Wondering how to make the best cold brew coffee at home? Check out this simple recipe on making the best tasting iced coffee you’ve ever had! (Jump directly to the recipe.)
I remember the distinct moment when I made the decision. I gave up drinking the sugary sweet caramel soy Frappucino about two weeks into our epic cross-country road trip. I normally don’t drink coffee in general (mostly because of a two-year stint as a barista in my post-college years that traumatized me from the beverage for quite some time) but I had started up again because my normal go-to-bed-at-2am and wake-up-at-9am schedule wasn’t working out so well with our roadtrip. I need the caffeine to readjust to life on-the-road. But then, all of sudden I realized drinking a sugary caffeine laden drink and sitting in a car for 6 hours wasn’t a good match. My pants were feeling a little tight. This was not good. All the hiking I was planning on doing as we cross this grand country of ours was suppose to kickstart my WEIGHT LOSS not weight gain. When we pulled off the highway for our next coffee break, I ordered a plain iced coffee, a cold brew coffee in fact. Less calories, just as much caffeine. It was simple as that.
Once I got back from our road trip, it was hard to adjust. Certainly I drank less coffee at home, but every now and then I found myself getting a hankering for stuff. Drinking it any time after 2pm was a mistake for me (buzz buzz!) but whenever I walked by a decent coffee shop (something that is pretty much impossible NOT to do here in San Francisco, land of the excellent coffee shops) I found myself being mysteriously drawn to the counter and ordering an iced coffee. The problem was, no matter how great the San Francisco coffee shop with their artisanal, local, organic, free-range, gluten-free, cruelty-free, freshly roasted half-an-hour ago coffee beans that were picked by indigenous people on the farm in their far away country where they were paid a decent living wage above and beyond fair trade, sometimes the iced coffee was good, sometimes it was great and other times it was only OK. Some shops knew how to do it and others didn’t. That’s when I realized I need to learn how to make it at home.
Now you’d think it would be a pretty simple thing to do. Make some coffee and then just let it cool down. Pour it into a glass with ice and DONE. But you and I (and the coffee snobs of the world) know better. Iced coffee isn’t that simple. True cold brew ice coffee is worlds apart from the other stuff. If you just chill hot brewed coffee, the iced coffee gets bitter and astringent and needs tons of sugar and cream to make it drinkable. No sir, you need to learn how to cold brew coffee properly.
There have been plenty of places on the internet that talk about their recipe and method of making it, including using fancy equipment but as I started to experiment at home I landed on my favorite method for perfect iced coffee, a synthesis of a few different recipes around the web. And no, it doesn’t require anything more special than a plastic pitcher (or French press if you have it) and some time to let it sit. Now I can sip my iced coffee while buzzing around my apartment, content that my coffee is better than those I can get at the fancy shmancy coffee shop. Now if only I can figure out how to get back to gorgeous National Parks so I can go hiking without having to drive 10,000 miles. Then my life would truly be perfect.
Cold Brew Coffee Recipe
By Irvin Lin
Iced coffee is one of those things that seem easy and simple to make but people seem to botch it up (even the best of coffee shops). The secret to making smooth non-bitter iced coffee is to cold brew it, not pouring over ice regular hot brewed coffee that has been cooled. Hot brewing coffee not only brings out the beans flavors but also brings out some of the bitter and tannin compounds (something that becomes more apparent as the coffee cools). Cold brewing is much more subtle, allowing for the flavor to develop without the bitter and astringent compounds. Most recipes out there on the web tell you to brew the coffee with coarsely ground beans, but grinding the beans super fine helps release all those flavor compounds more. Throwing in a touch of fresh mint adds a very slight sweet herbal note that compliments the iced brewed coffee. Sprinkling in a touch (the slightest pinch) of sea salt rounds out the brew.
Finally something needs to be said about the water you use when brewing coffee (this advice applies to regular brewed coffee too). Everyone talks about how great coffee is if you buy fabulous beans (true) or if you use a burr grinder (also true) and grind immediately before you make your coffee (even more true). But if there’s ONE lesson I learned as a former barista that people DON’T talk about, it’s that the water you use to make the coffee makes a HUGE difference in the outcome. If your tap water tastes great (and I’m lucky that San Francisco has great tap water) than by all means, use it. But if it doesn’t taste that great, be sure to filter it or use spring water. After all a cup of coffee is just water that has been passed through ground coffee beans. Like all food and drinks, if you start out initially with great tasting ingredients, you’ll end up with a better end result. Trust me on this one. Use good water and you’ll be able to taste the difference in the end.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen and Slate
3 cups (about 12 oz) of medium roast coffee beans, freshly ground into fine powder (ground for an espresso machine)
3 cups room temperature filtered or spring water (see note above)
2 sprigs of fresh mint
Sugar, Cream and Sea Salt
1. Place the ground coffee, water and sprigs of mint in a pitcher or French press. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 24 hours. While it’s sitting, occasionally stir the coffee with a wooden spoon whenever you remember (I do it about 2-4 times throughout the day, depending on when I remember to or not, but I’ve also completely forgotten to do it and it’s not a big deal if you don’t).
2. If using a French press, press down on the filter to get as much of the solids out of the liquid as you can. Then pour the remaining liquid through a mesh sieve fitted with a paper coffee filter. Let the liquid strain through slowly (it’ll take awhile, maybe a half hour to an hour or so, stirring the grounds occasionally will encourage the liquid to pass through the paper). If you’re not using a French press, first pour the liquid and coffee grounds through a fine mesh sieve to strain out most of the liquid, then pour that remaining liquid through a paper coffee filter to strain out the rest.
3. Pour 1/4 cup of the concentrate in a glass full of ice. Add an additional 3/4 cup of water (less if you like it strong, more if you’re not a high octane type of person) and stir. Add sugar and cream if you want (though taste it, you might not even need the sugar or the cream – cold brewed coffee is smooth like a Solid Gold dancer). Adding a pinch of sea salt too (it’s adds a nice dimension to the iced coffee). Refrigerate the remaining coffee concentrate (I use a mason jar) for later use.
Makes 4-6 cups of iced coffee (depending on the strength).
Bonus: My partner AJ occasionally has leftover hot brewed coffee in the morning. Instead of just pouring it down the drain, I’ve taken to making ice cubes out of it and using it in my iced coffee. That way my iced coffee isn’t diluted with regular ice cubes. Any astringent bitterness from the frozen hot brewed coffee cubes when they melt is fairly subtle when diluted with the cold brewed coffee they are sitting in.
Belinda @zomppa says
I love the smell of coffee, but I still can’t handle the drink!!
Not sure if I did something wrong, but this was insane trying to actually do. It makes a coffee “sludge” that is impossible (for me anyway) to press the water out with a french press. So I tried to do it in a strainer and it took forever and I got less that half of the amount of water I started with.
I will not be attempting this one again.
Man I love coffee- some days it’s what gets me out of bed! I’m curious about your tip about adding a pinch of sea salt- I’d never think to do that. Will give it a try tomorrow morning!
alexandra @ sweet betweens [blog] says
mint + salt? you just changed my entire cold brewed coffee world for the better, Irvin! woke up in Nashville to the third cool [which is relative, obviously :)] morning in a row and was currently debating switching to hot coffee mornings. not anymore! gotta’ try this delicious concoction. thanks for sharing!
[email protected]. Food. Stories. says
When you figure out a way to teleport yourself to National Parks for hiking, would you let me know? (says the girl who lives very close to hiking trails but would rather be in Canyonlands)
And – mint in cold-brewed coffee! Genius!
Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says
I am all over this! Cold coffee is my fav – and the mint is awesome in here!
Arthur in the Garden! says
Coffee is a gift from the gods! I use it in brownies, cakes, everything…..
I LOVE using it to boost chocolate flavor! I’m a fan for sure!
Kathy - Panini Happy says
All right, totally trying this tonight. I don’t think I’ve ever tried cold brewed coffee but now you’ve got me WAY intrigued. I can’t wait for my Solid Gold smooth brew!! 🙂
Will @ Cold Brewed Co. says
Cold brew is the hottest thing in coffee right now, and for good reason. Glad to see you’ve taken a liking to the stuff. I haven’t tried with mint yet, but I plan to. Sea salt is an interesting innovation…will need to experiment as well.
– Cold Brewed Co.
I love good cold brewed coffee.. You are absolutely right about the water. It is key – as it is in good pasta. The fine commercial makers in Italy all use spring water , but that’s another story.
I have used a Toddy coffee maker for over thirty years, and it works beautifully. It is a cold brew method, a technique that extracts all the flavor and virtually none of the acid and harsh notes of coffee. I’m so glad you’ve discovered this for yourself. Enjoy!
I love my coffee. I think it’s an art to brew the perfect cup of coffee.
Will surely try your version, looks really good and sounds good.
Neil Smith says
Great post, I look forward to making some iced coffee (sooner than later)! Keep up the great writing and photography!
Neil, Durham, NC
Stefanie @ Sarcastic Cooking says
I am all about iced coffee, even in the wintertime. I just can’t do the hot stuff then buzz around and get stuff done without sweating my butt off! I had no idea all that went into the perfect cup. I can’t wait to make this!
I don’t like hot coffee at all but I do like it iced, I even drank it as a kid. I make it from the leftover coffee at work on afternoons (just a LITTLE bit of coffee to a LOT of ice & milk) but now I know why it’s always bitter, as opposed to what I can buy at a shop (I had wondered, thought maybe our coffee machines here are dirty). La boulange is my fav for a quick iced coffee, altho I admit I have not tried most of the trendy coffee shops we have here. maybe I should find some beans and cold brew and bring it to work to keep work fun at the end when I’m bored.
Frederick Colby says
My favorite has always been iced coffee… but since I had cardiac surgery my doc said no caffeine. My question is, does your recipe for making iced coffee work just as well with decaf? I use Starbuck’s House Blend ground decaf and have been making a pot of hot coffee and refrigerating it. Using a French Press sounds easier and would taste better. Your advice?
I look forward to making a great IceCoffee, that’s not bitter.
I wanted to tell you a hiking tip. If you love National Parks, the one closer to you is OlymnNational Park. One of the most beautiful. It is in Washington State. Not 10,0000 miles away. Love, love . That place.
I never actually thought that the water you use in cold brewing coffee matters and the combination of mint and salt, oh man! It just blew me and changed my whole perspective of cold brewed coffee.
Nice Method Irvin, I usually drink hot coffee but also love cold-brewed coffee. Yeah Its bit hard to become an expert in cold brew rather than hot one. Now I know Purity of water, ratio of water and ground coffee matter, I use medium roast beans and yeah instead of using simple ice cubes which dilute the coffee, it’s good to use coffee ice cubes. Wow so much relaxing, haha. Between have a look on some of my coffee machines selection here.
Thanks a lot for the recipe. My wife & I tried and followed it and it turned out to be absolutely brilliant!