How to make café-quality cold brew at home

Last Updated September 2020
By Sian Babish

Hotter temperatures mean it’s time to make the switch from hot to iced coffee. Pre-made and café-bought cold brew are expensive, but you can make it at home for much cheaper, without expensive specialty machines, and with surprisingly little effort (as long as you know what you’re doing).

Our team spoke with a barista from a high-end café who assured us that with the right ingredients and a little attention to detail, anyone can master the craft of cold brew.

Keep reading to see how easy it is to brew this cult-favorite warm-weather coffee beverage and save money on all those coffee shop runs.

Cold brew vs. iced coffee

Cold brew and iced coffee aren’t the same thing. Iced coffee is essentially hot coffee that has been chilled with ice cubes and cold ingredients, whereas cold brew coffee is made with only room-temperature water. In fact, hot water is never used during the cold brew process — hence the name.

Unlike iced coffee, which only takes as much time as brewing hot coffee and then pouring it over ice, cold brew isn’t exactly an instant drink. Rather, it takes between 12 and 14 hours to brew — which is why it’s important to plan ahead if you intend to drink it. You might also need to tweak the brew time to find your preferred strength and flavor.

If you have a sensitive stomach, cold brew is actually a better option than hot or iced coffee, as it’s much less acidic due to the difference in brew process.

How to make cold brew coffee at home

 

Ingredients

Step one

According to our expert’s recommendations, start with about half a cup of ground coffee per six cups of water. If you’re using whole beans, you’ll probably want to use around 50 percent more beans for cold brew than you would for hot brew.

You’ll get the most flavor out of freshly ground whole beans, so use them whenever possible. Grinding beans is an extra step, but the results are well worth the effort. However, if you are using pre-ground coffee beans, jump down to step three. 

Step two

Grind the coffee beans much coarser than you would for hot coffee. The barista with whom we spoke recommends using the coarsest or second coarsest setting on your coffee grinder. The finer you grind the beans, the stronger and more acidic the taste will be.

Step three

Add the ground beans to the basket of your cold brew maker and pour in the water. This must be room temperature water, as using hot or refrigerated water affects the brewing process. While you can simply use tap water, using filtered water dramatically improves the cold brew taste.

Step four

Let the cold brew sit for 12 to 14 hours, or overnight if you’d like to wake up to a fresh cup of cold brew coffee. While this window is the optimal brew time, you can tweak it to adjust the taste to your preference. Keep in mind that the longer you brew, the stronger the flavor will be.

Step five

After the brewing time is up, remove the coffee grounds to prevent over-steeping. Lastly, pour your fresh cold brew into a cup and enjoy! You can store the rest of the coffee in an airtight container in your refrigerator for about a week, though the flavor is definitely better when fresh.

How to drink cold brew coffee

  • As-is: Simply sip and go. 

  • Over ice: Enjoy a chilled beverage on the porch or in the back yard.

  • As a frappe: Blend it with crushed ice (and top it off with whipped cream).

  • With milk and sugar: Make it as sweet as you like with your favorite type of milk and sugar, honey, or maple syrup.

  • With creamer: Add a splash of cream to enjoy a hint of flavor.

  • With flavored syrup: Add a few pumps for sweetness and flavor.

  • With ice cream: Add a scoop to your mug with fudge or caramel for a dessert drink.

  • With protein powder: Blend it with ice and protein powder for a filling post-workout recovery.

 

Tips for homemade cold brew coffee

  1. If you don’t have a cold brew coffee maker, don’t fret. Our barista says you can simply double-bag ground coffee in large filters, close off with a rubber band, and let the coffee and water mixture sit overnight in a container on your counter. 

  2. If you’re using pre-ground coffee for cold brew, never freeze it, as this dries out the oils and produces stale-tasting coffee. Instead, it’s better to simply store it in an airtight container — and the same goes for whole coffee beans.

  3. If you prefer sugar alternatives, like coconut sugar or stevia, start with a little then add to taste. Cold brew reacts differently to these sugar-free sweeteners, so you’ll need to get used to balancing the recipe to find the right sweetness. 

  4. If you intend to make several servings of cold brew coffee, invest in an airtight pitcher for easy pouring. Make sure the pitcher fits easily inside the refrigerator, as some may be too tall or wide.

  5. If you’d like to recycle your grounds after brewing, use them to create a homemade exfoliator scrub. Simply mix the grounds with coconut oil or water to create an all-natural, antioxidant-rich formula. 

 

Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.