What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brew coffee is the fastest growing segment of the specialty coffee market. Still, lots of people are confused about what exactly cold brew coffee is and how it’s different from regular ol’ iced coffee.

Back In The Day…

Iced coffee used to be nothing more than yesterday’s left over coffee poured over ice. It was all kindza nasty. It was diluted by the ice. It was sour and bitter. It was old. But people still drank it because it was cold and sometimes its just way too hot to drink regular brewed coffee. It’s amazing to me that people tolerated bad iced coffee for as long as they did.

Enter Cold Brew Coffee

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) tells us that water should be between 195 and 205 degrees fahrenheit to properly extract all of the coffee goodness. For most coffee brewing methods, this is the way to go. Pour overs, batch brews, french press and more generally work pretty well with hot water.

Toddy Cold Brewer

Somewhere along the way, someone decided that wasn’t always right. If you put coffee grounds in cold or room-temperature water, and let them sit for a long period of time, anywhere between 6 and 24 hours, you get a fantastic, full bodied cold brew coffee concentrate.

Thats exactly what “cold brew coffee” is – coffee brewed for a long period of time using cold (or room temperature) water. Hot coffee poured over ice can taste terrible. Cold brew coffee gives you a sweet, smooth, full bodied flavor that can be mixed a number of different ways. This is where the name comes from. “Cold Brew Coffee” refers to the fact that the coffee is brewed using cold or room temperature water for a long period of time.

Thats exactly what “cold brew coffee” is – coffee brewed for a long period of time using cold (or room temperature) water.

Despite some of the cold brew coffee naysayers in the specialty coffee world, cold brew coffee is definitely here to stay. There is a camp that says cold brew coffee tends to mute many of the bright, exciting flavors of coffee. Although to a certain extent this may be true, it also makes a coffee drink that is sweet and flavorful and can be used in a number of different drinks that just don’t work well with hot brewed coffee.

Ideas for Cold Brew Coffee Drinks

Our blog has an entire section of recipes dedicated to cold brew coffee drinks. In particular, our Black Ice Brew cold brew coffee concentrate is a fantastic way to enjoy cold brew coffee without all the fuss and muss of making it yourself. Plus, it’s a bit less expensive than making your own cold brew.
Caramel Iced Latte 5
Making drinks with a cold brew coffee concentrate is easy. I like to mix 1 part cold brew with an equal part water (for an iced coffee) or milk (for an iced latte). Just pour it over ice and enjoy. Add a shot of caramel or vanilla syrup to your iced latte and you have a fantastic summertime refresher.

Some other ideas for using cold brew coffee:

  • Hot coffee – just use hot water with your cold brew concentrate!
  • If you home brew beer, consider using cold brew for your coffee beers
  • The Black ‘n Bourbon
  • Any recipe that calls for espresso or “really strong coffee”
  • Coffee Maple Candied Bacon (yeah bacon!)
  • A whole bunch of ideas on our blog.

Making Cold Brew Coffee at Home

The process for making cold brew coffee at home is really very simple. The internet is full of resources and recipes for cold brew coffee – each with their own unique variation. Here’s one method:

Tools and Ingredients:

  • 12 oz of a sweet, Central American single origin coffee (Guatemala or Honduras are good options) or a blend of several like our Front Porch Blend. Grind it coarse like you would for a french press.
  • 7 cups of water
  • A large holding vessel. A Toddy Cold Brewer is a great option if you have one and probably the easiest to use, but any bowl, pot or plastic container will work.
  • A colander or wire strainer
  • A piece of cheese cloth that fits in the colander or strainer.

Put 1 cup of water in the holding vessel followed by half of the coffee grounds. Slowly pour the half of the remaining water over the grounds making sure you soak them completely. Follow that with the remainder of the coffee grounds and the rest of the water.

Let the coffee sit on your counter top for 12-14 hours. There’s no need to refrigerate it at this point. After it’s done sitting, line the colander or strainer with the cheese cloth and slowly pour the coffee sludge through the filter allowing it to strain into another container. Once you have your concentrate filtered, keep it in the refrigerator. It should be good for 2-3 weeks like that.

Of course, using a Toddy cold brewer is another great way go. If you need more details on how to use the Toddy for cold brew coffee, check out our friend John’s blog post.

Variations on a Cold Brew Coffee Theme

Typical of the specialty coffee world, there are lots of different variations on the cold brew coffee theme that you can try. Different ways of brewing tends to extract different flavors from the coffee and highlight various notes and subtleties.

Hot Bloom Cold Brew Coffee

If you happen to have a lighter roast coffee that you want to use, sometimes it’s enhanced by preserving the brighter notes in the coffee. Cold brew coffee typically doesn’t do that. Most African coffees, particularly Kenyan and Ethiopian coffees are not as bright and flavorful as a cold brew coffee.

Hot Bloom-Cold Brew Coffee tends to highlight the brighter flavors in certain coffees.

One method to highlight these flavors is to use hot water – right off a boil – for the first part of your cold brew. Let the coffee “bloom” or expand, releasing all of the carbon dioxide and other gasses in the grounds, and then follow it up with cold water. Or, if you’d like, lots of ice. Let it sit overnight and enjoy. My experience is that these lighter, brighter cold brew coffees don’t sit as well in milk drinks like a sweeter, more full bodied coffee does. You might want to keep the lighter cold brew coffee for iced coffee drinks only.

Japanese Method Iced Coffee

Yet another variation that preserves some of the bright fruity flavors of coffee is very popular in Japan. Another bonus of this method is that it takes a lot less time to get that iced goodness in your mouth. Follow the directions to brew in a Chemex or other pour over method but substitute half of the weight of your water for ice. Put the ice in the bottom of the Chemex (or other brewing vessel) before you brew the coffee. Use hot water and brew the same way you would normally brew your Chemex or pour-over coffee right on the ice. The result is a bright, flavorful iced coffee in a flash.

If you’d like more details on how to do Japanese method iced coffee, check out Sarah’s post on Offbeat and Inspired.


Of course, If you’re in the Geneva area, come by FreshGround Roasting and pick up a bottle of Black Ice Brew. It’s easily the cheapest and easiest way to get your cold brew coffee fix. If you pick up a 32 oz howler of Black Ice Brew, you can get it refilled as often as you like by bringing the howler back to our Geneva roastery or visiting us at any of our farmers markets.

Want to try your own cold brew at home?

Here’s what we recommend:

Toddy Cold Brew Coffee System
Front Porch Coffee Blend - perfect for cold brew coffee