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Summer is coming, temperatures are rising, and suddenly, cold brew coffee is everywhere. It’s refreshing and wakes up your body, giving you the strength to get through another busy day in the heat.
Sure, you can buy cold brew coffee in any coffee shop or local supermarket as a ready-to-drink refreshment, but for the true coffee enthusiasts, that’s not good enough. Brewing at home comes with many advantages, and the unique and intense aroma is definitely one of its biggest advantages.
Additionally, when you make coffee at home, you can control its quality, strength, and sugar level (as opposed to ready-to-drink coffee from the supermarket). However, there’s a learning curve for brewing a rich and sense-pleasing cup of cold coffee perfectly. So, where do you start, and what’s the most important thing you should consider when cold brewing?
The first step to a flawless cold brew is the coffee quality. Are you roasting at home or buying roasted whole beans? Are you buying coffee grounds, or you want to make the most out of your instant coffee? In this article, we’ll share everything you need to know about cold brewing, so let’s start with the best coffee for cold brew.
What Is a Cold Brew?
Before we dwell on the specifics of cold brew coffee, let’s talk about the characteristic of the method itself and what separates it from regular brewing and ice coffee, especially.
Cold brewing is an alternative brewing method that’s used to make coffee without using heat at all. While regular brewing uses water between 91 – 96°C (195 – 205°F) to extract coffee, cold brewing is a long process where the coffee is extracted in cold water from 2 to 22°C (although these numbers are just loose guidelines, not strict rules). Because the water is cold, the compounds in the coffee take a long time to extract. In fact, the coffee is left in the water for at least 12 to 24 hours. Think about cold brewing as a long process where the coffee grounds are steeped in cold filtered water until the coffee is completely extracted.
Typically, people mistake cold-brewed coffee with iced coffee. They’re both cold, refreshing drinks, but iced coffee is made through regular brewing with hot water, after which the coffee is cooled, or it’s poured over ice cubes.
The Effects of Temperature on Taste
Iced coffee and cold brew coffee differ in taste as well. This is because the temperature affects the chemical compounds in coffee that release flavor.
Iced coffee is similar to regular brewed coffee, but the taste will be with milder, more diluted flavor, because of the cooling period and the ice cubes.
On the other hand, cold brew coffee will have a distinct taste. This is because certain flavor-releasing compounds are only extracted at close to boiling temperature. For example, some lighter floral and fruity notes in a coffee can only be extracted through hot brewing. Cold brew coffee is considered to be less acidic and easier on the stomach.
Сan You Use Regular Coffee for Cold Brew?
Technically, yes, you can drink cold brew coffee from any kind of coffee beans/grounds. However, when it comes to taste, not every coffee produces optimal results when steeped in cold water. Different coffee beans deliver different flavors.
If you find yourself without the right beans, you can always run to the grocery store and buy coarse-ground coffee. The grinding size is really important, which we’ll discuss in detail in the next section.
Nonetheless, if you want to learn how to cold brew a sense-pleasing cup of coffee, then the first step is to choose the right coffee beans or grounds.
Factors That Affect the Quality of Cold Brewing: Choosing the Best Coffee for Cold Brewing
There are several factors that affect the quality of cold brewing, the grind size, roast type, and homogeneity of the coffee being the most important ones.
Where the bean is grown, the elevation at which it is grown, how it was picked, processed, and stored, are additional factors that can affect the flavor.
Whether you buy pre-ground coffee or you ground whole coffee beans yourself, you should make sure the coffee is a coarse grind because size does matter. In fact, the chemical components that release a hard and bitter flavor are easily extracted in cold water, and when the coffee is finely ground, you might end up with overly-extracted harsh aromas.
Light Vs. Dark Roasts
There’s quite a debate whether light, medium, or dark roasts are better for cold brewing. This somewhat depends on personal preference, so don’t be afraid to try either way.
The proponents of light or medium roasts argue that light roasting retains most of the beans’ original flavor profile, making light roast beans especially acidic. And, since cold brewing somewhat eliminates acidity, it might give you a well-balanced taste without being too mild.
On the other hand, some experts believe that darker roasts outperform lighter roasts because they’re rich in nutty, chocolaty, or earthy aromas that are better felt in cold brew coffee.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to your personal preferences. Just keep in mind that if you think the taste of your cold brew is a little off, you might want to try a different roast.
Single-origin Vs. Coffee Blend
Here the experts are unanimous – single-origin coffee is better for cold brew.
The reason for this is not that single-origin coffee offers some major benefits, but blends are usually selected to balance the bitterness and sweetness of different coffee beans.
Unfortunately, since cold brewing eliminates some flavor-releasing compounds, the coffee blend won’t be as balanced and won’t taste the same as when it’s regularly brewed. In fact, it might be harder to balance out the taste of unique coffee blends in a cold brew.
However, single-origin coffee beans are usually more expensive. This is why some people still prefer coffee blends, rather than single-origin beans.
Black Coffee Vs. Milk Coffee
Another factor that affects the taste of cold brew coffee, obviously, is adding milk. However, the final taste might not be what you expect. Keep in mind that cold brew coffee is milder and with more subtle taste than regularly brewed coffee. Diluting it furthermore with milk might be overkill. This is why many hard-core coffee enthusiasts recommend drinking black cold-brewed coffee. But, it’s still a personal choice, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try different things and experiment to see what suits your taste the most.
Tips For Optimizing Your Cold Brew
Here are some useful tips to keep in mind when cold-brewing coffee:
- Buy coffee manufactured for cold-brewing. Everything is easier today, as there are many options available on the market that sell coffee grounds or whole beans specifically produced for cold brewing.
- Don’t settle for anything less than ultimate freshness. Cold brewing delivers a milder and subtler taste, so buying coffee that’s stale is a sure way to end up with dull and undrinkable coffee.
- Use the 1:1 ratio for best consistency – that is, for each cup of water, add one ounce of coarsely ground coffee.
- Steep the coffee for at least 18 hours. It’s best to leave the coffee overnight or work out something that best fits your schedule. However, to get the most out of the taste, you shouldn’t steep the coffee less than 12-15 hours. Fun fact: Starbucks steeps their cold brew coffee for 20 hours.
- Don’t steep for more than 24 hours. Balance is everything. Steeping it for more than 24 hours will make the coffee more bitter.
- Use filtered water. Tap water will alter the flavor of your coffee.
- Use coffee ice cubes. When the hot summer days peak, instead of diluting the coffee with regular ice cubes, make coffee ice cubes by freezing one batch of coffee.
Before You Go
Cold brew coffee is not the same as ice coffee, and the taste between these two coffee types varies significantly. Although some people might think cold brewing is inferior to regular brewing, we’ve discussed its advantages. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with alternative brewing methods and trying new flavors. Hopefully, our article will be useful on your cold-brewing journey and will help you make a nice cold brew that you’ll enjoy.
Once you’ve got the hang of this, check out our article on “how to make a cold brew coffee in a mason jar.” We also have many other interesting articles covering food and kitchen appliances, as well as delicious recipes that will go perfectly with a cup of coffee.