How to make Cold Brew Coffee: The complete guide

Cold Brew Coffee pouring into glass

If it is time to step up your Iced Coffee game, then Cold Brew Coffee may be just the thing you need. In this guide we take a look at what it is, the equipment you’ll need, and step-by-step recipes to get you started.


These days, cold brew is everywhere…cafes, supermarkets, liquor stores, your grandma’s place.

But just because it’s easy to find, doesn’t mean it always tastes good. In fact, much of the cold-brew coffee I come across is downright awful.

So, to help you (and I) avoid a summer let down, I present you our ridiculously thorough guide to making delicious cold brew coffee.

Brewing coffee with cold water… Really?

Yes, really.

Hot water may be a more efficient way of brewing, but cold water will get the job done if left long enough to brew.

The modern version of this low-tech process was first made popular in USA when a man named Todd Simpson invented the creatively named “Toddy” brewer back in 1964. As far as inventions go, it wasn’t exactly the iPhone – it’s essentially a plastic bucket with a filter. Nonetheless, it sparked a coffee drinking phenomenon that keeps on growing to this day.

In terms of taste, brewing with cold water has a pronounced effect on the flavour of the coffee, reducing the perceived acidity and producing a distinct chocolatey flavour profile. Another benefit, compared to chilling hot coffee, is that cold brew remains stable for longer in the fridge. While chilled espresso will start to turn funky in a matter of minutes, cold-brew can still be tasty well over a week after brewing.

Cold Brew vs Cold Drip. What’s the difference?

Let’s clear up some confusion.

Often, when people talk about ‘cold drip’, they’re referring to the fancy glass towers by brands like Yama & Hario that look a bit like a drug lab. In these devices, cold water drips through the grounds over a number of hours into a glass vessel at the bottom.

While they look cool (and can be breathtakingly expensive) – I’m not a big fan.

Why? To be honest, I just don’t think I tastes very good. The finished product is often underextracted, watery and just generally…flavourless.

Cold Brew on the other hand, typically refers to devices where the coffee grounds are fully immersed in cold water. Yes, I’ll admit these devices are unlikely to end up on a foodies Instagram feed – but they can deliver cold-brew that is simple to make, cheap & genuinely tasty when it’s done well.

Toddy Cold Brew Coffee Maker

Toddy Cold Brew Coffee Maker

Equipment: what you need to get started

Grinder:

You’ll need a grinder that can produce a coarser grind size than a standard espresso grinder. If you already have a retail grinder, like a Ditting KR805 or a Mahlkonig EK43 then you’re all set. If not, we think the Baratza Forte is a good choice – compared to other commercial grinders it’s relatively affordable, it doesn’t take up much space and has scales built right in.

If a grinder is out of the question, then you can use ground coffee – just ask to get it ground on the coarse side of a filter grind.

Brewer:

There are literally dozens of cold brewers available for the coffee professional. The easiest way to get started is the classic toddy brewer (the recipe below is based on this device), it’s cheap, functional and difficult to break.

Having said that, if you’re more of a DIY kind of person, you can get great results brewing in a saucepan (or a plunger / french press) and filtering the grounds twice: once with a sieve & once with a paper filter.

Filtered Water:

Yes, water quality makes a massive difference. The team from our Coffee Science & Education Centre have done some in depth work on the ideal water for brewing coffee – take a look.

Suffice to say, water straight out of the tap is unlikely to give great results. If you can use the water that has been filtered for your espresso machine, that’s a better place to start.

Which is the best coffee for making Cold Brew?

To some extent, the right coffee beans to choose for cold brew will depend on how you plan use it.

A typical espresso blend can work ok if you’re planning to add milk to the finished product. However, something roasted lighter, like a filter roast or a light espresso roast, is usually better for serving straight up.

In terms of origins – for me, the heavy body & fruity flavours of natural or honey-processed coffees tend to work better with cold coffee brewing. For example, the deep fruity sweetness of an Ethiopian natural or the heavy chocolate flavours of a Brazil Pulped-Natural are right on the money in a cold brew.

On the other hand, the more delicate, refined acidity of washed Central American coffees just don’t seem to show their potential in cold brewing. You might be best to save these coffees for hot water brewing.

If you want to keep things simple, I’ll put in a shameless plug for our Cold Brew Summer Blend. We’ve blended & roasted coffees that we think taste great as cold-brew iced coffee – with or without milk.

Seven Miles Cold Brew Summer Blend on bench

Decisions: Cold Brew Ratio

Concentrate // 1:5 brew ratio

The classic way to cold brew is to make a concentrate that you can then dilute with water or milk (or other liquids) to make the finished product. For those playing along at home, this is usually a recipe of around 1 part coffee to 5 parts water (or 200g of coffee per litre of water).

Brewing a concentrate has the advantage of being versatile. Not only is it ideal for mixing with milk, it can also be used as an ingredient in other items – Such as cocktails, frappes and even in cooking.

While this versatility is great, it comes with a couple of downsides. Firstly, the intense, almost ‘boozy’ taste can mask the subtle flavours of more delicate coffees. The second downside is cost – you don’t get much liquid out of a kilo of coffee. This makes it more expensive compared to the alternative approach…

Ready to Drink // 1:15 brew ratio

The alternate is to make a ready-to-drink product straight out of the brewer – 1 part coffee to 15 parts water (67g of coffee per litre of water). The finished brew using this recipe has similarities to filter coffee in taste and texture, highlighting more of the nuances found in more delicate coffees.

This works great if you’re only planning to serve it black, or with small amounts of milk – however it doesn’t allow many other serving options. Also, if you’re used to drinking heavy, espresso-based coffees, you might find the body (mouthfeel) too light for your tastes using this recipe.

Cold Brew Coffee Recipe: a Step-by-step guide

Here is our printable guide to make a cold brew concentrate . The ratios for coffee and water will work for most cold brew devices, however this recipe is specifically written for the standard Toddy cold brew system.

Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

Print Recipe

What You Need

  • 400 grams Coffee
  • 2 Litres Water

Instructions

Brewing

  • Wet the filter and insert it into the groove inside the brewer. Don't forget to insert the plug in the bottom.
  • (Optional, but recommended) Add the paper filter bag to the brewer. The brewer will work without this, but it helps to extract more from the coffee, and makes clean up a whole lot easier.
  • Grind the coffee coarse (between filter & french press / plunger) and add to the brewer
  • Pour filtered water over the grounds, try to wet them as evenly as possible. If you're using the paper filter bag stir the coffee to make sure the grounds are completely wet. If you're not using the bag, don't stir the coffee as the fine grinds can block the smaller filter - just pat any dry grounds you can see with the back of a spoon.
  • Cover the brewer and leave to brew at room temperature for 20-24 hours
  • The next day, remove the plug and place on the decanter to drain. Add the airtight lid and store in the fridge for up to 14 days.

Serving (without milk):

  • Add ice to a chilled glass
  • Add one part cold brew concentrate
  • Add one part cold still or sparkling water

Serving (with milk):

  • Add ice to a chilled glass
  • Add one part cold brew concentrate
  • Add two parts milk or milk alternative

milk pouring into a glass of cold-brew

Serving cold brew by the glass

If you’re cold brewing using the ready-to-drink method, then simply grab your favourite cup, pour it over ice, kick back in hammock and enjoy.

If you’re brewing a concentrate, then you’ve got a few options…

Grab a chilled glass (or upcycled jar), add some ice cubes and pour in either:

Black (Still) 1 part cold brew 1 part cold, filtered water
Black (Sparkling) 1 part cold brew 1 part sparkling water
Milk (or alternative) 1 part cold brew 2 parts milk

If using the ready-to-drink ratio, another option is to bottle the brew (we sourced ours here). This way, you can prep a whole batch ahead of time. When the rush comes, customers can just grab and go – oh, and it looks cool too…

Nitro coffee bubbles close up

Serving Nitro cold brew

Nitro Cold Brew has become a phenomenon of its own. The creamy texture and Guinness-like visual effect of injecting nitrogen gas into the brew is a real crowd pleaser.

Of course, if you want to serve cold brew on tap, you going to need to get some extra equipment.

The easiest option is to grab an all-in-one benchtop unit, like the creatively named ‘Nitro Cold Brew Coffee System’. With a system like this, you plug it in, drop the hose into a container of cold brew and pull the handle.

For more, check out our full review of this device here

If you like a more hands-on approach, you can search through your local home brew shop (beer, not coffee) and put together a kit of kegs, nitrogen gas cylinders & Stout taps. It takes a bit more know-how, but a keg system will allow for larger capacity if you need to go big

In my opinion, you really need to be moving a lot of cold brew for this to be a desirable setup. After all, fresh is best…

Even more ways to serve Cold Brew

Once you’ve locked down the basics, then here are a few more recipes for serving cold brew. The full collection can be found in this article.

cold brew macchiato in glass

Cold Brew Macchiato Recipe

Print Recipe

What You Need

  • Cocktail shaker
  • 60 ml cold brew concentrate
  • 30 g pure cream
  • Pinch of fine pink salt (or whatever colour you prefer)

Instructions

  • Add cream & salt to a cocktail shaker
  • Shake well for 5 seconds to lightly aerate the cream
  • Pour cold brew concentrate in a small glass
     (90ml piccolo glass or 120ml gibraltar glass)
  • Float salted cream onto the cold brew over the back of a spoon to form clean layers
  • Drink through the cream for most delicious results

Cold Brew Frappe pouring into tall glass

Cold Brew Frappe Recipe

Print Recipe

What You Need

  • A blender that can crush ice
  • 200 g ice cubes
  • 160 ml cold brew concentrate
  • 140 ml milk
  • 60 ml pure cream
  • 1 tbsp (7g) rice malt syrup (or other liquid sugar)
  • ¼ tsp (1g) xanthan gum*

Instructions

  • Add ingredients to a blender
  • Blend until the ice is smooth
  • Pour into a tall glass (400-500ml)
  • Top with whatever your heart desires, we used chocolate...

Notes

*Xanthan Gum can be found in the health food / gluten free section of the supermarket. It’s the magic ingredient to stop the ice separating into layers.

Cold Brew Negroni with orange peel

Cold Brew Negroni Recipe

Print Recipe

What You Need

  • Cocktail Shaker
  • 30 ml Cold Brew Concentrate (1:4 brew ratio)
  • 30 ml Semi-dry Vermouth
  • 30 ml Gin
  • 15 ml Campari
  • Ice Cubes

Instructions

  • Add all to boston shaker
  • Shake well
  • Strain into an 8oz glass (240ml) half filled with ice
  • Garnish with orange peel

If you’re looking for a simple way to get started with cold brew, you can grab a starter kit which contains a Toddy Brewer & a 250g bag of our Cold Brew Summer Blend. Click here to take a look.


 

Ben Irvine
From owner / operator of his own coffee business, to product development for a coffee multinational, to consulting with independent cafe owners, Ben has been involved across a wide range of the industry over the last 20 years. When he isn’t brewing coffee, or writing about it, Ben is likely to be annoying his kids with 90’s music trivia.