If you know Sarah and I well at all, you know that we love coffee. In fact, if you’ve ever visited our apartment, you likely noticed that between the espresso maker, the Keurig and the coffee grinder, almost half of our counter space is dedicated to our morning brew. In the colder months, we’re known to insist on making a piping hot latte for anyone who steps through our door, but during the summer months, our cold brew system runs around the clock to keep us stocked on an iced, low-acidity version of our morning cup of coffee.
Although our espresso maker is literally the most expensive item in our home besides our camera gear (thanks wedding registry!), it’s our $35 cold brew system that everyone raves about when they visit! In fact, in the last month alone we’ve had close to a dozen friends and family members ask us if we could share our not-so-secret recipe with them. When I finally sat down to start drafting that email, I realized that if they all asked for the recipe, they probably weren’t the only ones who could enjoy it!
How to Make Perfect Cold Brew Coffee Every Time
- Buy the Toddy Cold Brew System! Yes, we know “go buy this thing” is a totally lame first step, but it’s served us perfectly for years (yes, we drank cold-brew before it became ubiquitous at coffee shops across the US). Although we’ve heard of people having luck with totally DIY-systems, we swear by our Toddy system’s results. The most updated version is available for less than $34 on Amazon, but we’re using an older version that we inherited as wedding gift from my parents. Either way, it’s well worth the investment.
- Buy Your Beans. If you buy your coffee pre-ground, make sure you buy a standard grind (as opposed to an ultra-fine espresso grind). If you grind your own beans or purchase beans at a store with a grinder, give them a coarser grind.
- Prep the System. Stop-up the bottom of the brewing container with the rubber stopper, and place a damp filter into the bottom of the brewing container. I’ve DEFINITELY never forgotten the stopper and proceeded to pour coffee-water-soup all over our kitchen floor. Totally has never happened. If it had, Sarah certainly would not have laughed at me for several minutes.
- Add One Pound (~5 cups) of Coffee and Nine Cups of Water. If you don’t want a clogged filter, gentleness is key. Add the coffee and water in small increments, then stir very slowly, very gingerly, and as few times as possible, as excessive stirring can clog the cloth filter. Try pressing dry coffee into the water with the backside of a spoon rather than stirring. Keep adding and mixing in small increments until all the coffee and water are in the brewing container! For reference, the coffee-water solution should look like a moist chocolate cake when it’s ready to steep.
- Wait 18-24 Hours. Go live your life while your coffee steeps.
- Drain. Once the steeping is done, pull the stopper from the bottom of the brewing container, and let it drain directly into your fancy glass carafe! Just have the carafe ready (read: underneath the brewing container) when you pull the plug, as the coffee will start flowing almost immediately. Let the coffee drain for a few hours, as the fine cloth filter makes for slow draining.
- Round Two, Maybe. Although Toddy might not recommend this, we’ve found that once the concentrate has finished draining, we double our coffee output by running water (about 6 cups this time) through the grounds a second time, and letting this steep for another 24-36 hours. Drain just like before. But maybe you aren’t balling on a budget like we are, and can totally skip this step.
- Clean-Up. Your cold brew-filled carafe can go right in the fridge for up to two weeks without any degradation in flavor. Trash (or compost) the old coffee grounds, and make sure that you give the cloth filter a very thorough rinse, but don’t clean it with soap unless you aspire to become a connoisseur of fine soap-flavored coffee. Keep the filter in the fridge while you’re not using it. Get a new one every 3-6 months.
- Enjoy Your Coffee! Keep in mind that depending on the grind you use and the length you steep (finer grinds and longer steeping leads to stronger coffee), the end result of the cold-brew process is not coffee, but coffee concentrate! It’s 3-5 times stronger than hot drip coffee, so be sure to warn your guests before they pour themselves a tall glass of concentrate and accidentally drink 5 cups of coffee in one sitting! Check out some recipies below!
**Spring 2020 Update** | We recently discovered these cotton cold brew bags, which are a total game-changer. A single reusable $8 bag lasts for months and months, and makes the process much easier. Follow the instructions as above, but place the cloth filter bag inside the white plastic chamber before you add your coffee. Because this acts as a giant tea-bag for your coffee, you no longer have to worry about gentleness, or adding the coffee in segments! Just dump the bag of grounds and pour in the water and stir it up with a spoon. Plus, once you’re done with your coffee, you can dump the grounds from the bag and give it a rinse just as easy as when you were just cleaning the plastic chamber.
A Few Simple Cold Brew Recipes
- Iced Cold Brew Flat Latte – This is Sarah and I’s favorite cold-brew recipe, and our drink of choice every morning May through September. Mix 3-oz cold brew, 9-oz milk, and one shot of your favorite flavored coffee syrup and serve over ice. We use www.lollicupstore2.com to get an entire 750-ml bottle of coffee syrup for under $5, and it takes us about two months to go through a bottle. They have dozens of flavors!
- Iced Cold Brew “Americano” – Although not an honest americano without espresso, 3-oz cold brew and between 6-12 oz water served over ice will get you a rich but incredibly smooth cup of iced black coffee.
- True Cold Brew Latte – If you have a milk steamer, put it to work on 6-oz milk and combine with 3-oz cold brew for a real coffee-house latte experience. No milk steamer? Microwave the milk for 60 seconds then blend it in a blender for a few seconds to froth it up!
- Dirty Chai Cold Brew Latte – Do the exact same as above, except steep Chai tea in piping hot milk for several minutes before steaming/blending.
Why Cold Brew?
As friends sipped on their iced flat latte or faux-Americano, I would always drone on about why we love our cold brew coffee so much! Here are a few of those reasons that I’ve been harping on lately:
- It’s Lower in Acidity and Oil than Traditional Hot-Brewed Drip Coffee. Because of the low temperature during the steeping and the ultra-fine cloth filter, you get all the flavor and caffeine, without the oils and acids. Therefore, it’s better for your teeth and for anyone with an oil-sensitive stomach.
- It’s Like Meal-Prepping, But for Coffee. Although Sarah and I aren’t exactly meal-prepping experts, we’ve always been fascinated by friends who spend their Sunday afternoons cooking to free up time each evening throughout the week. If you take 10 minutes on Saturday morning to begin the process and start the drain when you get out of bed Sunday morning, you’ll have fresh coffee concentrate at your fingertips all week long! In fact, the coffee concentrate will last for up to two weeks in the fridge.
- You Can Drink it Hot or Cold, Strong or Weak. Because the end result is a coffee concentrate (usually about 3x as potent as regular hot drip-coffee), it’s up to you how much water, milk or cream you mix with it! Even if you mixed it with water and threw it in the microwave, now you have a low-acid, low-oil version of a standard cup of joe.
- It’s Cheap. A cold brew drink at Starbucks will run you at least $3. When you factor in purchasing the coffee, the milk and the coffee syrup, even the DIY latte will run you less than a couple quarters. If you’re a black coffee person, it’s closer to a nickel.
- It’s more Environmentally-Friendly. If you’re using (and throwing away) a K-cup with every cup of coffee, or even if your using a traditional pot-brewer with disposable paper filters, you’ll generate less waste with the cold-brew system. Plus, unless you’ll be using high-energy-consuming devices like a microwave or stove to heat up your coffee-concentrate, the system uses no electricity. The environment will thank you!
Hunter + Sarah