Before I discovered cold brew, I was brewing (if you can even call it that) K-cup coffee over ice. Sad, watery Keurig iced coffee was all I knew in the summer months. And while I occasionally splurged on a Starbucks iced coffee here and there, that’s about as good as it got. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can rise up.
Fast-forward to a family trip to San Francisco. While exploring the Ferry Building, my brother, an iced coffee aficionado, insisted that we stop at Blue Bottle Coffee for their New Orleans iced coffee. I threw down $4, took a sip and saw the light. This iced coffee was unlike anything I’d ever tasted. Cold-brewed for 12 hours with roasted chicory, sweetened with cane sugar and finished with whole milk, this coffee was rich, chocolaty and divine. By the time I got to the bottom of the cup, I was ready to accept cold brew into my life on the regular.
So what exactly is this nectar of the gods? Made by steeping coarse-ground coffee in cold water for 12 or more hours, the cold-brew method produces a low-acid, smooth and concentrated coffee. Unlike traditional coffee brewed with hot water, the cold-brew process minimizes bitterness. And since cold brew is more concentrated than regular coffee, you can add ice and milk without worrying that your drink will turn into lukewarm coffee-water. Cold brew is pricier than your standard iced coffee, but you don’t need to book a trip to San Francisco (or drop $4 at Starbucks) to enjoy a cold caffeinated beverage because it’s super-easy to make at home.
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To find out just how to make the perfect cold brew at home, I turned to coffee expert Christopher Feran, director of coffee at Phoenix Coffee Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Feran has been in the biz for years working as a consultant and coffee buyer for companies across the Midwest and Northeast, including Bluestone Lane in New York City.
Feran told me that well-made cold brew will be sweet and balanced. “It shouldn’t require milk or sugar and won’t have mouth-puckering acidity nor a watery quality to it. I particularly like notes of chocolate, brown sugar and vanilla in my cold brew.” According to Feran, you don’t need fancy equipment to make cold brew at home. All you need is a Mason jar, a strainer, a paper filter and time.
As for the beans: “I prefer a medium roast for its chocolate notes and often use Latin American coffees that have those tones inherently,” he says. “But if you want something fruitier, that’ll work too.” Feran is also a big fan of buying locally roasted coffee. “Water is 98 percent of coffee, and chances are, your local roastery tastes their coffee using similar water to what you use at home. Plus, it’s fresher and supports your local economy.”
Feran starts with 1 pound of coffee beans and recommends grinding them as coarsely as your grinder allows. “If you’re going to be brewing the day you buy your coffee, have your coffee shop grind the coffee for you,” he says. “Their grinder will have better results with a more consistent particle size, which means tastier cold brew.”
Next, Feran mixes the grounds with a gallon of cool, filtered tap water in a large Mason jar and steeps the coffee at room temperature for 24 hours. Once he’s ready to filter the coffee, Feran uses a fine-mesh strainer lined with a prerinsed white paper filter (rinsed to minimize paper taste). “It leaves a cleaner, less oily cup without that sediment that sinks to the bottom,” he says.
Once it’s strained, your cold brew is ready to go! Pour over ice, add milk if you like or your favorite coffee fixings. Feran keeps his cold brew in the fridge for a couple of days max, but said that some of his friends keep it for as long as a week.
“I love cold brew for its portability and ease. In the summer, I brew it a couple times a week and keep a jar in my fridge ready to go for mornings on the beach, at the dog park or for use as a cocktail mixer,” he says. “It’s also great to bake with — try brownies or chocolate cake.” Check out the easy step-by-step instructions, below.
Cold-brewed coffee recipe
Yields 8 (8-ounce) cups
- 1/2 pound coffee beans, coarsely ground
- 8 cups cool water
- Mason jar or large pitcher
- Fine-mesh strainer
- Prerinsed paper coffee filter
- In a jar, stir together the grounds and water. Cover and let it rest at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Line your strainer with the rinsed paper filter and set it over a large pitcher or another jar. Pour the coffee through the strainer. Discard the grounds.
- Pour over ice and enjoy with your favorite coffee add-ins.