The waiting is the hardest part of making cold brew coffee at home

how to make cold brew coffee iced
colnihko / 123RF Stock Photo

Sweet, sweet coffee — some of us depend on it to survive through the work day, and others even consider ourselves connoisseurs. Whether you’re a casual drinker or a coffee addict, you can likely tell the difference between a good cup and a bad one.

Although you only need water and coffee beans to make decent cup of joe, it’s pretty easy to make crappy coffee. What makes coffee taste gross? How about when you make it too strong, too weak, use a bad blend, or when you leave the pot sitting on the burner too long? That’s why office coffee is often the worst kind — the pot sits for hours, the coffee develops a burnt taste, and you’re left with something that’s about as palatable as mud.

The key to a great cup of coffee is chemistry. Your cup of java contains organic acids like malic, acetic, and quinic acids, and it has inorganic acids like phosphoric acid. That’s why bad coffee tends to have a bitter, acidic taste. So, what’s the key to making a great cup of coffee that tastes even better than your favorite coffee shop blend? Try cold brew coffee.

Cold brew coffee has a much more pleasant flavor because you get the sweet flavors from the good-tasting acids, without the bad taste of the bitter acids. When some people think of cold brew coffee, however, they think of a long and tedious process or costly equipment and supplies. But, you don’t have to be Starbucks to cold brew your coffee. You can make easy cold brew coffee at home; and it takes only about 10 minutes of work, and a bit of knowledge.

What you’ll need

  • Coffee
  • Water
  • A fine strainer
  • Cheesecloth
  • A glass pitcher or a large mason jar

How to make cold brew coffee

  1. Grind your beans. You want your beans to be coarse ground, about the consistency of kosher salt. If you only have fine-ground coffee available (like what you’d use in your coffee machine), it will over-extract, leading to a bitter brew.
  2. Mix the coffee and water. Pour 4 cups of water into your pitcher and add your coffee. If you want a regular brew, add 1/2 cup of coffee grounds, which produces a 1:8 ratio of coffee to water. For a stronger brew, add up to 1 cup of coffee grinds. This is personal preference, but both Blue Bottle and Kicking Horse Coffee suggest a 1:4 ratio.
  3. Give your coffee and water mixture a quick stir to help get brewing started.
  4. Refrigerate your brew for 12 to 15 hours.
  5. Strain the coffee and water mixture using a fine strainer coated in some cheesecloth.
  6. To serve, add water or milk to dilute the concentrate. Again, it’s personal preference, but start with a 1:1 ratio and go from there. We added a vanilla bean, 1.5 cups of skim milk, and 1/2 cup of sugar.
  7. Store your cold brew in a sealed container in the refrigerator for no longer than two or three days. When you add milk, water, or other ingredients, this shortens your coffee’s shelf life. If you leave your cold brew as a concentrate, you can store it for about a week before its quality degrades.

Tips and warnings

  • Use filtered water for best results. You can also use regular bottled water, but filtered water is your best bet.
  • As tempted as you are to remove the brew from the fridge before it’s done, wait at least 12 hours. It’s well worth the wait.
  • Cold brew coffee sits for extended periods of time, and it tends to sit in danger zone temperatures of between 39 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Be mindful of food safety and shelf life guidelines.
  • Cold brew coffee tends to be stronger than traditional hot coffee, so dilute your cold brew if you don’t want to be bouncing off of the walls.