Here’s a question most articles about cold brew coffee won’t ask you:
What STYLE of cold brew coffee are you looking for?
Thought it was all the same? Au Contraire.
Cold brew coffee can change drastically in flavor, acidity-levels, and mouthfeel depending on how it’s brewed. This article is going to look at three different cold brewing methods and help you choose which style is right for you.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing the right cold brew coffee method:
1. What flavors am I looking for?
Do you like your coffee strong and roasty? Bright and floral? Balanced and creamy? Different cold brewing methods will produce different flavors, even when made with the same coffee.
2. What acidity level am I looking for?
One popularized fact about cold brew coffee is that it has less acidity than hot coffee. But this isn’t the rule. You can make cold brew as acidic, or not acidic, as you want using the different brewing methods.
3. How much cold brew do I want to make?
Are you making a large batch for the whole week or just a single cup at a time? Different cold brewing methods excel at producing different amounts of coffee at once.
4. How long do I have to make it?
There are two types of people in this world: Those who plan and those who don’t.
Luckily, there are cold brewing methods for both types of people. Some methods require anywhere from 8-24 hours of extraction time, and others take just a few minutes right before rushing out the door.
To guide you on the journey to cold brew nirvana, we talked with over 150 coffee professionals and cold brew enthusiasts from around the world who shared their experiences and advice with us. We’ll share what they like and dislike about each brewing method, as well as a "Collective Recipe" comprised of all the recipes we received for that brew method.
Why a Collective Recipe? In short, we believe groups can make better decisions than individuals under the right circumstances. This recipe won't be perfect for every coffee, but it's a great starting point.
To learn more, check out our in-depth articles for each brewing method for more recipes, equipment recommendations, and advice from the pros.
We are going to analyze each cold brewing method based on feedback from the coffee community. Different methods can change flavor, consistency, and acidity level from a coffee. We're positive there is a cold brew method for you.
The Immersion method is as simple as brewing coffee can get. You combine water and ground coffee in a container and let it sit for a few hours. Then strain out the coffee grounds and voila! Your cold brew coffee is ready.
Not only is immersion simple, it also makes delicious coffee. Immersion cold brews are typically very balanced with low-acidity levels and no bitterness. Over 70% of the coffee professionals and enthusiasts we surveyed said they use immersion to make their cold brew. That’s quite the testament.
Immersion tends to be very consistent and requires no extra special equipment. All you need is a container, water, coffee, and a filter to make cold brew.
The downside of immersion cold brew is that the coffee’s nuanced flavors become harder to differentiate. Immersion cold brew is essentially a big stew that cooks all the coffee’s flavors together.
Is immersion right for you? View the checklist below to find out:
Immersion is right for you if…
Immersion is not right for you if....
Easy to make
"Easy to use and you can do large batches at once. It's generally easier to repeat, and you can use any combination of water temperatures you like (I use a hot bloomed method)."
-Maxwell Mooney, Narrative Coffee
Consistent and Predictable
“Consistency and predictability are the best features when using the immersion methods. Recipes can be easily replicated, and adjustments are simple.”
- Branch Street Coffee Roasters, Youngstown USA
Full Body and great mouth feel
“The immersion method delivers a very full bodied cup with great mouth feel. Coffee oils are more noticeable in the immersion process, giving us the viscosity we desire in a cup."
-Up Coffee Roaster, Minneapolis, MN
Smooth, low-acid coffee
"The immersion method allows for complete saturation of the coffee grinds for an extended period of time. This method creates a super smooth, low acidity coffee with lower flavor notes such as caramel, brown sugar and cola."
- Susan Kennedy, Tend Coffee, Shirley, NY
"The longer brewing times used with an immersion method do not allow for much control over extraction. This often results in a muddled taste. With cold brewing, while unpleasant bitter flavors will not extract, neither will the more pleasant, brighter flavors. Because of this muddling of flavors and loss of brighter notes, cold brewing can eliminate the variations coffee lovers go for."
-Tito Pena, The Wydown Coffee Bar, Washington D.C.
Requires more ground coffee
“It takes more coffee to create cold brew. It also is a bit time intensive to clean the brewer.”
-Zoey Thorson, Gimme! Coffee
"It's a slow process. The coffee brews in the water for 24 hours before being strained, so it takes some patience."
- Caroline King, Yellow Brick Coffee, Tucson, AZ
“Cleanliness, this method allows much more grit to end up the finished brew. Also unless meticulous planning is involved, less distinction from different coffees.”
Want to give immersion brewing a try? Start with the Collective Recipe:
Coffee: 1060 grams (37oz)
Water: 8480 grams (299oz or 2 gallons)
Water-to-Coffee Ratio: 8:1
Grind size: setting 6 on Handground (medium-coarse)
Steep Time: 18 hours 20 minutes
1. Grind coffee and place in large container.
2. Fill the container with cold water, making sure all the grounds are saturated.
3. Let the coffee steep for just over 18 hours.
4. Filter out the coffee and store cold brew in the fridge.
If Immersion Method is the cold brew for you, check out the article dedicated to the method, with brand recommendations, recipes from around the world, and tips on how to make your own immersion cold brewer at home.
You have probably seen ice drip cold brew in action (very slow action) in a local coffee shop. It might have looked like the glass towers in the photo above.
These glass towers are an elegant way to display a deceptively simple cold brewing method: cold water slowly drips onto coffee, seeps through the bed of grounds, and drips into a container underneath as cold brew.
The result is anything but simple: a wide range nuanced flavors while still maintaining a thick, syrupy body. Fans of ice drip believe it brings out the true flavors of the coffee.
However, ice drip takes a little more investment than immersion. It requires more work to dial in the right drip rate and keep it steady all day. It still takes nearly a full day to complete, and you will have to buy a dedicated ice drip cold brew device to make an significant quantity of cold brew at one time.
Is the ice drip method right for you? Let’s find out.
You will love ice drip cold brew if…
Ice drip is not for you if…
Fruity and Floral Coffee
“Flavors are very clean and really emphasize the floral or fruity notes. The slow drip method just brews a super clean cup of cold brew.”
- Chad, Portland, OR
Great for experimenting
“Looks way cool and is a great conversation starter. Can be very hands-on and fun to tweak ratios and water temps”
- Phil Cook, Springfield, MO
“Visual experience for our customers to see the towers. Beautiful clean coffees.”
-Bonlife Coffee, Cleveland, Tennessee
Tough to Dial In
“More difficult to brew correctly - adjusting the drip can be tricky. Makes a mess if dripping too quickly harder to train employees to do correctly. Relatively expensive equipment for smaller batches”
- DuWayne Hegel, The Urban Bean Coffeehouse Cafe, Orange Park FL
Takes time and attention
“Time (8 hours or more) and attention (drip rate requires regular monitoring, due to effect of water temperature and volume).”
- Paul Pinson, Avid Amateur Coffee Roaster, Brewer, Consumer
This collective recipe works for any ice drip method, regardless of the volume of coffee you want to make. They key is to make adjustments using the water-to-coffee ratio, which should give you the same results in flavor regardless of brewing device.
Coffee: 60 grams (2 ounces)
Water: 660 grams (23 ounces)
Water-to-Coffee Ratio: 11:1
Grind size: Setting 4 on Handground (medium)
Drip speed: 1 drip per every 0.8 seconds
Hours: 9.91 hours
Note: The instructions were adopted from the One Line Coffee.
If you want to dive deeper into ice drip cold brew, check out our article entirely dedicated to the method. We include tips, device recommendations, and more recipes for you to indulge.
Ok, we admit it: Japanese Iced Coffee is not technically cold brew coffee. But it’s not really iced coffee either, so it’s sort of a misfit. We decided to include Japanese Iced Coffee in this cold brew article because it has a lot of the great qualities of cold brew plus a few advantages over other cold brew methods.
Japanese Iced Coffee is a blanket term for brewing hot coffee directly onto ice. Because the coffee is brewed hot, Japanese Iced Method captures the wonderful aroma of hot coffee while still maintaining the sweetness of cold brew.
Apart from taste, one huge advantage of Japanese Iced Method is the time it takes to create it. It takes just as long to make Japanese Iced Coffee as it does to make hot coffee. For those who can’t plan 8-24 hours in advance, this speedy cold brew is a lifesaver.
It does have it drawbacks, however. Obviously the ice in the vessel will begin to melt as you brew hot coffee over the top, and estimating the dilution takes some guesswork and practice. You also can't make large batches unless you have an automatic drip machine. Japanese Iced Coffee is best suited for one cup at a time.
Japanese Iced Method is right for you if…
Japanese Iced Method is not right for you if…
“When done well, the Japanese iced coffee method will result in an arguably more flavorful, bright and complex brew. We can showcase a great washed Yirgacheffe coffee and not have it taste like every other cold brew that people have out there.”
- Jonathan Pascual, Taproom Coffee & Beer, Atlanta, GA USA
Single Serving Cold Brew
"It's easy to do for those that are in a rush and chances are you already have the equipment to do so."
-Oscar Nunez, High Note Coffee, Woodside, CA
Fast and easy
"It makes cold coffee quickly. If you have sudden craving for an iced coffee it is a great way to make it without having to wait 24 hours for cold brew in the immersion process."
-David Inden, Seattle, WA USA
No specialized equipment needed
"I like the Japanese method because it's highly accessible to people who already have drip brewers. It's also incredibly flexible and really allows you a lot of freedom to experiment and find a formula that fits your taste."
- Chase Bobier, Barista Parlor Golden Sound, Murfreesboro, TN USA
Bad for Bulk
"Large batches aren't quite as easy without a batch brewer."
-Maxwell Mooney, Narrative Coffee
"You must account for the ice melting during brewing that will add to your net coffee. This requires adjusting of grind size, water added, etc. It takes some trial and error before you get a cup that you will truly enjoy."
-Chad, Portland, OR
Japanese Iced Coffee recipes differ a lot depending on which brewing device you’re using. We couldn't create one collective recipe, but the Japanese Iced Coffee article has several recipes for each brew method. We include recipes for Iced Aeropress, Chemex, Hario v60, Kalita Wave, and Batch Brew.
There is a lot more variety in cold brew coffee than first meets the eye. The best way to explore the possibilities of cold brew is to try each of the three methods described above. They all have their own unique qualities and advantages.
For the curious coffee nerd, check out the dedicated articles for each of the three methods. Just like this article, they are jam packed with advice, recommendations, and recipes from members of the coffee community.
Cover Photo by Fair Trade Cafe in Phoenix, Arizona