The Ultimate Guide to Cold Brew Coffee


The world needs to just chill. We’re here to help in our own way — by celebrating all things cold brew coffee. In this ultimate guide to cold brew, we’re going to cover what is cold brew coffee, why it’s so awesome, and how it can change your life for the chaotic good. We’re going to show you how to make your own cold brew and how to make 15 different crazy cold brew recipes, and we’ll look at some fun facts, like why having coffee brewed without heat might be good for you as well as delicious.

(Oh, and we’ve also brewed our own Death Wish Coffee Cold Brew. We should probably mention that, too. It’s pretty cool.)

The Basics: What Is Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brew coffee is coffee brewed by steeping coffee grounds in cold or room-temperature water for an extended period of time. The result is cold coffee that’s a bit chemically different from ordinary hot coffee, with a totally different flavor profile. Those asking “What’s a cold brew?” may also be wondering how this is done. The truth is that you don’t need any special equipment besides a glass jar and a quality filter. And you need patience — lots and lots of patience.

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee vs. Hot Brew vs. Espresso

Embed code:

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

What is the difference between cold brew and iced coffee? Simply put, the difference between iced coffee and cold brew is that iced coffee is brewed hot and then cooled down, while cold brew is brewed with cold water. The result is a less diluted cool coffee with a different flavor profile.

  • Flavor: How is cold brew different from iced coffee flavor-wise? Iced coffee often has the same bitterness and acidity as hot coffee, often resulting in people adding more sugar and cream to their refreshing concoctions. On the other hand, the smooth, nutty silkiness of cold brew lends itself to a calmer blend. It’s great for people who want a more stomach-friendly summer drink choice than iced coffee. Cold brew differences in flavor depend a lot on how long you brew, your ratios, and what you put in your drinks, but the general consensus is that cold brew is nuttier and far less sharp and bitter than iced.

  • Caffeine: The main difference here is that your run-of-the-mill iced coffee often gets fairly diluted as the ice melts, so it ends up having less caffeine than cold brew on an ounce-for-ounce basis.

Cold Brew vs. Hot Brew Coffee

What’s the difference between cold brew and hot brew coffee? Like their names say, hot coffee is brewed with heat, and cold brew is brewed cold over a longer period of time, ending up with an intensely different flavor profile as a result of avoiding the effects of heat on the coffee’s chemistry. Oils, sugars, and chemicals collectively called “solubles” in the beans are extracted differently.

  • Flavor: There are a lot of arguments for cold brew coffee vs. hot coffee and vice versa. Hot coffee tends to be more acidic and bitter. A cold brew coffee is typically sweeter and less acidic and has more muted, smoothed-out flavors. Some argue that there’s less of a full-bodied flavor in cold brew vs. hot coffee, but often, you’ll end up with less front-of-the-tongue, vinegar-like sharpness.

  • Caffeine: We’ve seen a lot of debate on the cold brew vs. hot brew caffeine argument, with some emphatically denying that there is more of the go-go juice in cold brew and others promising it will give you a better, longer buzz. By and large, however, the levels tend to be about the same, though it depends on the exact brewing process of either.

Cold Brew vs. Espresso

Why would you chose cold brew coffee vs. espresso? The most obvious reason is that many people don’t have an espresso machine lying around at home, whereas cold brews are pretty easy to throw together (see below). On the other hand, because espresso shots are made with heat and pressure (like the perfect diamonds of morning they are), the flavor is quite different than a cold brew, which extracts oils and sugars in cold water over time.

  • Flavor: Thick, bitter, powerful, full-bodied espressos can be smooth, but a sweet, simple cold brew offers a far, far less acidic option. Both are pleasantly nutty, like your cool aunt.

  • Caffeine: There’s more caffeine in an espresso vs. cold brew on an ounce-for-ounce basis; you’re getting more bang for your buck, typically. On the other hand, you’re probably only going to drink a shot or two of espresso, often resulting in less caffeine overall. If you take portions into account, there may be more cold brew caffeine vs. espresso drinks that cut only a few ounces of espresso with mostly milk or water (like an Americano or a flat white). A shot of espresso will likely have about 80 mg of caffeine; a can of our cold brew has 300 mg.

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee at Home

How do you make cold brew coffee at home, and what’s the best recipe for making DIY cold brew coffee? Well, for starters, it’s definitely not using leftover coffee and putting it in the refrigerator. (What is this mythical “leftover coffee,” anyway? We’re not sure there is such thing.) If you’re looking to up your chilled coffee game with a stronger taste, cold brew is the answer. You don’t have to go to your local coffee shop to get a good-tasting cold brew, either — here’s how to cold brew coffee at home.

The Best Cold Brew Coffee Recipe to Make at Home

This is a ridiculously simple homemade cold brew recipe that only has a few steps.

Ingredients

  • Coffee

  • Mason jar

  • Coffee filter

  • Ice

Directions

  1. Grind the coffee. Grind fresh coffee coarse (about 6 seconds in your grinder). Coarse coffee will make it taste the absolute best. Pre-ground coffee is too fine for this method.

  2. Fill your jar (or any container) about a fourth to a third of the way with coffee. The best thing about cold brew is that it’s forgiving. Eyeball it; you’re a risk-taker. You’ve got this. (Scaredy-cats, don’t worry: We’re gonna talk more about finding the perfect coffee/water ratio later!)

  3. Add water. Fresh, filtered water below 40 degrees should be used. Fill up the rest of the container. The less water you use, the stronger it will be.

  4. Shake it up. Make sure the grounds are fully mixed with the water.

  5. Let it steep for 24 hours. Now, we wait. Shake it every once in a while to prevent separation.

  6. Filter out the coffee. Using a coffee filter, pour your cold brew into a mug or glass. A regular coffee filter will work, but a Chemex filter is best if you have it.

  7. Enjoy! (Yes, DIY cold brewing is really that simple.)

Tips

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

Because chilled-out brewin’ takes such a long time — at least overnight — many people like to do the shortcut of making cold brew concentrate, so they can make a big batch at once and then dilute it with milk or water to make multiple servings. Follow along and we’ll show you how to make cold brew concentrate, too.

What Is Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate?

It’s essentially cold brew but more intense. The coffee/water ratio is different than regular cold brew, packing a stronger punch.

The Best Cold Brew Concentrate Recipe

If you’re experiencing déjà vu, don’t worry. The cold brew coffee concentrate recipe is not very different at all from our normal cold brew recipe!

Ingredients

  • Coffee

  • A 40-ounce or larger container with an airtight lid

  • Coffee filter

  • Ice

Directions

  1. Grind coffee coarsely. Get good-quality beans and grind them coarsely (about 1-2 cups, but we’ll get to ratios in the next section).

  2. Add fresh, filtered water. Add about four cups of fresh water.

  3. Shake it up. Make sure the grounds are fully mixed with the water.

  4. Let it steep. Let the combination sit for a full 24 hours in your refrigerator.

  5. Strain out the coffee. The easiest way to do this, depending on what you have lying around, may be to place a filter over a jar or bottle and run the concentrate through it to separate the grounds.

  6. Sip or add to your favorite drink. Pour ½ cup of the concentrate and ½ cup of water over a glass of coffee ice cubes. You could also cut it with cream or milk or use this concentrate for a bunch of other things — check out our recipe ideas. 

Finding the Perfect Cold Brew Coffee Ratio

We talked a little bit in both recipes about how to chose how much coffee to use. It’s a lot more wishy-washy than one might think, and very much depends on your individual preference. How strong would you like your cold brew? Measurements for cold brews tend to use a lot more coffee than for hot drip brews — often twice as much. Caffeine fans, don’t be surprised if 1:3 ends up being your preferred coffee/water ratio!

Cold Brew Coffee-to-Water Ratios

  • 1:8 ratio — This is acceptable for human consumption. This is a better ratio if you don’t want it too strong or if you’re doing the French press method of cold brewing. (This works out to be about one pound of coffee to one gallon of water for big batches.)

  • 1:5 ratio — Reverse the polarity of the caffeine flow. Possibly this is the best cold brew ratio for those hoping to immediately drink it straight rather than making a concentrate.

  • 1:4 ratio — We’re giving it all she’s got, captain. This is a bit strong to drink and a bit weak to use as a cold brew concentrate ratio, unless you like it less strong.

  • 1:3 ratio — My, you are a bold one. This is probably the perfect cold brew coffee concentrate ratio, unless you like to drink coffee that’s very, very bold, which we assume you do.

  • 1:1 ratio — You’re not human, are you? While you do certainly need more coffee grounds than with drip coffee for cold brew, proportions like a 1:1 ratio will probably not be as effective as you think. Usually, when you see a 1:1 ratio referred to in a cold brew coffee recipe, ratios are being used to describe how to cut your already-brewed concentrate with water or milk. Consider a 1:3 or even a 1:2 ratio for a really powerful concentrate.

Other Cold Brew Methods and Tips

If there’s one thing about people who love coffee, it’s that we love to perfect a process and make it an art form. We should probably mention, then, that there are multiple methods for cold brewing.

  • Immersion Method: What we’re describing in our recipes is the immersion method for making cold brew. Basically, coffee is immersed in water for a long time — that’s it. We like it because it’s super-simple; you only need a jar and a filter.

  • French Press Method: Another legit option is to use a French press. Cold brew coffee French-pressed is basically the same as the immersion method, only you’re using a fancier brewing contraption. It requires less time (about 12-15 hours), and people like to use a lighter 1:5 or 1:8 ratio for cold press coffee. Those learning how to make cold press coffee might want to consider reading the notes that came with the French press for more guidance.

  • Cold Drip Method: Don’t mind more work if it means a quicker cold brew coffee? Drip vs. immersion is a trade-off of time vs. attention. It only takes three to five hours to make cold brew with the drip method, but it requires semi-constant supervision.

The Best Cold Brew Coffee Recipes

Now that you’re done making it, you’re likely wondering what to add to cold brew coffee. You can make flavored cold brew coffee pretty easily; coconut, mocha, caramel, and vanilla cold brew recipes are all crowd favorites. But cold brew recipes can get really crazy and awesome; consider making a float for dessert, having a cold brew coffee cocktail on a fun evening, or whipping up a cold brew smoothie for breakfast. Here are some great recipes for making DIY cold brew lattes, cocktails, and more!

Chill Out With 15 Cold Brew Recipes

Embed code:

Delicious Cold Brew Flavors to Try

Unique Recipes: For Ballers Only

Cold Brew Protein Shakes

Cold Brew Cocktails

Looking for more? Don’t worry; we’ve got plenty more coffee cocktail recipes and a hefty list of cold coffee drinks to check out, too. Just swap the hot coffee portion for cold brew!

FAQs About Cold Brew

Why cold brew coffee versus brewing it normally?

Cold brew isn’t a sexy fad. (Or at least, it isn’t just a sexy fad.) There are many cold brew coffee benefits, but here are some of the highlights:

  • There’s less acidity in cold brew. Some estimate that there’s around 60% less acid in cold brew versus a regular cup of joe.

  • It has a smooth flavor. As a result of the acid and other chemical differences, you get less of that sharp, almost vinegar-like taste and end up with something very creamy and calming.

  • It stays good for longer. Leftover hot coffee goes bad after a few days, but cold brew stays good for up to a week.

  • It’s strong. Plenty of caffeine is in each cup.

  • It’s versatile. You can use it for all kinds of recipes, especially sweet ones.

  • It’s refreshing without being watery. No drowning in ice cubes for you, beloved coffee!

Is cold brew coffee better for you?

If you have a digestive sensitivity (often as a result of an illness like IBS or acid reflux), the lower amounts of acid in cold brew can be a much better choice than hot. (Still, of course talk to your doctor!) Cold brewing doesn’t seem to have an effect on other factors like antioxidants or cholesterol.

On the other hand, though, remember that cold brewing affects flavor. If you find yourself adding packets of sugar and globs of cream to your iced coffee to make it taste better, you may find yourself adding less to cold brew because of its natural sweetness and smoothness. Cutting back on sugar and dairy like that can definitely affect your cholesterol and other factors. Those are the top cold brew health benefits.

Does cold brew have more caffeine than iced coffee or hot coffee?

Is cold brew stronger? As with anything in life, it depends. On average, the caffeine levels tend to be about the same for hot coffee (27 mg per fluid ounce) compared to cold brew (26 mg per fluid ounce). Iced coffee, on the other hand, often suffers from dilution, though some like to make an extra-strong cup before icing it. Cold brew coffee caffeine content all comes down to your ratio; if you’re drinking a 1:3 concentrate without cutting it, it can have a lot more caffeine than a watered-down iced coffee. There may be more or less caffeine per cup depending on your personal brewing process.

Is cold brew coffee less acidic?

In a study, cold brew had a pH of 6.31 and hot brew had a pH of 5.48 (with the higher number meaning it has less acid). So yes, cold brew is less acidic.

Why is cold brew less acidic? Remember that we’re chemically using an entirely different process when we cold brew coffee. Less acidic cups of coffee happen because cold water pulls out less of the acid in coffee than hot water does. That’s pretty exciting if you’re supposed to be having less acid, and cold brew is arguably healthier for that reason.

How long does cold brew last in the fridge?

How long is cold brew good for? We recommended only keeping your DIY cold brew in the refrigerator for up to a week. The best method for how to store cold brew is to keep it in a covered pitcher in the fridge. The general consensus is to consume it within a week, as that’s how long the flavor of cold brew coffee lasts — no matter whether it’s bottled or in a covered pitcher. After that week of storing, cold brew coffee will turn stale and you won’t want to drink it. So after a week, throw it out (rest in peace). Don’t worry: With how good it is, it likely won’t last that long anyway!

If you’re a risk-taker, you might be doubting us: “Does cold brew coffee go bad, really?” Yes, in a sense, cold brew does go bad. After more than a week, it will begin to attract mold and bacteria, unless you have a completely sterile setup. We don’t condone any weird cold brew kombucha experiments.

But there’s another thing about cold brew coffee storage to keep in mind: the temperature. Do NOT store homemade cold brew at room temperature! We cannot stress enough how important it is to keep it refrigerated in a covered pitcher. Also, make sure you brew with fresh coffee grounds. Coffee grounds stay fresher longer than brewed coffee (a few months, typically), but doing a cold brew always has better results with fresh, course grounds.

If you make a nice big batch of concentrate with fresh grounds on Monday, you can keep it in the fridge in a covered pitcher and then keep cutting it with milk or water until about Friday. Toss the rest by Saturday. This is kind of the ideal cold brew storage situation for DIY batches.

But if you’re nervous about doing cold brew yourself or just don’t have the time, remember that you can always buy it! Manufactured cold brews like our cans stay good unopened for much longer.

Where can I buy the strongest cold brew coffee?

If you’re wondering where to buy cold brew coffee, then my, do we have a pleasant surprise in store: Death Wish Cold Brew is now available! We’ve got three all-natural options: Unsweetened Black (for our hardcore fans looking for that uniquely “Death Wish” nutty flavor), Slightly Sweet (ideal for the back of your kayak as you explore the Adirondacks), and Cream and Sugar Latte (for when you want to maximize the potential of your chill-out session on the porch), which is on its way.

For those looking for a highly caffeinated cold brew, there’s 300 mg of caffeine packed in an 8-ounce can of Death Wish Coffee Cold Brew. Highest-caffeine energy drinks hover around 110 mg. Our high-caffeine coffee cold brew is about as strong as three of your average energy drinks! (No, we don’t mess around.)

Our Unsweetened Black and Slightly Sweet flavors are also USDA organic-certified, gluten-free, vegan, and made with all-natural ingredients. Check it out and try the taste — we’re confident you’ll love these bold flavors!