Cold brewed coffee? With ice cubes in it? Served as a cocktail? The hype surrounding cold brew coffee is full of novelties and, at the same time, enticing coffee lovers in the Western Hemisphere roughly since 2010. We admit, cold brew is definitely something else. It has been such a success that cold brew now literally is on everyone’s lips. It takes indulging in coffee to a whole new level. But let’s start from the beginning.
What is Cold Brew Coffee and How Does it Work?
Technically, what we call “brewing” is the process during which ground coffee and water come into contact. Whether we brew coffee using boiling hot or cold water – it is still called brewing. Water temperature does not change this. Cold brew coffee is – just as the name suggests – cold brewed coffee.
For making cold brew coffee, the same general principles apply as for making any good coffee:
- High-quality, freshly ground coffee has the most flavors. But there are a few types of coffee that are particularly suited for the cold brew process.
- Grinding degree: for this cold brewed coffee specialty, it is especially important to grind your coffee beans coarsely. Otherwise you risk over-extraction – and thus a bitter cup of coffee.
- Brewing time: when you brew filter coffee, the water temperature extracts most of the aromas from the coffee. However, with cold brew, it is time that does the job for you. Due to long brewing times of up to 24 hours, the coffee beans release many flavoring substances in a particularly gentle way.
So, cold brewed coffee is prepared differently. But what else is there about it? Or in other words: Why Cold Brew Coffee?
Besides being a refreshing alternative to iced coffee in summer, cold brew has several advantages. The long brewing time results in a cold brew coffee concentrate. Accordingly, the caffeine content in cold brew is higher and, as a result, this cold version of coffee is stronger. For this reason, cold brew is such a great choice for preparing cocktails and drinks: preferably with rum, gin or fresh orange juice. However, baristas also serve the delicious coffee specialty on the rocks or with various types of milk.
The Delicious Chemistry of Cold Coffee
Waiting for up to 24 hours is well worth it when it comes to taste: during the so-called “extraction”, cold water dissolves more and, above all, different flavors from the coffee powder than “regular” coffee brewed with hot water. Chemistry can explain this phenomenon.
Coffee is a very complex stimulant. It consists of hundreds of different chemical compounds and boasts over 800 aromas. (Some even say over a thousand.) As with any chemical compound, the molecules in coffee are released by different temperatures and at different times. Some, like caffeine, are always released. Others will only be released at high or low temperatures. And some of those molecules are undesirable, for example most of the bitter substances. Depending on how you extract your coffee, beans from the exact same batch of coffee will taste completely different.
And this is the reason why cold brew is so popular: it is coffee. But different. Most cold-brewed coffees contain hardly any bitter substances and are very low in acid. In addition, you will often find floral or fruity notes that are brought out in particular by this gentle production process. Sometimes cold brew coffee can even taste like nuts or chocolate. Another delicious upside of cold brewed coffee extracts, such as cold brew or cold drip, is their natural sweetness.
Cold Drip vs. Cold Brew – What’s the Difference?
Coffee fans interested in cold brew coffee almost automatically come across the term “cold drip”. Cold brew and cold drip are often used interchangeably. Nevertheless, there is a small but significant difference: cold brew, in its definition, is used as a collective term for all variations of coffee that is brewed using cold water. However, within this category there are several differences regarding the brewing method. Two of the most popular brewing methods for cold brew coffee are “immersion” and “cold brew drip coffee”.
The Standard Procedure: Immersion Cold Brew
The most widespread method of preparing cold brew is immersion. This term comes from the verb “to immerse”. And it describes this brewing process quite accurately: you put coarsely ground coffee powder into a glass container. Your French press, for example, is perfect for this purpose. Pour cold water over the coffee and let the “immersed” coffee powder soak for several hours. The immersion method is popular because of its simplicity. Grind coffee, sprinkle it with water, wait – and you are done. All this results in a full-bodied coffee product whose taste speaks for itself.
It is This Easy to Make Your Own Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew – it sounds chic and tastes great. Brew it yourself at home by following these instructions. You can even make it without having a cold brew coffee maker. Everything you need is already in most coffee fans’ kitchens. In this video, our colleagues from Starbucks show how easy it is to make your own cold brew coffee:
We proudly present our very own
Cold Brew Coffee Recipe
- 1 glass container, minimum capacity of 1 litre (e.g. your French press, a glass or jug)
- 150 g coffee, coarsely ground
- 1 litre of water
- a filter
- 12-24 hours of your time
- Grind the coffee beans coarsely. They should be even coarser than for using in the French press.
- First, put the coffee powder in the glass container.
- Then add the water.
- Wait 12 to 24 hours for the coffee to brew. (To start with, we recommend 12 hours. Depending on the result, you can then vary the type of coffee, grind and/or brewing time for your second attempt.)
- Separate water and coffee powder. For example, use a filter or press down the stamp of your French press.
- Enjoy your own cold brew. Either pure or on the rocks.
You can also use your cold brew coffee to prepare a variety of cocktail and drinks recipes.
The Icing on Your (Coffee) Cake: Cold Brew Drip Coffee
The preparation of cold drip – and thus cold drip coffee itself – is very different from immersion brewing. In order to make cold drip coffee, you need a special apparatus. This so called cold dripper is a chic construction made of glass. From top to bottom, it consists of a water container that you can fill with water and/or ice. Through a valve that regulates the dripping speed, single drops of water drip onto the coffee powder. The finished cold drip coffee extract then passes through a filter into a glass jug.
As you can imagine, this process takes a very long time. And this is precisely where this production method affects the taste: it emphasises fruity and sweet notes that you find in most cold drip coffees. What is more, cold brew drip coffee contains only very few bitter substances. The long, slow extraction process results in an intense taste.
Although the whole procedure sounds complicated, you can also make your own cold drip coffee by following our instructions: Either like a professional barista with your own cold dripper. Or you can DIY your own cold brew dripper.
Trend meets Tradition – A Hype with History
Anyone who now assumes that cold brew and cold drip were only recently “invented” is completely mistaken. Cold brewed coffee has been around for over 400 years. It was Dutch traders who first made the cold drip coffee extract during the 17th century. Back then, cold brew coffee had a shelf life of up to 3 weeks. As a result, it was ideal for long boat journeys. That way, the supply of coffee was secured.
It was probably also the Dutch who brought the cold drip process to Japan. Over the centuries, the Japanese continued to develop its original technology and design. Alongside a growing appreciation for excellent specialty coffee, high-quality Japanese coffee accessories have spilled over into the West in recent years. Resourceful baristas quickly discovered the elegant cold brew drip towers around 2010 – and the rest of cold brew history is currently being written. As of now, there is no end in sight to the cold drip hype.
Water and Coffee Beans – the Ying and Yang of Cold Brew
If you put all emotions related to coffee aside for a moment something might dawn on you. Our favourite hot beverage consists of exactly two elements: water and coffee beans. (As purists, let’s leave milk and sugar out of the equation.) While there are almost innumerable articles about coffee beans, different types of coffee, its cultivation, harvesting, preparation, roasting, and, finally, grinding, information on the best water for making your coffee is more difficult to find.
After all, all it is Only Water. Right?
Brewing coffee with tap water is a common habit. Certainly tap water is drinkable – at least in most of Europe and the US. But in order for you to prepare an enjoyable and on point cold brew, it makes sense to take a closer look at the water that you use. Here are a few water-related tips that can help you to enormously improve the quality of your coffee.
In addition to temperature, which strongly influences the taste of the finished coffee, water hardness is an important factor. With soft to medium-hard water you will achieve the best results. This corresponds to a pH value of 7.0 with a water hardness of between 4 and 8°d. You can find information on the exact water hardness of the drinking water in your area on the internet. Or else, ask your water supplier.
As a rule, tap water in Central Europe is extremely hard and calcareous. For this reason, it makes sense to think about softening it. And that is actually quite easy. Surely you know those plastic pitchers with exchangeable active carbon filters? That can be found in many kitchens? Exactly those filters are perfect to improve the taste of your water and, consequently, your coffee. Simply pour tap water into the top, wait briefly, and brew your cold brew or cold drip coffee using the filtered water. By the way, this is also good news for your kettle: it will hardly calcify any more.
I Take My Coffee Grinder and Grind My Coffee: Cold Drip and Cold Brew Types of Coffee
If you are looking for a recommendation on types of coffee that generally work well with cold brewed coffee, we can recommend two types in particular: pure Arabica beans or Maragogype coffee beans. These two types of coffee are our absolute favorites. Why? Because they are particularly suited for brewing cold brew due to their mild aroma and very low acidity.
As a rule of thumb, simply pick your favorite coffee. Alternatively, check if you can chew a single bean of it without it tasting bitter, sour or otherwise unpleasant. If it tastes great it is also suitable for making cold drip or cold brew coffee. It is obvious, anyway, that you should grind your own coffee right before you brew it in order to get the best taste experience.