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 coffee.
    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 fridge.
    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 jar.
    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 things.
  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.
    Cold brew coffee

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.


coffee, drinks


  • This is essentially Vietnamese Iced Coffee (ca phe sua da). Delicious!

  • Darren McKenna

    Some of the images are broken

  • Joe Sedlock

    Oh Irate One,
    He did mention the French Press method. Why so angry over Oliver’s fame?

  • Bob Everitt

    Cà phê sữa đá is made with hot water gravity filtered through coffee grounds into condensed milk, stirred and then poured over ice. Ideally, Vietnamese coffee grounds and a Vietnamese filter cup should be used to give an authentic Vietnamese Iced Coffee flavour. A differently prepared coffee mixed with condensed milk and poured over ice would likely be delicious, but it wouldn’t be a genuine cà phê sữa đá.

  • disqus_V9dmjrTxKA

    Made cold brew for the first time after reading this article (did like 3:8 ratio since I fear that family would like strong taste if it’s diluted in hot water). Tastes amazing! Thank you! 😀

  • WakeUp38

    Article Author: Merlin Jobst, not Jamie Oliver.

  • Don McMahan

    this whole cold coffee thing wasn’t working for me until I got to this comment… that is a great idea

  • Sheila Sullivan

    Maybe a Black Russian?

  • Mike Grillo

    Damn right it is!!!

  • Miki Schiavi

    I love coffee ice cubes into Amarula or Baileys 🙂
    Thanks for the cold brewing recipe Merlin, I will try it!!!


    Ah, but your 80C would defeat the purpose of this article with boiling being at 100C. This article is about the cold brew process and the unique flavor/taste that it produces. Although my preference is hot coffee but I could cold brew my coffee then I could nuke it the next day for breakfast.


    For hot brewed I had my chief cook instruct me that the bitters set in at the five minute threshold so I separate the grounds from the brew at four and a half minutes.

  • Niko

    What’s the difference between a white russiand and a black russian ?? …. About 5 inches.

  • Scott Dishman

    I bought a french press – following the advise of another blogger and have been steeping cold at 1:2 / coffee to water, then pressing it out – half cup coffee to 1.5 cups water and yielding 1 cup of concentrate. It still seems bitter. Will your method reduce the bitter taste? I’m trying to each the Nirvana of the first smooth / naturally sweet-ish cold coffee I first tried on vaca earlier this year.

  • AlertInMinneapolis

    The writings of a drama queen.

  • Lars Clausen

    If this method seems too complex, you can get a decent approximation using your normal grind, a French press, and leaving it overnight in the fridge. It will be a bit cloudy and probably not as amazing in flavor, but it’s a good simple way to get your coffee on hot days.

  • Jason Pratt

    Ok have a mason jar that’s 6 cups. So it’s 1:8 coffee to water.. should I figure 1 cup of coffee for 8 cups of water?

  • cerealously orly

    1:8 ratio seems off…Maybe I just like my coffee really strong?

  • Anroux Janse van Vuuren

    Hi Scott! I would like to know more about the progress that you made! Do contact me

  • godzillafeet

    Maybe you aren’t letting it steep for the full 24 hours? It should be pretty darn strong when done.

  • BigK

    Why do you need a lid to make this? Can you just use an old coffee pot for larger quantities than a french press?

  • BigK

    one cup coffee grinds: 8 cups water is how I read this. So that jar will be too small.

    Maybe 1/2 cup grinds: 4 cups water would do it in a 6 cup mason jar.

  • sazerac64

    I just made my first batch of cold brew, and it steeped for 24 hours. I just finished straining it, and I do find it a little weak in flavor. It is completely bitterness-free though and has a good flavor – just want more of it. Right now I’m making a batch at 1:4 to see how it goes for tomorrow.

  • godzillafeet

    I now let mine steep for 3 days! And it’s perfect and less bitter at the end than after 24 hours. It’s more like Gevalia the ‘concentrated’ coldbrew now (which is divine).

  • Sarah A

    it would be 3/4 cup coffee grounds to 6 cups water. (6/8 = 3/4)

  • hi,
    when added with milk, should it cold milk too?

  • sfarber53

    Chocolate Mocha Martini, anyone?

  • Dini Sekar Langit

    Indonesian coffee, too. If you go to Indonesia and ask for “kopi susu” (it basically means coffee + milk, you’ll be served coffee + condensed milk. Idk perhaps it’s a south east asian thing to serve milk for coffee in the form of sweet condensed milk.

  • RingDings

    OK.. I followed directions.. Is it best to wait 18 or 24 hours, if left in the fridge?

  • RingDings

    good idea! I will try some after 18 hours.. Then leave the rest to brew.

  • Thais and Vietnamese drink it that way

  • perfect 🙂

  • Claire Furbal

    A word of caution – I sterilised the jar in a low oven and let it cool a bit. I poured in the cold water, and heard a tiny crack noise. The jar broke, and coffee went everywhere. I’ve tried it a second time but with a plastic jug!

  • Jason Partridge

    If you haven’t figured it out by now, if you have a mason jar that can hold 6 cups, you want to use 2/3 cup of coffee to 5 1/3 cups of water. That will give you a total volume of just under 6 cups with a 1:8 coffee to water ratio.