A Cold Brew Primer

by Molly Bradley


There are those days — and entire seasons — where the only kind of drink you want is a cold one. Here are the best methods to make your own ice-cold coffee.

If you’re a coffee person, that means that somewhere inside you, you are a cold brew person. Even if you staunchly drink hot coffee year-round, you either already have or will come around to the charms of cold java in the morning in the summertime, cool and fresh right out of the fridge. Besides, cold brew packs a stronger caffeine punch, with less of hot coffee’s acidic bite.

The trouble is, if you buy your coffee out at your favorite coffee shop on your way to work, it’s not exactly financially sustainable. At a minimum of $3.50 per drink, by the end of the summer, you could have shelled out for festival tickets, that pricey pair of shoes you don’t need but really want, or many, many, many wheels of brie.

As with most expensive things in New York, the workaround? Make your own. We’re here to teach you an easy, minimal-step method to making your own cold brew all summer long.

  1. Gather your equipment.

You have a few options in terms of equipment, no pieces of which are difficult to find or particularly expensive. They all require a coffee grinder, which is well worth investing in even if you’re just a hot coffee drinker. But other than that, all you’ll need is:

Option 1: Steeping container, sieve, coffee filter.

Option 2: Steeping container, cheesecloth/nut milk bag, optional coffee filter.

Option 3: Mason jar, sieve + coffee filter OR cheesecloth/nut milk bag + optional coffee filter.

Option 4: French press.

The steeping container could be anything — a bowl, a jar, a pitcher — and the size will just depend on how much coffee you want to make. The sieve, coffee filter, and cheesecloth or nut milk bag (despite the weird-sounding name, that’s just a bag for making your own nut-derived milks, like almond or cashew) are each to filter out coffee grounds and silt from the final product once it’s brewed.

As you decide on your gear, you should consider Step 2:

  1. Choose your quantity and ratio.

Decide how much coffee you want to make. The first two methods are great for making big batches of cold brew, which keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge, and which make it easy to just pour a glass over ice in the morning. As for the fourth method, which requires just a regular French press, the amount of coffee you’ll get depends on the size of your press.

The third method — the mason jar method — results in a cold coffee concentrate, which you then dilute with water or milk. This method is best if you like to play with the intensity of the flavor and caffeine in your coffee, and if you like a decidedly milkier, more latte-like faste.

If you go with one of the first two methods, the ratio of coffee beans (before you grind them) to water that you want is roughly 1-2:8. Where you land between 1-2 cups of beans to those 8 cups of water depends on how strong you want your coffee.

For the French press method, the ratio remains the same, but your French press may be too small to accommodate 8 cups. Try a ratio of ¾ cup (or a little more, if you like it strong) beans to 4 cups of water.

  1. Grind your beans.

The one thing to know about preparing coffee beans for cold brew? Grind ‘em coarse. At minimum, you should shoot for about French press-level coarseness, but coarser than that is great. The last thing you want is cloudy, silty coffee that leaves a residue in your mouth.

  1. Place the beans in your container, and pour over cold water.

Make sure that water is cold! Pour it over the grounds in the bottom of the container slowly, like you’re trying to moisten every single individual one. Then gently stir the grounds, making sure they’re all well-soaked.

  1. Cover & let stand.

For methods 1, 2, & 3, ideally, cover your container or mason jar with a cheesecloth, but you could also use a thin kitchen towel, lightly placed over the mouth of the container. For the French press, put the top on, but don’t press down. Let this mixture steep at room temperature for a minimum of 12 hours, or more if you can spare the time.

  1. Strain.

Once your grounds have steeped, it’s time to strain them out.

For methods 1-3: If you don’t have a cheesecloth or nut milk bag, strain them into a bowl through a fine sieve, and then again through a coffee filter, to eliminate silt. (If you want, you can strain the whole batch through just the sieve, and then strain individual cups of cold brew you serve through a filter as you go, but that’ll eat up a whole lot of coffee filters.) Otherwise, strain the brew through your cheesecloth/bag into another container. You can, of course, strain again through a coffee filter for extra clarity, if you so desire.

For the French press method, push the plunger down slowly and pour the coffee out into another container. If it seems cloudy or silty, you can filter it again through a coffee filter.

  1. Serve!

At this point, you have the option to serve the room-temperature coffee immediately — over ice, or with cold milk, to bring the temperature down some more — or you can chill it for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

For the first two methods and the French press method of brewing, your coffee is completely ready to go, with whatever additions or flavorings you please! For the mason jar method, what you have now is a concentrate. A 1:1 dilution with water would give you the concentration of typical cold brew, but you should experiment with the concentration as you please. Dilute with water or milk to taste, and enjoy!

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