The darling of coffee connoisseurs, just like the flat white and drip filter before it, cold brew is actually a centuries-old brew method. And it’s dirt simple to make.
Cold brew is not the same as iced coffee. It’s better. A lot better. At a super basic level, ground coffee is steeped in cold water for up to 24 hours and filtered to produce a coffee concentrate. It can be served hot or cold. Iced coffee, on the other hand, is just hot coffee served over ice, watered down and bitter. Think of the face you make when you take that first sip, and begin adding sugar immediately. Cold brew has a lot of body, less acidity and more apparent sweetness.
Because it’s brewed in cold water the acids and oils that are extracted with hot water aren’t present, resulting in a cup that isn’t bitter. You may not even need to add sugar. It’s a real contender for your daily brew, whether you’re craving something chilled or not. Cold is just how it’s brewed, not necessarily how it’s served.
A Short History
The Japanese have been cold brewing coffee for centuries. In Japan it’s known as Kyoto coffee. So the story goes, it was introduced to Japan by Dutch traders from Indonesia, who developed it as a way of producing large quantities of portable coffee, which they could later heat or serve cold. Other cold brew genesis theories point to Latin America -- to Peru, Guatemala, and Java. This can’t be a big surprise. Origin aside, coffee concentrates have been brewed by everyone; it was particularly useful in war times. The French were one of the first to serve this concentrate cold in cafes.
Shelf-stable, ready to drink products emerged in the 1960s as other perishables were canned. Now you can buy cold brew like craft beer, even in grocery stores like Whole Foods, and fresh in most cafes.
Try brewing this ancient method yourself. Make it in your kitchen easily within 24 hours, and delight in the smooth, sweet cup whenever you like to drink coffee. You can also try nitrogen cold brew at a cafe, which pours out of a keg. Is it beer, is it coffee? Only you’ll know.
Brewing: Step by Step
Cold brewing is about using time instead of heat to make coffee. The idea is to extract all the bean’s beautiful flavours slowly, steeping the grinds in cold water, then filtering to leave a pure coffee concentrate.
Step 1: Pick your Tools
There are a few ways you can make cold brew, and they’re all low tech. You need very little to brew -- really any glass container, grinds, filtered water, and a sieve.
Step 2: Measure & Grind
Making a stellar cup is all about ratios. And for cold brew, because we’re making a coffee concentrate, the ratio is much lower than normal -- 1:4. For a litre of water you’ll need 250 grams of coffee. For context, most other brew methods use a ratio of 1:15. Cold brew is strong coffee that’s diluted.
For the grind, you want it to be coarse. A burr grinder does this best. After the beans are ground, put the grinds into your container.
Step 3: Pour & Cover
Add cold, filtered water to the container, respecting the 1:4 ratio. Pour slowly in a circular motion, making sure the grounds are completely wet. Mix it up a bit. Gently. Now cover the grounds with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge. The plastic wrap ensures other flavours don’t get into your brew. Some advocate leaving your container at room temperature, but brewing slowly at a lower temperature ensures the natural flavours steep without extracting the acids or oils.
You can play with time a bit. We like to leave it brewing for a long time, around 20 hours. Brew for at least 14 hours and up to 24.
Step 4: Filter & Store
There’s a lot of options for filtering -- most very basic. You can use an ordinary fine mesh sieve. Filter twice, first to get out the big bits, and again, this time placing a wet coffee filter in the sieve to eliminate the fine sediment. Filtering for the second time will take between 5 and 10 minutes. So don’t worry if it feels like it’s taking forever. Just let it do its thing.
If you’re using a French Press, simply plunge slowly. You can always filter again if you find it’s too grainy.
Once filtered, pour your cold brew in a sealed container and put it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Step 5: Serve
If you’re making an ordinary coffee, dilute the coffee concentrate by half with either hot or cold water, finishing with milk, if you like. Coffee made with hot water has bitter compounds, but cold brew doesn’t, leaving a natural sweetness. This means you probably don’t need to add milk or sugar. You can also add cold brew to a smoothie or use it in a cocktail. Use your imagination!
What’s it taste like?
Naturally sweeter, and rich in flavour without being overwhelming. Why is it sweet? Because the process is far gentler than when you brew with hot water; acids and oils, which produce that bitter taste, aren’t extracted. It is a very smooth cup, highlighting the coffee’s natural flavour profile.
So what are the benefits?
Putting the hype aside, there are some great benefits to drinking cold brew. The biggest benefit is that it has lower acid levels, so it’s going to be easier on your stomach. Basically, you’ll require fewer antacids. It also lasts longer. You can store your cold brew for up to two weeks in the fridge, sipping to your heart’s content.
Tell us about your brew!