How to Make Coffee Shop-Caliber Cold Brew at Home, According to Experts
You'll be a barista before you know it with this expert-approved cold brew equipment.
I’ll admit it: I’ve never really made coffee at home. I’ve made a pot or two in a standard coffee maker, but I much prefer buying a black iced coffee on my way into the office or digging into the Commonwealth Joe Nitro that’s on tap inside. So it wasn’t until COVID-19 forced my local coffee shop to curb its operations that I tried to recreate my daily cold brew at home.
I quickly found that making cold brew at home can be simple. It doesn’t take too much precision and it basically works itself out overnight, but there’s a huge difference between cold brew that’s just drinkable and the kind you’re willing to shell out several bucks a day for. And because it’ll be a little while until we can all sip together in our favorite coffee shops again, I tapped the pros who make some of the best coffee out there to find out how we all can brew better tasting cold brew at home. With their tips, I've dialed up my morning coffee routine several notches and am now making cold brew batches that rival most coffee shops in the neighborhood. If you're ready to do the same, here's what you need to know.
Start with the right beans
Spoiler alert: making cold brew is fairly foolproof, so there’s room to focus on perfecting every little detail, starting with your beans. There’s a little bit of personal preference at play, so I've enjoyed using subscription services like Trade and Atlas Coffee Club to try new roasts and learn more about what flavors I actually like in coffee.
But overall our experts told us the coffee that works best for cold brew is typically a full-bodied, medium-to-dark roast that has what what they refer to as "sugar-browning" notes of chocolate or caramel. With that in mind, options like Stumptown’s House Blend, Blue Bottle’s Three Africas blend, and Counter Culture’s Hologram or Big Trouble will all make a great vat of cold brew.
If you’re looking for more general guidelines when you’re aimlessly staring at your options in the coffee aisle, Brent Wolczynski, the head brewer of cold brew production at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, said Latin American coffees are a good place to start. The roaster uses Latin American coffee in its House Blend and for its original Stubby Cold Brew because it’s versatile. “You can drink it black and it’s mellow and sweet, but it also stands up to milk just fine,” Wolczynski said.
And take care of them
The last thing you want to do is ruin high-quality beans with inadequate storage. Most experts suggest leaving your coffee somewhere cool, dark, and airtight, so containers like these gorgeous ceramic vessels by Planetary Design or this vacuum canister from Fellow (which is a favorite of Michael Phillips, the director of coffee culture at Blue Bottle) are perfect. You can get away with simply sealing your coffee and leaving it in a cabinet, but these containers remove all air from the environment to prevent oxidation that will make your ground or whole beans taste stale.
Grind ‘em up
For nearly every coffee-making method, grinding the beans just before you’re ready to use them is the best way to ensure the freshest taste. That means if you’re serious about making great coffee (and I assume you are, if you’ve read this far) you’ll need to invest in a good coffee grinder.
Across the board, every professional we spoke to warned against going the cheap route with a simple blade grinder. The machine will give you uneven grinds that could result in a super bitter, generally unenjoyable cup of coffee. Instead, go with a burr grinder. It will give you uniform-sized grinds, and you can adjust the size so your grinds are coarser for cold brew’s long steeping time. The entire line by Baratza is a favorite among the coffee professionals we spoke with, but the Encore model is a great entry-level grinder and at $145, you’ll quickly get your money’s worth.
Weigh it out
Some experts use a 1:5 ratio of coffee to water, while others go for something a bit more gentle like a 1:8 ratio. No matter what strength you make your cold brew, you need precise measurements for a perfect cup. That’s where these kitchen scales come in. There are some made specifically for coffee like the Hario scale that Ben Helfen, an education support specialist at Counter Culture Coffee, uses for both making cold brew and timing a perfect pour-over. But you can also get a simple kitchen scale from brands like Escali or Ozeri for about $20 that will also do the trick.
Think about what’s coming from the tap
Whether you’re making hot coffee or cold brew, your cup is about 98% water. With that in mind, it’s important to use high-quality H2O if you want a high-quality cup of coffee. For some, that means utilizing carbon filtration by using a Brita pitcher or faucet mount that filters water right from the tap. But if you want to take your water quality a step further and really see what a difference good water makes, Helfen from Counter Culture recommends “geeking out” and trying the purifying packets from Third Wave Water that are specially formulated to make the best tasting water for brewing coffee.
With all that crisp, delicious water on hand, don't forget to use it for your ice, too. While I’ve been away from my beloved office pebble ice machine, a good ice cube tray has made all the difference. You can use this clever tray to make the ideal shape to fill a tall glass, get funky with spheres that will look great in coffee and cocktails, or choose a classic tray in a pretty pattern or color. The best part is that all of these options have covers to keep your freezer nice and organized (and prevent odors from affecting your ice flavor). Hey, it’s the little things.
Choose a way to brew
Brewing is the easiest part. All you really need to do is introduce your ground coffee to some water at a 1:5 or 1:8 ratio, leave it for several hours, and strain out the grinds. I use Ovalware’s Cold Brew Maker that keeps my coffee grounds in an ultra-fine mesh strainer, so after about 12 hours of steeping, all I need to do is pull out the strainer and there’s a few glasses of cold brew ready to go. Blue Bottle has a similar model and its bottle is airtight so you can keep any leftovers right in the bottle.
When Maciej Kasperowicz, the director of coffee at the subscription company Trade, makes cold brew at home, he’s looking for the method that will provide the easiest clean up. Enter Trade’s cold brew bags. You simply fill the bag with 85 grams of coffee, seal it up, dip it in 710 mL of water, and you’ll have cold brew in no time (aka 12 hours). The bags are made of a corn-based fiber so they provide a thorough strain and can just be pulled out and thrown out (or better yet, composted) when you’re done using them.
But it can also be as simple as buying a mason jar, adding coffee and water, leaving it to sit overnight, and straining it in the morning. That’s the method Helfen uses. He prefers a 1:8 ratio for a less concentrated brew, so he’ll add 100 grams of coffee and 800 grams of water to a mason jar and seal it up for about 12 hours. After some time in the refrigerator, he pours it over a flat bottom filter like these from Public Goods to get a nice, clean cup of coffee.
Store it in something air-tight
If you’re sensing a theme that air is the enemy here, you’d be right. Exposure to oxygen causes beans and readymade coffee to oxidize which will leave you with an overly bitter, stale tasting cup. The solution? Keep your leftover cold brew in the fridge in something airtight like a simple deli quart container. With this mixed-size set for just under $18, you can transfer your coffee to smaller containers as you drink it down to nix the effect of oxygen even further.
Get the most out of your pricey grounds
With quality bags of coffee running about $12 to $20 for a 12-ounce bag, you won’t want to waste a single bean. But cold brew is a pretty wasteful brewing method because it uses more than three times the amount of coffee in your average hot cup. Stumptown's Wolczynski uses a technique borrowed from the beer brewing industry to draw out the last bit of coffee from used grounds. It’s called sparging. After you’ve brewed your coffee, just splash the wet grounds with some more cold water and strain it out the same way you did after brewing, and you’ll get about 15% more coffee out of your beans. You’re welcome.
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