Now that summer's heat is upon us, few things taste quite as refreshing as cold-brew coffee. But it can be an expensive treat compared with iced coffee, which is simply strong coffee poured over ice. It's the addition of lots of ice that irritates some coffee shop customers, who assume it means less coffee in the glass or cup. If you're among them, here's what you need to know about how cold brew differs from regular coffee, and how you can save even more by brewing it at home.
There are two main differences between cold brew and regular brew. First, cold brew uses a greater coffee-to-water ratio. Second, because there is no heat in the process, cold brew contains more caffeine and less acidity, two chemicals that are changed by the hot water extraction method of brewing. The result is a slightly different flavor profile, with cold brew tasting bolder and providing more of a pick-me-up. The increased bean-to-water ratio also explains the higher cost: More coffee in each cup makes it more expensive to make.
Grinding beans fresh is recommended regardless how coffee is brewed. Freshly ground beans yield bolder flavor that is more easily extracted, resulting in a powerful cup of joe using slightly less coffee -- and that's a savings (although it takes a while to make up the cost of a grinder if you don't have one already).
When cold brewing, it’s key to grind the beans coarsely, rather than use a fine grain like you would for hot coffee. Using finely ground beans produces a cloudy cold brew at the end of the process. When buying pre-ground coffee, look for a coarser grind.
It takes more coffee to get a strong final cup because cold-water infusion is less efficient than using hot water. In general, cold brew requires a quarter cup of ground coffee per whole cup of water, which is about a third more than regular brew. When brewing at home, this shouldn't cost too much more than the normal routine in the end. Moreover, while leftover hot coffee may get thrown out, unused cold-brew coffee can simply be enjoyed later.
A long soak is needed for ground coffee to infuse cold water, unlike the short brewing time when using hot water. Cold-brew coffee needs to sit for at least 12 hours, which requires starting the night before to ensure the batch will be ready in time for breakfast.
When it comes time to filter, don’t just strain the coffee grounds out of the coffee -- press them to fully extract the flavor. Much of the flavor resides deep in the grounds, so pressing them is the best way to ensure a flavorful brew.
A fine-mesh strainer is sufficient for filtering and pressing the grounds. But the best option is cheesecloth, which can double as a cover for the infusion container. To strain, pour the coffee through the cheesecloth into a new container. Then wrap the cheesecloth around the grounds, make a ball, and twist to squeeze out the moisture -- much easier and much less messy.
A simple way to make a small batch of cold brew is to use a French press. This method requires more coarsely ground coffee and more steeping time, but it eliminates some of the mess and the need for a strainer or cheesecloth.
Those who are unsure about ratios or prefer pre-measured ingredients can use cold-brew pods. They are more expensive than freshly ground beans but still a lot cheaper than buying cold brew by the cup from coffee shops. For consumers who decide to go with this option, buying in bulk is a good way to save.
Those who can’t be bothered with making their own cold brew can still save by purchasing cold brew concentrate, which is simply mixed with cold water and allows control over the strength of each cup. Although this is more expensive than making your own -- even from pods -- it’s still less than buying coffee from expensive cafés.
If the slightly more time-consuming, laborious process of cold brewing is simply not for you, place regular-brewed coffee in the fridge for a few hours or overnight until cold. If planning to add ice, make the brew stronger by adding more grounds than normal to the brewing basket in a traditional coffee maker. This method is easy and a lot cheaper than paying up to $4 for iced coffee.