Cold brew is a coffee drink made using room temperature or cold water (rather than hot) and left to steep for as little as 6 hours or as many as 24, depending on how large the batch is. Cold brew is steadily rising to join iced coffee as the go-to way to enjoy a refreshing beverage during summer months.
Hot water heats up the oils and fats in the grounds and alters the coffee’s chemical composition, giving it is familiar bitter taste. By using cold or room temperature water and letting it steep for hours, the coffee retains its flavors and tastes different than if you brewed it with hot water or simply poured it over ice. Time, as opposed to heat, is how a robust batch of coffee is made.
Good things come for those who wait, and lovers of cold brew know what the pay off is. If you have an active or busy lifestyle, cold brew also has a shelf life of 7-14 days, meaning you don’t even have to make it every day.
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What’s the difference between iced coffee and cold brew?
While the process may be different for some cafes and those who make it at home, iced coffee is generally made by doubling the amount of grounds and brewing it with the amount of hot water you would use for a regular batch of coffee. It is then poured over ice to dilute. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this method, the flavors are going to be altered, and it could taste either watery or overly bitter.
By brewing cold from start to finish, the grounds in a batch of cold brew aren’t shocked with hot water and ice at the end. Every subtle flavor, from cocoa to citrus to floral, are kept, and the acidity of the drink remains low. Since cold brew is so smooth and contains less acidity than its ice coffee counterpart, it is a good choice for those who have sensitive stomachs.
What to look for when shopping for a cold brew system
Like any appliance, you’ll want to consider the price and size of the model. Cold brew systems that work well don’t have to come with a sticker shock of a price tag. There are some affordable models, though you might be sacrificing design aesthetics for the price. You don’t have to buy a system that looks like it belongs in a laboratory in order to make a batch that is tasty.
Since many cold brewers need to be kept in the refrigerator, keep in mind the available shelf space you have. Smaller brewers (they may just make a cup or two of cold brew) can be found that fit conveniently in the door of your fridge. Don’t forget to take into consideration storing it when it isn’t in use.
While it depends on how much you’re actually making, some cold brew systems can brew in as little as 6 hours and as much as 24. Just keep in mind not to let it brew more than what the instructions call for as you could end up with some pretty bitter coffee.
Filters and Grit
Some people may not mind the little bit of sediment at the bottom of the cup, but for others, it could be a deal breaker.
Filters can come in paper or metal. Each one has its own set of pros and cons. Paper filters are great for holding back grit, but run the risk of spilling or tearing, potentially ruining the whole batch of cold brew. Metal filters are easy to clean, better for the environment, but let more sediment in the drink and don’t give you the same flavor profile.
Plastic, while lightweight and durable, tend to stain easily and retain the flavors of the coffee. If you like to switch blends, retained flavors will pollute the beans you’re using and prevent you from getting the full flavors of your current cup.
The pot and decanter you use are also important to think about. Since some models require you to pour the coffee into a separate decanter, if it’s heavy or not well-designed, it can prove for an awkward time. If the pot is fragile, you could end up with a hot-cold mess on your hands.
Overall, most cold brew systems are extremely easy to clean and have very few parts to worry about. Just make sure you double check to make sure that the model you buy is dishwasher safe.
Skill and know-how
Some are more technical than others and may require some knowledge on blooming techniques, agitation, and grind consistency. However, there are plenty of models of cold brew makers that don’t require much know-how on the intricacies of brewing.
Make sure coffee is ground coarse or purchase grounds that are specifically for cold brew. Medium and dark roasts are best for cold brew coffee because they offer a fuller flavor than their light roast counterparts.