Cold-brew vs. iced coffee
Summer is around the corner, and it’s time again to enjoy cool and delightful summer drinks. Long Island Ice tea and Piña Colada are great refreshments on a sultry summer afternoon. However, if you still have work to do, you may opt for some caffeine instead of alcohol to boost your energy level. Will it be a cold brew coffee or iced coffee for you?
My preference is clear:
I am going for cold brew coffee. After tasting this exciting coffee variation for the first time, I was hooked and iced coffee is no longer an option. The smoothness and rich flavor of a great cold brew coffee had won me over.
If you have a sensitive stomach, suffer from GERD or acid reflux, you will appreciate cold brew coffee, too. Less acidity means that it is much easier on your digestive system. You can drink cold brew coffee even on an empty stomach without experiencing discomfort.
Why is Cold Brew Coffee so different from Iced Coffee?
The difference between these two variations of cold coffee results from their preparation.
Cold brew coffee is made by immersion in water for 12 to 24 hours. The water can be cold or at room temperature.
Iced coffee starts as hot coffee and is cooled down either by pouring it over ice or by letting it cool down over time.
The different extraction process will produce an entirely different flavor profile:
Since there is no heat involved in making cold brew, fewer components responsible for bitterness and acidity will end up in your cup. Instead, you can enjoy a full-bodied and smooth coffee with natural sweetness.
Melting ice will dilute your coffee. To compensate for the dilution, you have to start with a fairly strong hot coffee. Iced coffee, therefore, tends to be somewhat acidic and rough, maybe even bitter. Letting it cool down without ice solves the dilution problem, but you end up with something smelling like leftover coffee. Great for staining wood, but do you want to drink it?
From cold brew to coffee concentrate
You may have come across the term “coffee concentrate”. Coffee concentrate is nothing else than a cold brew coffee with a higher ratio of coffee grounds to water and a longer time to brew. For hot brewed coffee, the standard ratio is 1:16. For a cold brew concentrate coffee, the ratio could be 1:4 or even 1:2 without the risk of producing an unpleasant, bitter liquid you would spit out right away. Instead, you get a very balanced and rich concentrate you can dilute to your preferred strength without losing flavor.
Where can you get cold brew coffee?
Most of the big coffee chains offer cold brew coffee, at least in the warmer season. But usually, it comes with a hefty price tag. They justify it with the higher coffee to water ratio and additional labor cost.
Another option is to buy ready-made canned or bottled cold brew coffee from retail shops. You can choose between different levels of concentration, sweetened or unsweetened, or various serving sizes.
There are even pods available where you only need to add water. You can also find a broad selection including single-serve capsules at amazon. Here are great choices:
How to make cold brew coffee at home
The cheapest option for cold brew coffee is to make it yourself at home. It is much easier than to brew a decent pour-over coffee. You only have to wait longer until your brew is ready. But the coffee brews by itself and does not need your attention. By varying the grind size and the length of the brew time, you can adjust the flavor profile of your brew to match your preference perfectly.
Your job is to grind your coffee beans, add water, and then you can leave it alone for many hours. You can produce multiple servings of cold java in one brewing cycle, covering your needs of a whole week or more ahead. You can keep your cold brew for up to two weeks in the fridge without losing taste or flavor.
Try it out; you don’t even need any fancy equipment to start with. All you need is
- coarsely ground coffee
- filtered water
- a container for brewing
- a filter.
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Most of these items are already present in every household. As a brewing container, you can use a mason jar. Even an empty pet bottle that did not contain any smelly or flavored liquid will do.
It is important that you can close the container airtight.
Otherwise, your cold brew could pick up unwanted flavors from the fridge. In addition, it will oxidize and become stale. That’s why I would not recommend to use a French Press for making cold brew.
- Put coarsely ground coffee in the container
- add water (room temperature or cold)
- make sure the coffee grounds are well soaked
- put the container in the fridge or leave it on the counter
- after 12 to 24 hours, your cold brew is ready
- filter it into another container for immediate use, or keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks.
The ratio of coffee to water and the length of brewing determine the strength of your brew. For your first trial, start with a ratio of 1 ounce of coffee grounds to 8 ounces of water. This should produce a pleasant brew not needing dilution.
As a test, I filled a 500ml PET-bottle with 400ml fresh water, and added 25g of a medium ground generic Colombian coffee. That’s a ratio of 1:16, which you would typically use for a regular pour-over coffee.
After 24 hours in the fridge, I had a pleasantly light, and flavorful summer drink with natural sweetness. No need to add sugar. But yes, it was a bit on the light side and I should have used a bit more coffee.
Don’t be afraid to experiment to find the ratio matching your taste preference.
How to make coffee concentrate at home
Going from cold brew to coffee concentrate is a no-brainer. The procedure is the same as making a regular cold brew, except for the ratio of coffee to water.
By doubling or tripling the amount of coffee, the result will be a coffee concentrate. You can dilute it with cold or hot water to your preferred strength. Instead of or in addition to water, you can also use cream, milk, or soy.
You can also use the syrupy concentrate as an ingredient in alcohol-based cocktails, like a coffee martini. Or you can pour it over vanilla ice cream for a kick-ass dessert.
Making cold brew coffee at home with the right gear
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, you can make your cold brew with the most simple items already present in your kitchen with no additional investment.
Once you get hooked on cold-brewing your coffee, you may want to consider getting some dedicated brewer. The process will be even simpler and cleaner. The available gear also looks more stylish, and you can serve cold brew directly to family and guests. And best of all, these brewers are not expensive at all.
One of the first brewers on the market was the Toddy Cold Brew System. Starbucks is using the same system, but obviously in a different size. It is reliable and produces a consistent great cold brew. However, I find the handling a bit messy. The brewing apparatus does not fit into my fridge and has to sit on the counter while brewing. It requires a felt filter which has to be replaced after 10 to 12 uses, as well as a silicone stopper, also needing occasional replacement.
My favorite cold brew coffee maker
I really like the US-made Takeya Deluxe Cold Brew Coffee Maker. It fits in my refrigerator door without problems. This is important for me since I do not want my cold brew to sit for 24 hours on the counter during the hot and humid summer. Although the risk may be very small, I am a bit concerned about food poisoning.
The handling and cleaning is very easy and there is no need to buy replacement filters which I would always run out of at the most inconvenient of times.
The brewer yields about 1 quart (1 liter) of delicious cold brew coffee.
Another great cold brew coffee maker
Here is another great choice: A great looking pitcher made by the famous Japanese maker of coffee gear HARIO. Handling and cleaning is very simple as well. It holds one quart (one liter or 8 cups) of cold brew. The integrated filter is a fine metal mesh, similar to the HARIO Double Mesh Metal Dripper I am using for the perfect pour-over coffee.