Coffee is a big subject. Much like wine, there are layers to coffee. From the bean to the brew, this daily staple is much more complex than that office coffee pot would lead you to believe. Of course, also like wine, you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy a great cup of coffee, but that doesn’t mean you can’t perfect your ideal cup!
When the summer rolls around, many of look for our caffeine fix on the rocks. Cold coffee is nothing new, and thanks to Starbucks and the plethora of local alternatives (oh, hey Apple Pie Bakery and Café!), you can order your coffee exactly how you like it, anywhere, anytime. But when it comes to the cold stuff, have you stopped to consider the difference between iced coffee and cold brew?
The distinction is simple: iced coffee is hot-brewed coffee served over ice. Cold brew coffee is coffee that has never been heated, but instead steeps in room temperature water for 12 to 24 hours.
The results are as different as the processes, and if until now you’ve been ordering iced coffee without ever considering that you might be a cold brew kinda guy, keep reading.
Cold brew coffee is smoother and less bitter than heat-brewed iced coffee, meaning you can enjoy more of the complexities of the coffee bean. Whether vanilla, caramel, or chocolate-toned, the flavors of coffee can be layered and, yes, even exciting! When you remove some of that acidity and bitterness, those flavors shine. You may even find that you reach for less of your go-to cream or sugar additions.
What’s even better is how simple cold brew is to make at home. All you need is water and ground coffee beans.
Cold brew is often prepared as a concentrate, meaning it is brewed extra strong and then diluted with water for serving. You can dilute a single cup of coffee to your preference, and others can do the same.
The ratio of water to coffee varies depending on your preference, but a good starting point is 1 cup of room temperature water to about 1.5 oz coarsely ground coffee. For a bulk batch of concentrate, that would mean about 6 cups of water for 1/2 lb coffee. This may feel like a lot of coffee, but remember that you’ll be diluting this concentrate by as much as 100%, so the finished yield will be comparable to your hot brew.
- Combine the coffee and water in a jar or French press. Cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 12 hours and up to 24. Try both and decide which strength you prefer.
- If using a French press, push the plunger to strain your coffee and pour over ice. Otherwise, strain the coffee through a fine mesh strainer. For single batches, a small cocktail strainer that sits right over your glass is perfect for this use. If your mixture is still gritty, line your strainer with cheesecloth, or you can use a coffee filter for individual cups.
Serve your cold brew over ice with any accoutrements you like. If you like your coffee sweetened, considering preparing a batch of simple syrup to avoid undissolved sugar granules at the bottom of your glass. You can even flavor the syrup with vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, or brown sugar for something new.
If you have leftover coffee, save it for tomorrow, or freeze it in cubes for your next cup of coffee. Ice cubes made from coffee are advanced coffee enjoyment, since you’ll never have to worry about a diluted cup of joe!