cold coffee

Cold coffee has long been associated with huge coffee chains, vats of whipped cream, sweet artificial syrups and other such miseries. This summer, however, New York City introduced me to cold-brew coffee – a very different, far more refined creature that made me realise the magic of cold coffee, just in time for a warm English summer.

We have it easy here; the crowds and sweat of New York City in the height of summer are no joke. It’s dangerously hot – so much so that long, cold coffee is not so much a component of daily summer routine for New Yorkers as it is a tool for survival.

As it happens, though, my first experience of cold coffee in America was a simple iced coffee – standard filter coffee poured over ice – from a bodega in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was cheap (a dollar, in fact) and over-bitter, and as I dragged myself through the blistering heat, sipping slowly and grimacing, I cursed it and all those who’d gotten my hopes up about this drink.

The next day, however, I was taken to a nearby café for a breakfast bagel and a “proper” cold coffee. I ordered a warm bagel stuffed with cream cheese and tomatoes and dripping with hot sauce (seriously, man, that bagel) and a black cold-brew coffee, which was served in the same manner as the previous day’s disappointment: over ice in a clear plastic cup, with the end of the paper wrapper covering the protruding end of the straw (as is the style). I sipped, and gasped – it was subtly sweet, rich in flavour but not overwhelming, ice-cold but far from watery, utterly refreshing, and somehow had everything I love about coffee whilst absolutely unlike anything I’d ever tasted.

A chat with the team running the café revealed that cold-brewed coffee is ground coffee steeped in cold water and strained, and iced coffee is generally brewed hot and poured over ice. Elementary.

The difference in flavour between the two methods is immense. Iced coffee is a very fast process, but has to be brewed to be stronger than standard coffee to make up for the severe dilution caused by the ice. This method tends to make for a more bitter drink, because of the intense and rapid extraction of flavour from the beans by the hot water. Cold brew, on the other hand, takes a formidable 18—24 hours. However, the far gentler infusion process produces a drink of lower acidity, which is why cold brew coffee is naturally sweeter. It can also be served over ice without such extreme dilution because it’s already cold. For these reasons, cold brewing is generally regarded as the better method for producing cold coffee.

There are a couple of home-methods for this, and they are all variants of a basic formula: cold water, coarse coffee grounds, and an overnight brew. Changing a variable will produce slightly different results, from a longer brew or stronger coffee-to-water ratio producing a stronger cup, and a finer grind producing a cloudier drink.

There are things you can buy designed for the cold-brew process, such as the monstrous Yama Drip Tower – something you may have seen act as the centrepiece in trendy cafes. Intricate inventions like this, while absolutely delightful to look at in a very Wallace-and-Gromit way, are completely unnecessary for home-brewing (unless you really do have a glut of cash and space). A far more practical tool is the highly regarded Toddy system – the Volvo of cold-brew methods. Like its hot-brew cousin, the AeroPress, the Toddy is ugly as sin, affordable, remarkably simple in process and produces a consistently superb cup of coffee. You can even brew cold in a cafetière (or French press, to our American friends) by following the guide below and simply pressing down with the plunger after the brew is finished – the only negatives being how much you can make at one time and the effectiveness of the steel filter.

That said, you actually needn’t buy anything to brew cold coffee at home, as you probably have everything for a DIY version already: all you really need is a big jar, a big bowl, a sieve, and either a sheet of muslin or a roll of paper towel.

How to cold-brew coffee at home

  1. Set your grinder to its most coarse setting, and check a little of its output before doing the full grind – you are looking for roughly the same consistency as breadcrumbs. Any finer and you risk cloudy, grimy-tasting to cold brew coffee
  2. Sterilise a large mason jar (or any large receptacle with a lid). Working to roughly a 1:8 coffee-to-water ratio, place your grounds in the bottom of the jar, and cover with cold to cold brew coffee
  3. Stir gently until well combined, then cover and leave to steep for 18-24 hours, either in or out of the to cold brew coffee
  4. When brewed, strain into a large bowl through a sieve to remove the larger grounds. Discard these (ideally into compost), and then, tucking either your muslin or a few sheets of paper towel into the cleaned sieve, strain back into the to cold brew coffee
  5. Repeat two or three times, until you are seeing no murky residue at the bottom as you finish your pour. If you cannot seem to sift it all out, don’t worry – it simply means your grind was too fine. Practice makes perfect with these to cold brew coffee
  6. Serve over ice, with milk and sugar, if that’s your thing. Cover and refrigerate the rest – the wonderful thing about this stuff is that, if stored properly, it will stay good for a month or so due to the brew’s low acidity.

Brew your cold-brew strong enough and you can even mix it with boiling water and serve it hot. This is a really special way of doing things – the gentle, sweet flavours survive being combined with hot water because there aren’t any grounds left in the mix.


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  • fridaydan

    It’s worth siphoning off some of that chilled coffee to make ice cubes – no watery coffee

    • Merlin Jobst

      Wow, ace idea. Wonder if they could then be incorporated into a cocktail of some kind..?

      • петя спасова

        this is great merlin never knewed how to cold brew the coffee,its a brilliant idea for summer by the way…

  • James MacIndoe

    And if you do want to sweeten the deal, a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water heated and dissolved) takes about 10 minutes to make. Add a little vanilla extract as it cools and you’ve got yourself a nice slightly sweet cold brew.

  • Elena Esteve

    Hi! Try adding a cinnamon stick and some lemon peelings to it … it’s just yummy! 😛

    • Merlin Jobst

      Really interesting idea! I wonder if using cardamom pods in the cold water would work, too?

      • Robin Laulainen

        Yes it would! Although you might find that ground cardamom works better…just grind it in your coffee grinder to very coarse bits.

    • Robin Laulainen

      I usually add cinnamon and ancho chili powder for more of a Mexican flavor…I love my cold-press coffee in the summer!

  • Eats PEI

    Great article, thanks for sharing! Looking forward to trying my first Cold Brew. ~Jen

    • Merlin Jobst

      Thanks Jen, let me know how it goes!

  • Suzy Myers

    Great article and suggestions. I am brewing up a batch now and making the simple syrup and ice cubes too.

  • Giacomo Pfeiffer

    while resting in the fridge it’s also really nice to add some cardamom seeds to the brew! it gives a really nice taste 😉

  • passthefood

    It’s my favourite way of brewing coffee during summer. Ex aequo with “ice brew”, when coffee flows from the dripper directly on ice cubes 😉 You should try this one too.

  • Beckie Long

    where did u get this jar with clamp? i love this design! i want that for my cold brew coffee! :)

    • Gareff Freshco

      You can buy these super cheap from IKEA. We have loads of these full of pasta at our house.

    • pedro

      hey are called kilner jars

  • Samuel F McMahon

    Easier than straining through muslin, simply use a standard cafetiere (y)

  • Tiina Rajasalo

    Try adding 3-4 sprigs of mint. It doesn’t give the coffee a huge mint hit, instead it freshens it up. I also might throw in a cinnamon stick or a little ground vanilla.

  • Harley Butcher

    Even better, use some citrus fruits to make some zingy Ice cubes. Orange goes really well with coffees from Ethiopia or Africa.. generalising a bit but they are rather tasty.

  • Kat

    Why not just use an actual coffee filter to filter the coffee?

  • Sabrina Jayne Hamilton

    Instead of milk and sugar, add a tbsp or two of sweetened condensed milk – you can thank me later. Best iced coffee. Ever.

  • John Singleton

    so, if you have a drip coffee maker, mine’s a Capresso with #4 cone filters, LEAVE IT TURNED OFF, add a filter and pour the contents into the filter where the hot water would normally go! voila, filtered coffee, compost the filter and grounds as per. Coffee’s ready in carafe.

  • SharonLee

    This works great! Our coffeemaker came with “permanent” filters (so we don’t have to buy/use paper ones) and one of those worked great — just poured right through and it caught everything! And this coffee was definitely much smoother than our brewed-coffee leftovers that turn into cold drinks. Thank you!

  • Enerjoule

    A little known secret to make tea and coffee even better is available by contacting eat4freecard

  • Dominik Burcin

    Hello Merlin, did you know that in Czech Republic they actually do this drafted from a barrel like a beer? It was first publicly shown at the Coffee Fest in Prague this summer and it was a great hit.

  • pedro

    As usual from a celeb chef, an unnecessarily elaborate method. Just take your usual french plunger, add ground coffee and cold water, do a half plunge to get the stuff mixed, returning the plunger to the top, leave over night, drink for breakfast. No fuss no muss. I warm mine in the nuke for 45 seconds. Tastes great.