Cold-brew coffee is much older than recent coffee trends would have you believe, tracing back to the Age of Discovery when seafaring Europeans began storing their coffee in a liquid extract form, rather than in the form of unbrewed coffee beans. The extract could easily be consumed either as is (although it would be unbelievably strong), or after pouring some hot water over it to make a slightly diluted cup of strong coffee.
Rather than simply brewing the coffee and letting it go stale – which defeats the point of making coffee – cold-brew coffee involves simply letting coarse coffee grounds steep in cold water for at least half a day. The resulting product, once sifted and sieved, is a rich and delicious cold coffee that keeps its flavor for about a week when kept cold. In the past, a similar method was used to slowly steep coffee grounds into a thick coffee extract, which presumably gave way to the modern-day Kyoto drip method, possibly originated due to Japanese-style cold-brew tea. However, making cold-brew coffee doesn’t require a great big contraption or specialized brewing equipment. All you really need is a sieve, a cheesecloth, and a couple of jars.
How is Cold-Brew Coffee Made?
The process to make cold-brew coffee at home is quite simple. Be warned that preparing cold-brew coffee usually creates a coffee that is different in taste to what you may be used to. While not as acidic or bitter, you will typically enjoy a bolder flavor, as well as a much stronger concentration of coffee. It’s normal to dilute your cold-brew coffee after brewing it, usually by pouring it over ice cubes or by adding a few shots of milk. The exact method is entirely up to you, but the end product should invoke a rich, dark taste.
Start with coarsely-grinded coffee, about the same you would use for a cafetière, or a French press. The ratio of coffee-to-water should be roughly 1 to 4 in terms of volume, not weight. That’s about 100 grams of coarse coffee for 900ml of water. Be sure to use filtered water here. Don’t take water out from the tap unless you’ve got a great filter on it, and don’t use bottled mineral water. Distilled water works well too, as long as whatever water you’re using is as close to dead H2O as it can get.
If you wish, use cool or cold water. It shouldn’t be too cold, but it should be nowhere near warm. Most people either use refrigerated filtered water or room temperature water.
Pour the water over the coffee, stir gently with a wooden spoon, and then let it steep for 12 hours. The resulting coffee needs to be sieved, so grab a sieve and your cheesecloth, line the sieve with the cheesecloth, pour the mixture in and catch it in a pitcher, container, or second jar. Dilute as per taste and enjoy. For a quick step-by-step, here’s the entire process once more:
- Coarsely grind your coffee using a burr grinder, or 1-second pulses in a bullet blender. Don’t let it get too fine.
- Pour cooled filtered or distilled water over the coffee and stir with a wooden spoon.
- Let it steep for 12 hours.
- Filter the resulting coffee with a sieve and a cheesecloth. Wash the cheesecloth and hang it to airdry while enjoying your cup of coffee.
- Dilute with water and/or milk as per taste. You can add anything else you’d like.
Cold-Brew Coffee vs. Iced Coffee
While all this might sound suspiciously similar to iced coffee, there are a couple significant differences. First – the brewing method. Iced coffee is simply regular coffee poured over ice. But because this significantly affects the flavor of the coffee – as you’re not only diluting it but changing the way it tastes by drinking the oils originally released in a hot brew while cold – most places tend to over-infuse their coffee in order to get a stronger, darker brew, which can then be diluted into something more tolerable, albeit not necessarily tasty. This is done either by using hotter water, a finer grind, or a longer steeping process.
Each of these mess with the flavors of the coffee, however, usually producing a rather bitter, acidic, and generally uninteresting or unpleasant brew – which is then diluted, turning the whole thing into a mess. If you don’t particularly care about coffee to begin with or just want something reminiscent of coffee to then mix with a large amount of cream and sugar, then an iced coffee is a fine compromise on a hot day when a hot drink just isn’t in the cards.
Cold-brew coffee tastes about a dozen times better, but also takes much longer. It’s generally easier to set up a glass of iced coffee than it is to set up a glass of cold-brew coffee, but it’s also worth the wait. All you really have to do is start the brew a few hours before bed time, and then get up in the morning and sieve your coffee a few times before enjoying it over ice or with some milk on your way to work. You don’t even need to carry a thermos or worry about scalding yourself on-the-go.
Why Bother Making Cold-Brew Coffee?
While I’ve outlined a fairly simple routine above to help you get into making some cold-brew coffee at home on-the-regular, it’s still a bit of a pain to wake up and have to sieve your coffee before enjoying a gulp of it. Seems simpler to throw some grinds into a press or drip machine and start up a kettle while you work on waking up, right? However, let’s not forget that cold-brew coffee has a number of advantages of regular brewed coffee.
- It’s easier to drink on-the-go. Hot drinks are a little tricky to bring out of the home, as you’re typically going to want something that keeps them warm, while also trying not to hurt yourself.
- You don’t have to bother at all with having to drink it all while it’s hot. You can enjoy it over a longer period of time.
- If you’re the kind of person to enjoy several cups of coffee in the morning but don’t have a coffee machine, then you’re going to need to clean out and reuse your press several times. With cold-brew coffee, you can make a large batch, keep it in the fridge, and enjoy an incredibly concentrated and powerful shot of caffeine over the course of the entire morning.
- Cold-brew coffee is generally less acidic than brewed coffee, which means that if you have problems with brewed coffee due to indigestion or gastric acidity, then consider switching to cold-brew coffee as a milder alternative that still gives you a great-tasting coffee experience without having to struggle with your own GI tract.
Sure, there’s still something about a hot mug of coffee that won’t be beat – and I’m not saying you should quit brewing coffee the regular way, not by a mile. But give cold-brew coffee a try and consider adding it to your list of mainstays at home.
Turning Cold-Brew Coffee into Nitro Coffee
If you want to try out something fancy or are having a couple guests over, you could turn your batch of cold-brew coffee in nitro coffee quite easily. All you need is a whipped cream dispenser. These are usually steel canisters about 500ml or larger, with an input for cartridges filled with a nitrous oxide or nitrogen gas.
To serve nitro coffee at home, fill your canister with cold-brew coffee and pour while holding the dispenser upside down. It won’t be identical to what you’re used to from a café, and you’ll have to play around with the ratio of coffee-to-gas, but it’s an affordable way to enjoy nitro coffee at home without paying for canned coffee or heading to a café.