SHORT VERSION: This article is about how to make cold brew coffee by various methods, including “by hand” and with a French press. If all you want is to find a cold brew coffee maker that will help you to make your cold brew with the least amount of effort, at the end of this article is a list of cold brew coffee makers to fit every budget! Or you could just whip out that plastic and pick one up from Amazon.
Summer may be winding down, but it’s never the wrong time of year to learn how to make cold brew coffee! It’s great all year long, much like anything else you prefer to drink cold regardless of season. Water? Milk? Margaritas? Coke and Pepsi? More often than not, people like to drink those things cold. Go ahead and add coffee to that list.
In this article, I am going to teach you how to make cold brew coffee…but first, we need to make one thing clear: cold brew coffee is NOT the same thing as iced coffee! My apologies to those who are tired of being reminded of this, but it’s something that newcomers to cold brew coffee need to know. Cold brewing is a method where you’re making a cold brew coffee concentrate to be diluted later on with milk or water or whatever you want to put in it. Iced coffee is really just hot coffee that gets poured over ice. Iced coffee can taste great when done right, but it’s not cold brew. The cold brew method starts cold (or at room temperature) and ends cold, hence the name.
“Learning how to make cold brew coffee at home is a great way to save yourself a lot of money.”
According to the makers of the famous Toddy cold brewer, the absence of heat in the cold brewing process prevents the release of certain oils and acids in coffee beans that are only soluble at high temperatures. These oils and acids are the source of the trademark bitterness and acidity of hot coffee, so cold brewing results in a much less acidic product. One other thing to know as you’re figuring out how to make cold brew coffee is that it’s really easy, but it takes a good 12 to 24 hours to let the cold brewing method do its thing. In traditional coffee making, i.e. with hot water, heat is doing all the work for you. Heat dissolves all those oils and acids and other flavorful compounds in coffee and, voilà, your coffee is ready in a matter of minutes. In the world of cold brew coffee, time is what extracts all the goodness from those coffee grounds. If you don’t mind planning ahead a little bit, cold brew coffee is easily doable at home and you will amaze yourself (and your guests!) with all the incredible coffee drinks you’ll be making. Learning how to make cold brew coffee at home is also a great way to save yourself a lot of money. We all love coffee shops, but the money you spend there can add up really quickly.
Generally speaking, there are just three simple steps in learning how to make cold brew coffee:
- Mix coffee grounds with water
- Let the mixture steep for a long time (more on this later)
- Strain the cold brew to separate the solids from the liquid
Simple, right? For the most part, yes! It’s that simple. What may be a little less simple is deciding how to make cold brew coffee in a way that (a) fits your budget, and (b) matches your tolerance for messes and annoyance. There are several different approaches you can take:
- You can do your cold brew with items that are probably in your kitchen right this minute.
- You can do it by combining your existing kitchen gear with an inexpensive filtration tool such as cheesecloth, muslin, or a nut milk bag.
- You can use a French press (here are 7 great ones).
- You can use a cold brew coffee pot (essentially the same thing as a teapot with a built-in infuser).
- You can invest in a cold brew coffee maker device such as the aforementioned Toddy, the OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker (read review), the CoffeeSock ColdBrew Kit, or any number of other cold brew coffee systems.
The three “how to make cold brew coffee” steps outlined above are a general description of the cold brew process. Devices such as the CoffeeSock ColdBrew Kit and the French press allow you to bypass the messiness of hand-filtering wet coffee grounds. Other devices on the market do the filtering for you.
“Finer-ground coffee will over-extract, so go coarse if you want it to taste good.”
Let’s start off with the cheapest, do-it-right-now method of making cold brew. Of course, you’ll need coffee grounds which should be coarse-ground, like the consistency of sea salt or bread crumbs. We’re basically talking about the same coarseness used in a French press, if that’s already familiar to you. Finer-ground coffee will over-extract, so go coarse if you want it to taste good. You’ll also need water which can be cold, but room-temperature is ideal. Here’s the other stuff you will need:
- A fine mesh strainer (preferred) or the brew basket from your coffee maker
- Paper coffee filters or paper towels
- Something to mix the coffee grounds and water in…this could be a bowl or a saucepan, but the best option is something you can easily pour from
- A receptacle to strain into and store your cold brew coffee, preferably something airtight
- A spoon
The perfect ratio of coffee to water will always be up for debate, but for our purposes let’s say we’re using 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) of ground coffee for every 1 cup of water. If you’re using a measuring cup, that’s about 1 cup of coffee for every 4 cups of water, a 1:4 ratio. This isn’t a strict rule, so you may want to try different coffee to water ratios and see what you like best. Remember, you’re making a coffee concentrate, and you’ll be diluting it later with water or milk. This means there’s a lot of leeway in the coffee to water ratio, so don’t stress over it. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get to it!
How to make cold brew coffee by hand
Step 1: Mix your coffee grounds and water.
Place the coffee in your bowl or whatever receptacle you’ve chosen, and then pour the water slowly and evenly. All of the grounds should be equally soaked. When you’re done pouring, grab your spoon and give it a quick stir.
Step 2: Give the coffee time to steep.
Cover your wet coffee mixture with a paper towel or a loosely-placed lid. We’re not going for an airtight seal here. It’s okay to let your cold brew coffee breathe while it steeps. If you’re impatient, let the coffee steep at room temperature for about 12 hours. For best results, put the coffee in the refrigerator for a full 24 hours. Some people like to give it a little stir once or twice during steeping, so go ahead and stir if you feel the need. Whether you choose to stir or not isn’t a dealbreaker.
Step 3: Separate the leftover coffee grounds from the liquid.
This is the messy part! First, pre-wet your coffee filter or paper towels. Pre-wetting keeps the filter from absorbing too much coffee, so just get the filter wet and then squeeze out the excess water. Then get your fine mesh strainer, drop your coffee filter (or paper towels) in it, and use it to strain your cold brew coffee mixture into your airtight storage container. This part of the process is slow and kind of annoying, so you’ll need to be patient. You might even need to do it more than once if your resulting cold brew has any solids in it.
Alternatively, you could (as shown in the video below) choose to strain through a fine mesh strainer first. Then, filter a second time through a paper coffee filter placed inside a funnel for support. If you go this route, you might need a second pair of hands to hold the funnel in place.
If you happen to have cheesecloth, muslin, or a nut milk bag handy, you can use those (pre-wetted) for straining instead of slumming it with coffee filters and paper towels.
At the end of the straining process, you will have a small mountain of leftover coffee grounds in your strainer. It will be extremely tempting to press the remaining liquid out of that mountain, but think twice before you do that! There’s a whole bunch of yuck trapped in there, so do yourself a favor and just toss it.
Once you finish straining, that’s it! You’re done. You have just made your first batch of cold brew concentrate. Most people like to mix their cold brew with an equal portion of water or milk, and the naughty kids will add a healthy dose of Kahlua or Bailey’s. Because, you know…they’re naughty.
Below is a very quick 36-second video that demonstrates how to make cold brew coffee by hand, as described above. It varies a bit from what we’ve covered here…the video says to steep for 20 hours, but longer or shorter is totally up to you. You might also notice that they filter the grounds twice: first through a fine-mesh strainer, and then through a regular ol’ paper coffee filter. Regardless, the steps shown in this video are the same basic steps you’ll need for your DIY cold brew.
So now that you’ve done it the hard way, let’s spend a small amount of cash in the name of convenience. The thing that makes learning how to make cold brew coffee a chore is the straining part. If the strainer & coffee filter apparatus is too messy and inconvenient, which it certainly can be, consider investing in a bit of cold brew coffee making gear. Let’s take a look at some of that gear now.
COLD BREW COFFEE MAKERS
Ok, the French press isn’t really made specifically for cold brew coffee. It’s made for “regular” coffee (which it’s awesome at, btw), but it also makes learning how to make cold brew coffee incredibly easy. Once again, you’ll need coarse-ground coffee, but if you currently own a French press then this is already old news.
How to make cold brew coffee with a French press
- Remove the plunger and lid, obviously
- Add coffee
- Add water
- Put the plunger and lid on, but do NOT plunge! If you don’t have enough vertical space in your refrigerator to store this overnight, just cover your French press with a paper towel
- Let the coffee steep (you’ll need some headroom in your refrigerator due to the plunger handle sticking way up high)
- After steeping, press the plunger down SLOWLY
And you’re done! Your cold brew is ready. If you don’t own a French press yet, check out this roundup of the 7 best French press coffee makers out there.
Pictured below: the Frieling USA stainless steel French press.
CoffeeSock is a little environmentally-aware company that sells organic cotton coffee filters meant to replace the tree-killing paper filters we all know and love. You can buy one and drop it in your Chemex or pour over coffee filter, and then just rinse it out to use again.
CoffeeSock also offers a very simple cold brew coffee kit that allows you to make cold brew coffee in much the same way you would make tea. No messy filtering by hand! The CoffeeSock ColdBrew Kit comes with an organic cotton “sock” (it’s a bag) and a mason jar. Here’s how to make cold brew coffee with the CoffeeSock Kit:
- Put the sock in the jar and secure the sock’s opening around the mouth of the jar
- Add coffee
- Add water
- Tie the sock shut
- Close the jar and let it steep
After steeping, just pull the sock out of the jar and toss out the coffee grounds that remain. You now have a jar of cold brew coffee concentrate! If you already have a mason jar of your own, or any jar of appropriate size, you can buy the ColdBrew CoffeeSock by itself.
Cold brew coffee pot
I mentioned earlier in this article that a cold brew coffee pot is “essentially the same thing as a teapot with a built-in infuser.” If you already own such a teapot, go ahead and make your cold brew in that before spending any extra money on a separate cold brew coffee thingy. Likewise, you can also use your cold brew coffee pot to make tea.
A cold brew coffee pot is basically just a pitcher with a fine mesh strainer built into it. This is how to make cold brew coffee in a cold brew coffee pot:
- Add coffee to the filter
You might want to use a funnel for this to ensure that coffee grounds don’t sneak into the “coffee pot.”
- Add water
As with all cold brew methods, it’s best to do this slowly. Actually, with this kind of cold brew coffee maker, you have no choice but to do it slowly! Otherwise, the strainer will overflow and you don’t want that. Cheaters will often remove the filter and fill most of the coffee pot with water, and then pour the remaining water through the coffee grounds to get them wet. Hey…I don’t judge.
- Let the coffee steep.
Once you’re done, just toss whatever coffee grounds remain and you’re ready to rock.
Pictured below: the ultra-popular Hario Mizudashi cold brew coffee pot which runs about $18 or so. The instructions may be in Japanese, but don’t panic! It’s pretty self-explanatory.
More Cold Brew Systems
So far, we’ve had a look at how to make cold brew coffee with several different methods. There’s the manual DIY method, the French press, the CoffeeSock ColdBrew Kit, and the convenience of cold brew coffee pots. But wait, there’s more! As with conventional coffee makers, there are cold coffee brewers to match every taste and budget, and we’ll take a quick look at several of the top contenders below.
Osaka Cold Brew Coffee Maker 6 cup
If you prefer to do your cold brew coffee in small batches, the Osaka Cold Brew Coffee Maker is a cheap way to get it done. It drips cold water through coffee grounds and, six hours later, your cold brew coffee is ready! It’s not quite the same cold brew process covered in this here article…it drips rather than steeps…but people who buy it seem to be very happy with it.
Toddy T2N Cold Brew System
The Toddy is low-tech and simple. What it lacks in “countertop appeal” it makes up for in longevity and ease of use. Making cold brew in the Toddy is almost identical to the DIY process described earlier in this article, but it’s much easier and much less frustrating. Put in your coffee and water, let it steep, and then drain into the decanter that’s included with the Toddy. Bam! You’re done.
Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer
The Filtron Cold Water Coffee Concentrate Brewer is basically a fancier Toddy. A lot of users report having some problems with the removable handle on numerous occasions, but if you can get used to that, then the Filtron could be your next best cold brew friend.
OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker
I reviewed the OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker a while ago. Where the Toddy and Filtron fall short in looks, the OXO succeeds in looking pretty cool on the countertop. It still does the exact same thing as its low-tech cousins, but it does it in a more stylish way.
Also, in case you hadn’t heard, OXO makes a couple of pretty amazing SCAA certified coffee makers.
Cold Bruer Drip Coffee Maker
Much like the Osaka Cold Brew Coffee Maker, this glass-and-steel Cold Bruer contraption is a “cold drip” coffee maker. That means it doesn’t steep the coffee grounds like you would in the cold brew coffee method described above. It drips water through a coffee chamber, so the resulting product won’t be quite as strong or concentrated as traditional cold brew coffee. It’s not cheap, but it’s a pretty easy way to get your quasi-cold-brew started. Also, bonus: it comes in blue, gray, and red.
KitchenAid Cold Brew Coffee Maker
If slumming it just ain’t the way you roll, KitchenAid has a nice, pretty stainless steel cold brew coffee maker that you’re gonna love. It even comes with a handy pour spout for maximum fanciness. There are certainly more affordable contraptions for those who don’t know how to make cold brew coffee any other way, but none are quite so stylish.
- You’re rich and looking for a “conversation piece” to complement your home decor.
- You’re buying a gift for someone you really want to impress.
- You need to make coffee in the weirdest way possible, just for the sake of being weird.
Whatever your reason for buying this tower of wood and glass, you should feel confident that it will, indeed, make a great cup of coffee. The reviews on Amazon are mostly very positive, and even if you never make coffee in it a single time, it will still look really cool in your kitchen. It has a certain Thomas Edison science laboratory vibe to it, doesn’t it?
So that’s it! You now know how to make cold brew coffee. Regardless of which method or cold brew coffee maker you choose, you’re going to love the outcome. Cold brew coffee is easy to make, and just think of all the cash you won’t be spending at Starbucks! Go forth and start making cold brew coffee, my friend.
And for extra credit, get this snazzy t-shirt to let everyone know that you’re hooked!
If you’re this far down the page and you’re still reading, then I suppose that means you still haven’t found what you’re looking for (cue U2 song clip here). I guess learning how to make cold brew coffee isn’t for everyone.
If you’re in search of a “normal” coffee maker in the $80-$100 range, take a look at the Bunn Velocity Brew line. If you click around Buy/Don’t Buy long enough, you’ll see that I have somewhat of an unhealthy obsession with Bunn. I’ve written long, gushing love letters about Bunn’s history, the Bunn BXB Velocity Brew, Bunn’s bulletproof $1,000 coffee grinder, their awesome stainless steel VP-17 behemoth, and I’ve even put together a setup guide for the Velocity Brew line of coffee makers.
I have no relationship with Bunn and I’m certainly not on their payroll, but I’ve become sort of a cheerleader for their Velocity Brew coffee makers because they all come with stainless steel water reservoirs. This is important because the very common complaint of “plastic taste” in lesser coffee makers is easily remedied with stainless steel. A stainless steel water reservoir, that is. There are more expensive coffee makers that also have this feature (several of which are SCAA certified). However, as far as I know, you simply won’t find a stainless steel reservoir in a coffee maker that’s cheaper than Bunn’s entry-level Velocity Brews. Don’t look to Hamilton Beach or Mr. Coffee for a stainless steel reservoir ‘cuz it won’t be there. If plastic taste has been a problem for you, and if you’re not quite prepared to drop a lot of cash on an SCAA certified coffee maker, you really should take a look at Bunn’s Velocity Brew coffee makers. I won’t say they’re perfect, but they do so many things right that they certainly warrant consideration if you’re a daily coffee drinker.
Occasional coffee drinkers might want to think about the Aeropress, Chemex, or maybe even a pour-over coffee cone. All three of these options promise amazing coffee in return for a relatively low price tag and just a bit more work than the typical push-button coffee maker. And if a cheap push-button coffee maker is actually what you want, here’s a name you probably weren’t expecting to hear: Black and Decker! Believe it or not, they make a pretty awesome single-cup coffee maker for about $28 (as of this writing).