Food & Drink

How to Make Cold Brewed Coffee at Home

cold brew at home
Photo: Cole Saladino/Thrillist; Illustration: Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

It happens every year, around the time flowers bloom and shorts emerge from closets covered in wrinkles carrying forgotten dollar bills.

It's the cold brew equinox, when almost every coffee drinker trades their hurried sips of piping-hot joe for strawfuls of smooth cold brew. But on average, the cost of cold brew at your local coffee shop runs more than a dollar extra than the hot stuff. Not to mention these days, your local coffee shop may not even be open.

This is when you take matters into your own, under-caffeinated hands, decide to go Bob Villa barista-style, and brew batches of cold brew at home. We're going to show you how to DIY from scratch and we'll run through fancy-pants home brewing systems.

We've also included a quick cold brew primer, so you don't sound like an idiot when you're talking about your fancy new batches of cooled-down coffee. Look -- we just had a lot of extra energy today. (Probably because we've been drinking so much cold brew).

What is cold brew, really?

To put it bluntly, cold brew coffee is coffee that is brewed cold -- or at the very least, at room temperature -- for about 12-24 hours, cut with water or milk (generally about a 50-50 ratio), and served cold, ideally on ice.

Wait, how is cold brew different from iced coffee?

In a way, cold brew coffee is iced coffee, in the sense that it's coffee served cold. But, it's not really a subset of iced coffee. Think of it more as iced coffee's slightly more refined, more educated, worldly cousin that shows up at Thanksgiving dinner to make you feel bad about your own life.

It's iced coffee that was always meant to be iced coffee. That's the difference.

Traditionally, iced coffee is simply hot-brewed coffee that is allowed to cool and is served over ice. Cold brew is coffee that has been specifically engineered to be served cold. The colder brewing water and slower process gives it a silkier, less-acidic, less "watered-down" flavor than most "iced" coffees. Cold water doesn't extract and break down the coffee beans' natural components as well as hot water does. So, the result is often less bitter. Cold brew should be smoother in flavor profile, even though it looks pretty much the same as traditional iced coffee.

The brewing process takes about twice the amount of beans as brewing traditional coffee (because it's a concentrate, designed to be "cut").

On that note, be warned: the concentrate (when not cut with other liquids) contains about twice the amount of the caffeine as regular coffee. Don't forget to pare it down with some type of milk or water... unless you wish to tweak harder than Niles Crane on MDMA.

I've seen some cold brews described as New Orleans style, does this mean they come with bead necklaces?

No. New Orleans-style cold brew, traditionally, is regular cold brew that's seeped with chicory in order to provide an extra kick of flavor. If you like the taste of chicory in your joe, you'll like New Orleans-style.

Is Japanese iced coffee really cold brew coffee?

Ehhh… not really. Japanese iced coffee is probably better described as "flash-chilled" coffee than cold brew. Japanese iced coffee exchanges some water for ice during the brewing process, and takes way, way, way less time to make. If you want a true deep dive into the differences, and to be subtly coffee-shamed by some hardcore baristas, you can check out this excellent piece on all things Japanese iced coffee.

You can buy cold brew at stores, right?

You bet your java beans you can.

Can I brew cold brew at home, or is it way out of my league?

(Scroll down, buddy.)

How to make cold brew at home, from "scratch"

You can make cold brew at home with the use of one of these fancy machines we'll tell you about below. But really, all you need is a Mason jar. And if you are under the age of 35 and/or planning a wedding, chances are you've probably got more than a few of those.

Step 1: You're going to need beans that are as coarsely ground as possible. If the beans are too fine, there will be sludge and grime and all things unpleasant. The beans themselves are just a matter of preference (we have some great suggestions!) -- but again, you'll probably want to grind them yourself to ensure they are as coarse as possible.

Step 2: Snag a large Mason jar (or really, any big, preferably glass container with a lid). You want about a 1:8 coffee-to-water ratio. Put your ground at the bottom of the container, and pour your water in. Cold water!

Step 3: Stir your concoction…. gently.

Step 4: Cover, then place inside your fridge for 12-24 hours. You don't have to put it in your fridge, but if you have one, you might as well.

Step 5: When it tastes like something you'd want to drink (not too strong, not too weak, Goldilocks stuff) strain it through a sieve, cheesecloth, or even a coffee filter to remove bigger clumps of grounds. Do this several times, till there's no dusty residue on the bottom of your brew.

Step 6: Serve! Add whatever kind of milk you like. Drop in a dollop or two of sugar if you want. Pour over ice. You just made cold brew, kid!

Wait a minute, can I just use my French Press to do this?

You can! Just do the "plunge" at the end in lieu of straining. C'est si facile!

The best cold brew machines for your home

If you want the easy way out (which is actually fine here), there are now cold brew machines available that make it ridiculously easy for any idiot to bunker down and brew a fresh cup of cold brew coffee in the comfort of your home, office, or home that also doubles as an office as you get your "Instagram but only for cats" startup off the ground.

Here are three of the best cold brew machines money can buy:

For those who want it quick, easy, and (not) dirty
Cuisinart DCB-10 Automatic Cold Brew Coffeemaker

If you want the most "hands-off" cold brew experience at home (and, don't want to wait half a day to drink a cup), this Cuisinart Automatic might be your best option. You literally just have to add grounds, push a button, and wait seven minutes. The machine has three flavor options (mild, medium, and bold) and makes about seven cups per batch. If you've ever used a standard coffee maker, you'll have no problem using this machine. And it's easy to clean up afterward. Which is good, because cleaning up after is objectively the worst part of doing anything.

Best if you want a metric buttload of cold brew
KitchenAid KCM4212SX Cold Brew Coffee Maker

If you want 28 ounces of pure cold brew bliss in each batch (about 14 cups, if you're counting) the KitchenAid KCM4212 SX is the monster truck of commercially available coffee machines. Unlike the ridiculously speedy Cuisinart model, this sucker will need about 12-24 hours to brew your joe (judge by taste, the longer you leave it, the stronger the flavor will be). But, you can keep your batch in the fridge for about a week before it starts tasting off. Just plan ahead.

The Gold Standard (which is also small, cheap, and attractive)
Toddy Cold Brew System

The Toddy is the at-home cold brew machine. It's cheap. It's small. It's trusted. It's easy. All you need to do is insert a stopper, add a filter, pour in grounds, and wait (for 12 - 24 hours, again depending on the flavor you prefer). You can brew about 12 ounces of coffee here, and it should last about a week. If you just want to start out with something simple, reputable, and that -- frankly -- doesn't look like a piece of stainless steel kitchenware.

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer at Thrillist and a passionate doer of other stuff. For more info, you'll have to do a free background check.