Can you help this coffee lover make better cold brew at home?
August 31, 2016 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I dearly love my coffee and enjoy the rituals of brewing at home, which I'm pretty serious about, but in my limited attempts to date I haven't had a lot of success making cold brew that measures up to what I can buy from a good coffee shop. How do you make cold brew, and how happy are you with the results?

The only tools I've invested in so far have been large mason jars, in which I've tried an immersion technique that requires a tedious and messy post-brew filtering step and produces an insipid cup. I've tried doing this in a French press as well — it didn't make much difference, and cleaning residual oils off the plunger was a pain.

Over the years I've had various people recommend the Toddy Maker, I've seen positive mentions of the Filtron, and Hario, who I tend to trust, has at least five different options that look promising, but I'm leery of plastic parts and mesh or cloth filters that can gradually build up rancid oils (or off tastes from cleansers used to remove them).

So that you know where I'm coming from: I buy freshly roasted beans, mostly from local roasters. I own a good burr grinder and grind just before brewing. My first morning cup is typically made using a Hario V60 pourover dripper, though when I'm in the mood (or it's more convenient) I use an AeroPress or a French press. Once in a rare while I break out the moka pot. I don't own an ibrik, vacuum brewer, or Technivorm yet, but it's just a matter of time.
posted by Songdog to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Although I do like a good cup, I'm a coffee doofus, so be warned. But anyway I've been improvising cold brew by making Aeropress coffee, using the inverted method, and experimenting with lower temperature water, and a longer steep, and then keeping it in the fridge. It works okay for me, although your tastebuds may vary ...
posted by carter at 8:32 AM on August 31, 2016

Nut milk bag. 4:1 water to coffee grounds by volume. Steep at room temp for 18-24 hours. Remove nut milk bag, discard coffee grounds, wash bag. Serve over ice. Replace bag if it starts to get nasty--they're cheap. Mine seems fine 6 months into using this method.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:37 AM on August 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

I splurged (relative to other cold brew methods, not to other coffee methods) on an OXO cold brewer. Super super easy relative to anything else-- mix it up, flip a switch 24 hours later. I used to think of cold brew as a chore, but not so much any more (just need a grinder with a bigger hopper).

Don't use the included paper filters (get clogged too easily), but I often put them through a normal paper cone filter before storage to get rid of any remaining fines. (Really though, it's mostly just fine through the metal mesh filter; I just finished off a batch this morning with very little silt left in the carafe.)

I use a 4.5x coffee:water ratio (by weight of course). 5x would probably work fine too to get the most out of a good bean (I usually use cheaper beans for CB).
posted by supercres at 8:54 AM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've been really happy with this French press method: Haven't found cleanup to be too much of a pain.
Also, I have been experimenting with different types of beans, and it definitely makes a difference. Currently I am blown away by Ethiopian Ardi cold brew.
posted by ferret branca at 8:56 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

You need to get the Takeya cold brew coffee maker.
It frequently goes on sale on Amazon for $15.

Just buy pre ground (or grind your own beans), fill it up with water, but the grinds in. Wait overnight, you have cold brew coffee.
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 9:10 AM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

How are you doing your post-brew filtering? I've been happy just tossing the grounds into a mason jar for 24 hours, then running it through my V60 with a filter to remove the grounds. Though if that's the process you're going through now, sounds like our taste buds (or coffees?) differ.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:19 AM on August 31, 2016

The Sweethome recently did a comparison of different cold-brew coffee makers, and their top pick was the Filtron. We've been using the Toddy for years, and just rinse and store the filter as recommended and haven't noticed any issues with oil buildup.
posted by amarynth at 9:23 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

You're having two separate problems which are unrelated.

1. Insipid coffee. Are you steeping for long enough? How are you making the coffee (ratio of beans to water, fine vs. rough grind, etc)? The coffee shops you're going to make their cold brew with basically the mason jar method (they use huge food-grade plastic tubs, but same), so mason jar vs. Toddy machine or whatever isn't really the difference between a good or bad cup.

2. Mess. Yeah, if you want easy cleanup, upgrade from mason jars to a purpose-designed system. I've never used one, but sure, if that's important to you, it's available. But it's not going to produce a better tasting cup, just an easier cleanup.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on August 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

After being unhappy with all my attempts at full immersion cold brew, I got the Cold Bruer, which uses the slow drip method. I like the results much better and it is like what I've had in coffee shops. Since I got it, it's the only coffee I make except when I forget to get it started early enough and need a cup now.
posted by borsboom at 9:24 AM on August 31, 2016

Toddy maker. They're pretty solid. The filters are easy to find, relatively cheap and reusable to a point (they're typically good for a month or two), and are a type of felted wool to prevent fines from getting into your end product. If cleanup is more important to you, go Filtron, but they use disposable filters similar to, but not exactly like a commercial drip machine.

If you'd like to one up either of those methods, check out your local fancy-pants wine store, or higher end grocery store for those argon 'wine saver' canisters. If you make your coldbrew, lay down some heavier-than-air gas to push the oxygen out, and then throw some plastic wrap and a rubber band over all that, you'll have created a nice little barrier to your cold brew. This can help with longer brew times and makes the resulting coffee taste a bit fresher because of the lack of oxidation.

If you want to experiment with crash-chilling hot brew to result in cold brew (which is actually how I prefer it) I would check out the Coil Chiller. I don't own one, but got to borrow one for a few weeks. The resulted brew was different than regular cold brew, but I tended to like it a bit more. It felt a little bit...higher resolution? I sometimes find cold brew flavors to be a bit muddled, and this helped resolve that for me. Since the coffee is still brewed fast, but chilled fast as well, some of the oxidation problems and resulting papery flavors were remedied. Expensive for sure, but if you use it everyday or everyweek, I could see using one.

If you're worried about oils building up, and have anything other than a passing fascination with coffee, you should be cleaning your gear with PuroCaff. It's typically used by coffee bars to clean their machines. It is inexpensive, lasts for-fucking-ever (I'm on my second bottle in four years, you need about half a teaspoon to clean something the size of a toddy maker. If you'd like to experiment with some, ask your local friendly neighborhood barista if you can have some in a to-go-cup (just a sprinkle), tip well, and give it a shot at home. This is one of those 'right tools for the job' that people rarely have sitting around, but are indispensable once you start using them.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:26 AM on August 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

The (independent, roaster) coffee shop I worked at used a Toddy. I'm not going to say that it's the best method--I haven't tried them all--but the cloth filter is supposed to be replaced after a while. That is, you throw it away and use a new one before it gets rancid.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:29 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I used to work in a coffee shop where we made cold brew by the bucket, and here is what I now do at home:

-take an ordinary french press
-grind beans
-put in slightly more coffee grounds than you'd use for hot coffee
-fill with room-temp water
-let sit for at least 12 hours

That's literally it. I have never been disappointed with the results from this. I don't think you need a fancy purpose-made cold brewing device. The main thing is letting it sit for long enough, and using freshly ground halfway-decent coffee. And cleaning the french press filter is easy - either run it through the dishwasher or buy some Cafiza and just let it soak in a solution for a few minutes.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:54 AM on August 31, 2016 [8 favorites]

The method that works very well for me is more or less like those articulated above by mollymayhem and supercres. However, my equipment is like yours - I refuse to buy special equipment to make cold brew. Not knocking anyone else's purchases, I'm just not interested, and I've found I don't need it.

Basically, steep coarsely ground beans in water at a 4.5:1 water-to-beans ratio by volume (based on an old NYTimes recipe that was actually stated as 9:2). Steep as long as you can, hopefully at least 24 hours. I've left some over the weekend at work by mistake, so 72 hours, and it came out great. I filter by pouring through a Melita with either a fine metal mesh reusable filter, or a paper filter.

Finally, you may want to reconsider the coffee you use. Premium coffees have been trending towards medium-to-light roasts for several years now, and I personally prefer cold brew made from medium-dark roasts. The cold brew process extracts much less of the bittering compounds, so it is far less bitter than hot-brewed dark roast, and I find the flavor much richer and more complex then a cold-brewed light roast. Not sure where you're located, but if Peete's is available, I've found their dark roasts to be great for cold brew.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 9:59 AM on August 31, 2016 [10 favorites]

I use medium dark roasts that I grind right before hand. I fill tea filters with the ground coffee and put them in Mason jars. Steep at least 24 hours. Ta-dah! Oh, also I leave it on the counter, not the refrigerator. Tastes great to me and it's pretty much how I used to do it in a coffee shop as a barista, only on smaller scale.
posted by Marinara at 10:18 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding the "how long are you letting it sit" question. I've followed the New York Times recipe for two years now with no complaint, and that lets it steep for 12 hours.

As for the "mess" problem - I usually do a two-stage filtering process:

1. Filter from the mason jar, through a sieve, into a measuring cup.
2. Line a funnel with a coffee filter, set the funnel into a pitcher, and pour the coffee from the measuring cup through the filtered funnel into the pitcher.

It sounds time-consuming, but it's easy enough for me to do this at 7:15 am on work day (and that's saying something).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:38 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

If by "insipid" you mean weak, use more coffee. I use about 1.5 cups for 2L of cold brew.

If by "insipid" you mean too smooth, low acid, and almost coffee-ice-cream-tasting, then try this: pour about 1/3 of your total water over the coffee while boiling, let sit for a minute or two, then fill with cold water. I read this method on some blog, now lost to memory, to create cold-brew coffee with just a little more acid and bite that strictly cold water. (Apparently this is called "hot bloom" cold brew if you want to read hundreds of blog posts debating it.)
posted by mercredi at 11:11 AM on August 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, in my opinion you don't need to go out and buy equipment. A special system can make good cold brew easier to make, but if your basic coldbrew is awful, making the process fancier ain't gonna fix that.

Those above telling you to use a medium-dark roast are very right. You want a coffee that will stand up on it's own once the acidity is removed. My rule is: If it smells like chocolate, or is really nutty, it'll make fantastic cold brew. I've never had success with the fruitier light roasts, they tend to taste weak and grassy no matter your ratios. Ya gotta start with the right coffee.

As for brewing, personally I use a coffeesock filter that is actually left in while brewing(this would also be super easy to sew out of linen), and I find it's much better than filtering after, as the coffee grounds won't leach as much of the bitter oils into the coffee. My brew time is at least 12 hours, usually in the fridge.
posted by InkDrinker at 11:17 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I use a Toddy maker; the filters are good for at least handful or more brews. You can easily and cheaply order replacements from Amazon. I've been using the Toddy method since I was a barista in the early 00s. Hasn't steered me wrong once.
posted by Kitteh at 11:22 AM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've had good luck using empty tea bags that I bought off of Amazon. I forget the brand, but it was something like $6 for a box of 100.

Anyway, I use the following method to make a single-serving of cold coffee right in my travel mug, which I take to work with me in the mornings:

The night before work, I'll fill a teabag with ground coffee, fill the travel mug with water, then submerge the teabag, securing the open top of the bag with the mug's lid. I place it in the refrigerator, and in the morning, the coffee is brewed and I throw away the teabag. No straining or filtering, it's fast, and works well.
posted by see_change at 11:37 AM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Toddy. I decided to try it after asking the owner of my favorite, beloved coffeeshop how she makes her cold brew. She said she has a Toddy-like industrial contraption but uses a Toddy at home.

Pound of beans, rough grind, 12-ish hour room temp soak, decant through felt filter, put in fridge. Boom. Done. It's been great and easy since the very first batch I made.

The filter's just a felt pad that you replace after a dozen or so uses. It's easy to clean with a quick water rinse. No qualms about the plastic filter tub construction. It doesn't impart a taste and is easy to rinse clean.

For the sake of completeness, I'm not the biggest fan of super-oily french press and my tolerance for caffeine has been decreasing the older I get. I was interested to see if the claims about cold brewing reducing caffeine content were sufficient to help me avoid jitters, but so far I still get a little buzzy if I have a cup too much or drink after noon, Toddy or not.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:11 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I buy Grady's Cold Brew bags. I throw two in the fridge, in a pitcher that's half filled half-way with water for 24 hours. Then I drink it.

It's not as fancy as, I think, every other mentioned in thread to date, but it works fine for me.
posted by devbrain at 3:34 PM on August 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Darker roast, yes, and I usually let it steep for 24 hours in the fridge -- I just prepare the next day's after I filter it in the morning. I like my coffee strong, though.

Mason jar method, and I use a metal strainer (like the kitchen ones with a handle) over a cup; cut a square Chemex filter into 4 along the folds and use one square in the strainer (wet it first). Then just dump the filter into the trash and rinse the strainer. Super easy cleanup. I've never been bothered by the French press method with the oils, either, though -- I second purocaff for occasional cleaning, I heard about it here and it's literal magic.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 3:54 PM on August 31, 2016

I buy it in concentrate. delicious & maddddd cheap.
posted by listen, lady at 4:34 PM on August 31, 2016

I also use the French press method, but I do a subsequent run through a paper filter or, if I'm impatient, push it through my aeropress. Seems to help with the oils and grinds.
posted by knapah at 4:38 PM on August 31, 2016

I didn't have a ton of success with the Takeya. It seemed like the filter was too tightly woven so the coffee seemed much weaker. It worked a little better if you ran the water through the grounds (not per instructions) but that took a relatively long time and I'd get impatient.

I use a french press, and then run it through a paper towel (stuck in the neck of my narrow necked jug) to get any escaped bits. If you give it some time, 20 min or more, it's super quick.

I also use dark beans, with a fine to med fine grind, and leave it at least 12 hours.

Clean up is minimal, if I'm going to make another batch right away, I just do a thorough rinse or half assed wash. I wash it more thoroughly (dishwasher) about every other batch.

Quality wise this gives me coffee as good as at the coffee shop, time wise it is ridiculously easy, and it doesn't take expensive or specialized equipment.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 6:46 PM on August 31, 2016

For cold brew quality, the specific device doesn't generally make a huge difference (so long as the coffee is eventually filtered through paper or a very fine cloth/felt filter). The quality impact of the factors I've listed below is HUGE in comparison to the minor differences between Toddy and Filtron (the industry standards) -- so choose a device (or a homemade filtration method) based on convenience and spend most of your troubleshooting time on the following.

Get your grind & steep time in balance -- I'm almost certain you have a problem in this area based on your question. Finer grind = shorter steep time. Coarser grind = longer steep time. Personally, I use a rather coarse grind and an 18-hour steep time, but I've tasted excellent cold brew that was steeped for as little as 6 or as long as 24 hours. Taste test your results and adjust these variables if you're not happy.

Whatever filtration method you choose (and most will work just fine), make sure it involves a paper filter and/or very fine cloth/felt filter at some stage. In my experience, even the finest metal mesh filters do not do the job. Personally, I prefer the cleanliness of paper-filtered cold brew, and I think it tends to keep a bit better after the coffee oils have been filtered out. If you're devising a filtration contraption yourself (instead of using a standard method like Filtron or Toddy), just make sure you get most of the grounds out of the liquid before it hits the paper filter, or it will clog. I like to use a plain old kitchen mesh strainer, then a Coava Kone, then a Chemex with a paper filter. Your V60 will work well for that last stage.

What's your coffee dose? Are you brewing concentrate? If not, do so. Use 1 part coffee to 4.5 parts water to make the concentrate. When you're ready to drink it, mix up 1 part concentrate to 3 parts water -- you can adjust a bit to make it stronger or weaker to your taste. Liz Clayton's cold brew guide gives more details.

How's your water? It can dramatically affect extraction rate and flavor profile, and it could certainly contribute to the "insipid" cup you describe. I tend to think that if your water is producing satisfactory hot brew, it can't be that bad -- but it might be a contributing factor. Try brewing your exact same recipe of cold brew with bottled spring water (NOT distilled water -- you need some minerals in the water to brew coffee correctly) and see if you taste a difference. In your region, you might be dealing with hard water -- the best way to find out more might be to go talk with one of your local roasters and see what they can tell you about water in the area and what they do to make it workable (filtration, softening, RO, etc.).

If you have any doubts about your grinder's ability to do the job (including not heating up while you're grinding a large quantity of coffee) then get to your local roaster and have them grind your coffee for you just before you steep. Doing it in larger batches may reduce the inconvenience of this process. I use this lexan container to steep 680 grams of coffee at a time.

Keep in mind that you can always experiment with methods other than cold brew -- you can flash-chill using a chemex or V60, or Aeropress your iced coffee. These methods are easy, fun, and produce a different flavor profile than cold brewed coffee. They might also give you the opportunity to play with different devices, if that's something you enjoy!
posted by ourobouros at 7:06 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wow, thank you all for your responses, your personal experiences, and your advice. To address followup questions that came up multiple times:


The first time I tried this I was working from recipes recommending
  1. A 10:1 water to coffee ratio by weight — recommendations in your comments so far have had less than half the water-to-coffee — followed by considering the resulting brew a concentrate and watering it down as much as 4:1
  2. A coarse French-press style grind — some of you are recommending finer grinds
  3. A 12–15 hour steep time — some of you recommend twice that long
The ratio is the obviously the biggest offender here, but clearly I had major changes to make before dialing it in.


Even with my coarse grind and after a run through the French press there were still enough coffee solids suspended in the brew to require filtration, which I attempted by pouring through a paper filter in the V60. The pores in the paper clogged up before the brew (about 750ml in volume) was through it, and I ended up squeezing it like a pastry bag to get the last drops out. Maybe my burr grinder is producing fines and needs a tune-up.

On preview, in response to ourobouros's comment:

My municipal tap water is reportedly decent, but I'm delivering it via a faucet-mounted diverter through a candle filter anyway.

My burr grinder is a Solis Maestro Pro. I really don't think it's heating the beans, but I've had it for a long time and it's possible it's in need of a tune-up or burr replacement. My current hot-brewing is done in much smaller quantities and some inconsistency and fines would be a lot harder to notice.

I do like brewing straight over ice using the Aeropress — it produces a good small glass of strong iced coffee, but it's different from a tall glass of cold brew that I can nurse slowly at my desk in the morning. I'd like to give myself both options.
posted by Songdog at 7:21 PM on August 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid I didn't record what coffee I tried in my cold-brew experiments. I enjoy a variety of roasts in general, and will be sure to try a darker roast next time.
posted by Songdog at 7:22 PM on August 31, 2016

Yeah, you definitely have too much water. I usually do 2/3 cup grounds to 3 cups water, which is less than half but still more than 10-1.

Also - yeah, when I do the paper filter the pores do clog, but I just let it sit for a few minutes and it eventually mostly drips through. Straining through a sieve alone first cuts down on the time by getting the coarser grounds out of the way, too, so it's just the much smaller particulate matter that the paper filter catches on the second pass, and much more of the concentrate gets through before the filter starts getting clogged.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:11 AM on September 1, 2016

I make cold brew (tepid brew, I guess?) with ground beans at 10% by weight (so 9:1). I have tried making it with more beans than that but it never really came out significantly stronger; it just meant I had to buy beans more frequently.

Since you find what you're getting bland, then a stronger brew may be the answer. I'm somewhat skeptical, as using half the water and then diluting your result 2 or more times is not going to result in a more flavorful coffee. Less water will mean you're going to pull less (overall) out of the beans, even if it is more concentrated.

Another approach would be slightly increasing the temperature of your water. Warmer water means you get more and higher concentration of compounds from the beans, as well as quicker extraction. I get a different flavor profile with room temperature water (65-70) than with water from the lowest electric kettle temperature (110).
posted by mountmccabe at 10:45 AM on September 1, 2016

followed by considering the resulting brew a concentrate and watering it down as much as 4:1

I never water it down. That's what the ice is for. (We never watered it down at the coffee shop, either.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:14 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Like showbiz_liz, I have used a French Press (32 ounce by Bodum) for years, on the advice of my buddy Gail who used to run a coffee shop. I think you might want to stop worrying so much about making the metal mesh/filter squeaky clean between batches.

I put a good cup of grounds [so 8:1?] in the pot and pour in a half cup or so of warm water to get the grounds to bloom. (It's ground for drip, I think. I am awfully lazy about this.) After a minute or so, I fill up the rest of the pot with cold water from my Brita pitcher (or the faucet). I let the grounds+water sit in the French Press pot for a good 24 hours, and then I pour it into a pretty glass flip-top bottle that I store in the fridge. Any solids settle out pretty quickly, and I drink the almost-a-quart in a couple of days.

If it's not strong enough for you, let it sit longer, or use more coffee grounds.

Good luck!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:14 AM on September 1, 2016

Any solids settle out pretty quickly

Oh, yeah this is the other thing! When I make cold-brew in a french press, I let it settle before I drink it and I just assume I'll be writing off the last half-inch or so of coffee. Much less of a production than filtering through cloth every time.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:16 AM on September 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

A 10:1 water to coffee ratio by weight — recommendations in your comments so far have had less than half the water-to-coffee — followed by considering the resulting brew a concentrate and watering it down as much as 4:1

So, my hot coffee ratio is 20:1 by weight* and I have tried to like cold brew because my wife is a fan when other people make it**. Even going beyond 10:1 I still thought my attempts were pretty insipid. My best results for cold coffee are just to make a French press full of hot coffee while preheating two mason jars with extra water from the kettle, then pouring the brewed coffee into the preheated jars, sealing them, and putting them in the fridge overnight. It's not the same thing as cold brew but it's literally half as expensive (if not even better than that) and I like it better.

* We use a liter press, so it's about 960g water to 48g coffee. I used to use about 56g but my wife thought it was too strong, and 48g is where we ended up. We get exactly seven pots out of a 12oz bag from our neighborhood roaster. I grind it finer than most people seem to for press, and steep for four minutes. I have never measured TDS. Even I have my limits.

** So, maybe the non-insipid stuff is, what, 8:1 by weight? Oy. No wonder the nitro stuff is four bucks a glass.

posted by fedward at 6:40 PM on September 1, 2016

+1 for the nut milk bag method. I have a sweet Hario cold brew setup, and I've tried the Toddy. The nut milk method wins for being cheap, scalable, easier to clean and dead simple. I've been using the same bag for over 2 years. I wash it in warm, soapy water every few uses.

A few cold brew tips:
Err on the side of making it too strong. You can dilute with ice, water and/or milk later.

I have a fancy burr grinder. I think that improves hot coffee but in my experience, it is not necessary to have a nice grinder for cold brew. The grind is coarser and they are immersed so the flow characteristics of a uniform grind are not important.

It is best consumed within 5-7 days after you start the process (4-6 days after you take the grinds out).

Depending on the bag you use, there might be some fines left at the bottom of the pitcher. You can avoid them by discarding the last 5 mm from the pitcher, or filtering the last drops.
posted by KevCed at 2:34 PM on September 7, 2016

« Older Travel to Cuba   |   Where have all the tall vests gone? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.