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When the weather hits 80 degrees or higher, it's officially necessary for hot coffee drinkers to switch up their caffeinated beverage of choice. That means it's time to drop the Americano, drip coffee, cappuccino, and espresso because—let's face it—starting your day with a piping hot beverage during the summer just doesn't do the trick.
When warmer weather kicks in, iced coffee is a great option for a morning pick-me-up, but who wants to lose out on valuable cup space (i.e., caffeine) to make room for ice? When you have a big day ahead of you, there's no time for a diluted coffee beverage to slow you down. So if the heat calls for you to ditch the hot coffee and the need for caffeine has you questioning a classic iced coffee, what are you to do?
Enter cold brew—the trendy, chilled coffee beverage that's made with cold water from the start for a delectably refreshing caffeine concoction. While the difference between cold brew and iced coffee may seem subtle, coffee aficionados will recognize the nuances of the drink that's popping up on coffee shop menus everywhere. Keep reading for the ultimate guide to cold brew, including what it really is, how it's different from iced coffee, the perfect cold brew ratio, and the tools you need to make it right at home.
What Is Cold Brew?
Cold brew is coffee that's made by steeping coffee grounds in either room temperature or cold water for an extended period of time, rather than typical coffee making methods that use hot water to extract flavor from the coffee grounds. This process can take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours depending on the flavor you're going for and what method you're using. After this step, the brew is typically diluted with water by 50% and served ice cold—but not over ice.
While it might seem as though cold brew is a new iteration of coffee recently introduced into the mainstream via Starbucks and other popular coffee chains, the chilled beverage and method have actually been around for centuries. It's thought that the drink was first introduced to Japan by Dutch traders who had arrived from Indonesia in the 1600s. Also referred to as Kyoto coffee, cold brew has reportedly been popular in the region ever since.
What Does It Taste Like?
In terms of flavor, cold brew delivers a caffeinated beverage that's more sweet than bitter. The reason most traditional coffees taste bitter and acidic is because of the heat used in the brewing process. Without the heat, cold brew coffee takes on a smoother consistency. Plus, less acidity means cold brew is easier on your stomach. So, if you often find yourself begrudging the bitter taste of coffee (and perhaps turning to sugary sweeteners to remedy it), you might consider switching to cold brew.
How Is It Different From Iced Coffee?
At first glance, two cups of chilled coffee might appear to be the same; however, if one is cold brew and the other is an iced coffee, they will have completely different flavors and brewing methods. As mentioned above, cold brew is made with room temperature or cold water from the start.
Alternatively, iced coffee is usually made the same way as any coffee brew, although often with a higher concentration of coffee grounds since the mixture will be diluted with ice. It's simply coffee grounds steeped in hot water and then served over ice. Because iced coffee is made with hot water, it contains the same acidity and bitter flavors of typical hot coffee beverages.
What Do You Need to Make It?
You can make your very own cold brew at home in a few different ways. One option is to use a French press, another is to utilize a sieve and a pitcher, or you can even make a batch of cold brew in a basic mixing bowl.
No matter what method you opt for, you'll want to use coarse coffee grounds. This makes it easier to filter out the grounds from the final product and helps create a sweeter, less bitter flavor. You can grind them yourself or buy course grounds from the market.
If you use the right water-to-coffee ratio, you’ll get the jolt of caffeine you need to keep you going all day long. According to Food52, the optimal cold brew coffee ratio is 3/4 cup coarsely ground coffee to every four cups of cold water. Since this beverage is actually pretty pricey, it’s worth learning how to make cold-brew coffee at home.
Below, we’ve rounded up three of our favorite cold brew coffee recipes. Scroll through, and then get brewing.
Using a French Press
- This recipe relies on the cold brew coffee ratio of 3/4 cup ground coffee to four cups cold water.
- The trick is to make sure you don’t grind the coffee too much; otherwise, the beverage will be cloudy.
- Add the coffee grounds to the bottom of a French press and slowly add water, stirring gently.
- Put the top on the press, but don’t plunge it.
- Let it sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours.
- Once your waiting is over, press down the plunger and pour.
You can keep the java refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Using a Sieve
- This recipe calls for you to put coffee grounds in a large pitcher, add water, and stir.
- Cover the pitcher with a cheesecloth and keep it in place with a rubber band.
- Let it sit for up to 15 hours at room temperature (or just overnight).
- Then, use a fine sieve to strain the mixture into another pitcher.
- Next, put a coffee filter into the sieve, and strain the liquid one more time into the original pitcher (once it’s rinsed).
- Add ice cubes, milk, or even some water, and you’re good to go.
Using a Mixing Bowl
- This cold brew coffee is vegan, gluten-free, and totally simple to make.
- The recipe calls for dark-roast coffee grounds, which you put in a large mixing bowl, add water, cover with plastic wrap, and then refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, you simply strain the liquid with a coffee filter.
- To fancy up the drink, add date caramel and almond milk ice cubes for a tasty DIY take on a Frappuccino.