Cold brew tastes different because it has less acid than “hot-brewed” (AKA: regular) coffee. Hot water pulls more of the acids out of the ground coffee than cold water. If you were to chill regular coffee and taste that and cold-brewed coffee side by side (assuming you used the generally recommended coffee to water ratios for each) you would notice a difference. I should note there are differences in the numbers and amounts of other flavor compounds too, but it’s the acids that make the biggest difference.
What am I talking about when I say “acids?”
There are a surprisingly high number of different chemical compounds in coffee. Alkaloids, lipids, aminos, carbs, proteins, acids, and a host of other volatile and nonvolatile compounds comprise coffees chemical make-up. All of these things together create the flavor and aroma you taste and smell. Change the chemical make-up in your cup and you will change the taste.
Why the difference in flavor between cold brew and regular coffee?
The acidic compounds in brewed coffee contribute to its flavor in a big way. As noted above, hot water pulls more acidic compounds out of the ground coffee than cold water. So, when you change the number and amount of those acid compounds in your cup you change the flavor. Simple!
Some people espouse the virtues of cold-brewed coffee, saying it is superior in taste. But, when we consider that taste is (very) subjective, is it really superior? I like what I like and you like what you like! If I like chilled regular coffee and you like cold-brewed coffee, is one of us right and the other wrong? Of course not. Is fried chicken the only proper way to cook chicken? (Note: I do not like fried chicken. I prefer it grilled.)
How should I make it?
If you like chilled regular coffee or don’t have much of a preference, then it is a lot easier and faster to just brew a pot of coffee and stick it in the fridge for a few hours than it is to make cold-brewed coffee. Go for it! If you like it then I’m not going to judge you for it.
If you like cold brew and want it at home then you’ll need to use one of the many brewing methods out there and be willing to wait. That’s why some folks make their cold brew overnight. If you have a French press then you already have the equipment. If it’s a standard 8-cup press, put about 3 ounces (or about 12 level tablespoons) of coarsely ground coffee in, fill with water, stir, and then put it in the fridge overnight. The next day, push the press plunger down and pour yourself a glass of cold brew.
Here are a couple tips for chilling regular coffee.
- Chill a pitcher in advance. Note: If using plastic be sure it is safe for hot beverages. If using glass be sure it is tempered. Using a pre-chilled pitcher will speed things up a bit.
- Pour your hot coffee into the pre-chilled pitcher.
- Use your freezer instead of your refrigerator to chill faster but keep an eye on it. If it freezes then it will taste diluted after it thaws.
- Maybe get one of these nifty fast-chill doo-dads: hyperchiller.com
Here are a few tips for making cold-brewed coffee.
Grind at the coarsest setting your grinder allows.
- Steep in cold or room temperature water for about 12 hours.
- If you don’t want to wait that long then grind a little finer.
- Keeping it in the refrigerator while it steeps doesn’t effect the flavor unless it’s really hot out. Like… 110 degrees hot.
- If you want it more intense then steep a little longer.
- If you want it more concentrated then use more coffee or less water.
- If you want it less concentrated then use less coffee or more water.
- Use a pitcher and cheesecloth instead of a press to make large batches.
“Can I brew it stronger and then dilute it with ice or water? Like cold brew concentrate?” Totally. Just keep in mind that it will taste different than if you brewed it at “normal” strength. Making “strong” coffee means changing the grind size and/or water-to-coffee ratio, which changes the chemical composition of the brewed coffee. Adding ice or water to strong coffee does not alter the chemical composition of the coffee to make it the same as normal strength coffee; It just makes diluted strong coffee, which tastes different. And if you like it that way, then do it!
“Which coffee should I use for cold brew?” Lighter coffees have more of their unique acids that effect flavor, while darker coffees have less of those acids. If you were to use a medium roast coffee (like Clutch Coffee Colombia Monserrate) you would get a more tart cold brew because it has more acids. If you want a deeper flavor and body then choose a darker roast. Naturally, I recommend our new Cold Brew Blend, specifically roasted and blended for cold brewing deliciousness!
It’s all about making your coffee the way you like it. Experiment and have fun! Then share your favorite iced coffee recipe on our Facebook page!