from 12 to 24 hours or even longer. I know, it’s a long wait, just as Guinness said in one of their old advertising campaigns “Good things come to those who wait.” It’s doubly true for cold brew. Cold brew is a game of time and a game you’re unlikely to win by being impatient. How long you decide to steep is partially a matter preference and partially a matter of the type of roast you’re using. Lighter roast coffee tends to do well with a slightly longer steeping time to help draw out those hard-to-get-cold, floral and fruity flavors. Of course, the water-to-coffee ratio makes a difference too. My Own Little Steeping Experiment In a fit of steeping curiosity, I set up a brief experiment. I used a 4:1 ratio (I like strong coffee) and got three different cold brews going. I left one steeping for 12 hours, one for 18 hours, and one for 24 hours. As time came to an end for each one I strained out the coffee and put it in the refrigerator (I wanted to try them for the first time altogether). At the end of 24 hours, plus a couple to cool down the last batch (I wanted them all at the same temperature), I tasted them. Not overly scientific I know, but here are my thoughts for what they’re worth. I concluded that steeping time, at least through the range of time I explored, didn’t make as much difference as I was expecting. There were some differences: a little bolder as time increased, the 18-hour steep time seemed slightly sweeter, and interestingly the 12-hour steep time seemed harshest. But, these were all pretty subtle and all three were fine cups of coffee (at least to this layman coffee lover). Take this with a grain of salt. But, it does speak to the point of not agonizing over the steeping time too much. You can see ratio, type of coffee, roast, and steeping-time can come together in a variety of ways. Quite the balancing act (and a lot of experimentation) to make that perfect cup. Now Put It All Together and Brew There are several different ways to go about making a batch of cold brew. They range from the very simple (and inexpensive) up to the more expensive (but convenient). Let’s look at three ways here, starting with the simplest. The Mason Jar Way For this method, I’m guessing you already have everything required to make your first cup of cold brew. If not I’ll give a few suggestions as we go. What You Need Mason Jar w/ good lid (Quart size is great, but if you plan to make big batches you can even jump up to a Gallon Jar or a smaller Glass Carboy. Anchor Hocking Jars with handles are great too. A grinder (optional: you can grind this at the store too, but the fresher it’s used the better the cup of coffee) Coffee of your choice Filtered water (good tasting water. Remember: Don’t use distilled) A scale for weighing the coffee and water (optional: but handy to get ratios just right) Filter of some sort (I use a muslin (cheese) cloth first, then a Chemix natural filter). There are also these cold brew coffee filter bags to consider. Assuming you already have a water-to-coffee ratio in mind, but just for clarity, let’s say we want to use the 6:1 ratio. That would mean using 6 ounces of water per ounce of coffee (≈ 168 grams to 28 grams). Weigh out your coffee and water Grind your coffee (unless it’s pre-ground of course) Put your measured amount of coffee into the Mason Jar Add your measured amount of water Stir very gently or press the coffee grounds down with a spoon until they are all submerged. Close it up and let it sit for your chosen steeping time (12 to 24 hours) Strain the coffee (I found that a couple of times through a cheesecloth and once through a regular paper coffee filter works well) Dilute the concentrate or doctor it up (add cream, sugar, ice, etc.) Enjoy! Tip: If using it as concentrate add the extra water right as you serve it. The concentrate alone will last 2 or 3 weeks in the fridge, but as soon as you add water it’ll cut that down to 3 or 4 days. The French Press Way Cold brewing with a French Press is very similar to using a Mason jar. The big change here is that the French Press replaces the Mason jar as the brew container. The rest pretty much remains the same. You’ll let your coffee spend its steeping time in the French Press. Then press the filter through the coffee. This may seem slightly easier than the Mason jar method, what with the built-in filter, but I’d recommend pouring it through another filter to get rid of more of the sediment. You’ll also still need some kind of lidded container to keep the cold brew in once it’s done steeping. A French Press may not be the best option if you plan on making large batches, but it is an easy option, especially if you already own one. They do make good cups of coffee (both hot and cold) and if you’re thinking about getting one I’d recommend getting at least 34 oz. size for cold brewing. Springing For A Cold Brew Coffee Maker I’d only recommend a maker if you’ve made a few batches and find you want an easier, more consistent, and, in some cases, more elegant way of doing it basically the easiest way to get the best cold brew possible. Options include everything from the slightly clunky looking (but highly rated) Toddy and Filtron to the more refined Hario Mizudashi and OXO Good Grips to the truly elegant (and expensive) Yama tower. One thing to consider before hauling off and buying one of these is size. Many cold brew makers are meant to brew large batches, so they tend to be large themselves. Make sure you have the room to store one during steeping and when it’s not in use. Storing Your Cold Brew Once made, you can easily store cold brew concentrate in your fridge for at least a couple weeks before it’ll start losing freshness. But, another option, especially for those larger batch-sizes, is to keg it. We talk more about kegging cold brew here. Once kegged you can serve it on tap through a small dispenser unit, a jockey box, or a full size kegerator. One very cool feature of doing it this way is the chance to serve your cold brew as nitro coffee, giving it the same creamy, cascading effect you see with Guinness beer. Happy Cold Brewing!