Years ago my then new husband and I spent our honeymoon on the most beautiful island off of Thailand, and as one does, we soon had a little routine each day, which consisted of an early morning swim and snorkel, some time in the sun and then a delicious cold brew coffee from the local little café. I couldn’t wait to continue the tradition when we got home, sans the snorkel and sunbathing.
Our first morning back I made a regular cup of instant coffee (the shame, the shock, and horror), grabbed some ice cubes from the freezer and poured the coffee over. I waited for it to cool down and then went to sit in my favorite nook in our new home, took my first sip, and spewed it across the room. To this day the coffee stain remains in the rug and my memories of our honeymoon and my cold brew coffee are bittersweet.
What’s a cold brew, bru?
Unless you live under a rock, you’ll know that cold brewing has become the drink of choice for trendy coffee connoisseurs. Making a cold brew coffee is similar to the French Press technique, but instead of hot water, cold water is used instead and the coffee grounds are steeped for up to 12 hours.
The result is a crisp, sweet cup of coffee, which is very different to the dark roasts we buy at coffee shops. So, why cold water? First of all, it draws out the natural flavors in the coffee’s oil, unlike hot water that alters it or takes it away completely. The cold brewing technique also removes some of the natural acids found if the beans, which is great news for people who enjoy their coffee but suffer from acid reflux or heartburn.
I know you’re asking if you can drink a cold brew hot, and the answer is yes. All you need to do is make a strong cup using cold water and then mix it with heated water or milk to drink whenever you’re ready.
What’s the best type of cold brew for you?
The buzzword at the moment is ‘cold brew’ but if you’ve perfected the art of making one or order it from a specialty coffee store you’re going to be asked: “Yes, but what style of cold brew coffee are you wanting exactly?”
Uh? What style? Aren’t cold brew coffees all the same? No, they’re not and you need to consider a few things including:
- What flavor are you after – do you prefer your coffee being balanced and dreamily-creamy, or like me, ever so florally and light. The different methods will produce different flavors, even if you’re using the same coffee.
- What acidity level do you prefer – while some people think cold brew coffee is less acidic than hot coffee, it’s not the case. You can make your cold brew as acidy as you like.
- How much are you making – although it sounds a little daft, knowing how much you’re making will determine how much coffee to water you need and the different methods also produce different amounts.
- What is the preparation time – there are two types of people, okay, no wait, there are three types – those that love to make coffee and plan and those who don’t (plan). The third type are those who don’t drink coffee – and that’s all you need to know about them. When it comes to cold brew coffee there are luckily methods for the planners and non-planners. Planners will enjoy the long extraction time, anywhere between 10 to 24 hours and the non-planners (that might include me) will like the ‘grab-my-mug-I’m-heading-out-the-door’ method.
A fool-proof method for the best cold brew
While making a cold brew coffee isn’t the most difficult thing to do, a lot of the time it can end up tasting bitter or watery, but I have a fool-proof method for the best deliciously smooth icy cuppa joe, every single time.
There is no BIG secret to making a cold brew coffee. Detailed instructions are not locked away in a safe on a remote island, nor will the paper self-destruct on reading it. You don’t need any special equipment and you don’t need training from a ninja-esque barista.
This is my tried and tested method for you to make your own cold brew at home. I’ve included a few handy tips, which I learned through trial and error, and will hopefully save you a few frustrating attempts.
- Make sure your beans are coarse rather than a sandy-like texture. It’ll taste awful. Trust me. Think more coarse, like cornmeal or even rougher
- Use filtered water. Yes, real coffee drinkers generally use filtered water, we’re snobbish like that
- You must allow for it to steep for 12 hours; slightly less time is ok but straining it too early is going to leave you with a weak cuppa coffee, and life’s too short for weak coffee, right. However, do not steep for too long either; too much steeping is going to extract the bitter flavors we don’t want.
- Now, this is a clever little trick I learned from a very hip and happening barista – chill your cold brew with ice cubes made from coffee! This way your coffee isn’t diluted at all
- Another useful little tip is that keep your cold brew in the fridge, unlike hot coffee. If it’s undiluted it can keep for about two weeks, but be aware that the quality won’t be as great after the first week. If you’ve diluted it, the fridge life is between two and three days
While you don’t need any fancy equipment to whip up a cold brew at home, chances are you will have a French Press, which will work perfectly.
Ready? Here we go…
- Grind up your coffee beans, remember not too fine. The recommended coffee/water ratio is four to one, as in four cups of cold water, to one cup of your coarsely grounded preferred coffee
- Grab your French Press and using your cold (filtered) water make sure the coffee is completely immersed in the water
- Place it in the fridge, without the plunger, but covered with something to stop your coffee absorbing other smells, or shall we call them aromas?
- The French Press can be steeped for about 12 hours. I wouldn’t do it for longer.
- Voila! There you have it. Plunge as you would normally
No French Press? No Problem?
If you don’t have a French Press, no problem. The wonderful thing about cold brew coffee is that you don’t need any fancy equipment, just time. If you have a good ol’ mason jar you’re good to brew, and of course, you’ll need some kind of a filter.
The situation with the grinds remains the same. A coarser texture makes the whole filtration process easier and the coffee tastes better.
Again, stir in the grinds, making sure they are completely covered with the filtered water. Put the lid on the jar, stick it in your refrigerator and leave it to steep for up to twelve hours.
Tick, tick, tick…the 12 hours are up and it’s time to do the filtering. You can use anything, and I mean literally anything:
- A colander (with small holes)
- Paper coffee filter
- An old shirt
- Cheese cloth
My only suggestion is if you use stockings, old shirts or cheese cloth, please make sure they’re clean. Otherwise, the taste of the coffee will be affected.
Some Cold Brew Don’ts
We’ve established making a moreish delicious tasting cold brew isn’t rocket science, but there are a few common mistakes people make. Avoid these and you could charge visitors up to five bucks a cup; $3 if you really like them.
- Don’t stress about the beans – Some coffees need the ‘good’ beans, however cold brew coffee doesn’t. Using your expensive, high-end beans on a cold brew is almost a waste and while we certainly don’t suggest you use the year-old beans at the back of your cupboard, you will get a good tasting cold brew coffee with beans that are four to weeks old.
- Don’t use fine grind beans – We cannot stress this enough. The beans need to be as coarse. If it’s too fine it’s going to be over extracted destroying the taste, leaving it bitter, and best left undrunk.
- Don’t forget the ratio – Getting the ratio right will also affect the taste of the cold brew. The general rule of thumb is four cups of water to one cup of your coarsely ground coffee. That’s if you’re making it for home. If you’re planning on making a lot more then you will need one pound of coffee beans to one gallon of water.
- Don’t stress too much about the water – The temperature of the water isn’t the end of the world, even if there are a few people who make it seem that way. While cold or room temperature water is better, using hot water can help speed up the process, but it could change the taste. If you’re in the mood for experimenting the go for it, otherwise stick to cold water.
- Don’t cheat when it comes to steeping – Steeping times vary, depending on who you ask and on the coffee ground you use. Some say never more than 12 hours, with 15 being the maximum time, and other suggest 24 hours but be warned this will be a strong, caffeinated coffee concentrate. But at least you’re then able to dilute it to your personal taste, and anyone else’s who might be enjoying a cup with you.When you are ready for your cold brew you can dilute it with cream or milk, and even water. It’s completely up to you.
Toddy Cold Brew System
This is where you’re either going to love me (for sharing a fool-proof method with you) or hate me (for not mentioning the Toddy Cold Brew System).
The Toddy system is definitely fool-proof but it is an additional purchase and if you’re watching your budget, like most of us, you’d get the same delicious results with your French Press or using your mason jar technique.
Using the Toddy is probably one of the easiest things you will ever do. It’s a case of measuring out your coffee, adding water and brewing it for 12 to 24 hours. It makes about 48 ounces of concentrated coffee – remember you’re not drinking it as is- you’re going to be diluting it.
I’m a firm believer that if you’re a lover of the finer things in life, like an excellent cup of coffee, then you will probably appreciate the design of the Toddy Cold Brew System. It has a brewing container as well as a glass carafe. The latter makes it easier to pour and you’re able to store it in the fridge. It will still taste good after approximately two weeks.
Something else to like about the Toddy is that the paper filter can be reused and it only needs to be changed after about 12 uses or after three months, whichever comes first. The downside, but not a dealbreaker is you need to clean and keep the filters in the freezer or fridge.
You might feel a little let down when you see the Toddy. It’s not going to win any design awards and it’s not going to make for a state of the art appliance in your kitchen, but what you will appreciate is the convenience and ease of use of the cold brew system, and the unbelievably smooth coffee it makes.
The Final Word
There you have it. The easy DIY method with a French Press, the even easier, if not a little more rustic technique with a mason jar and the Toddy Cold Brew System. I haven’t even touched on the Japanese Iced Method, the Ice Drip Method or the Immersion Coffee technique. That’ll have to wait a day or two, it’s coffe o’clock.