Imagine a warm, summer afternoon. A Saturday maybe? The chores are done, the house is quiet and you have a minute to yourself. What would be more perfect in that moment than a tall glass of iced coffee? You could brew some hot coffee and pour it over ice. Or you could use this cold brewed coffee concentrate to make a cup of iced coffee that is just as bracing as a cup of hot.
Well not quite. This recipe does take some planning ahead. And the flavors in cold brew coffee are a little different that if you brewed those same beans hot. Cold brewed coffee will be smoother and less acidic than coffee brewed hot, which is good if you have a sensitive stomach. It will also have a mild, chocolate flavor to it. This is because coffee and chocolate share some of the same flavor compounds. These delicate compounds tend to be broken down by the high heat of traditional brewing. Heat also breaks down our favorite part of coffee, the caffeine!
Other factors that will change the flavor are roast and grind. Generally, lighter roasts have less body, more acidity, and more caffeine. Darker roasts will be more full bodied (to a point. Once you get into the super dark espresso roasts, you lose much of the body in favor of the roast itself), are more bitter, and have less caffeine. Consequently, this means that the shot of espresso that everyone thinks is so highly charged and will amp you up more that a traditional brew actually has the least caffeine of all. Not only do you lose a ton through the long dark roasting, you lose even more with the high heat brewing. So really, it doesn’t have any more caffeine than your regular brew at all. It is all in your head.
As for the grind, the smaller you grind it, the more surface area you have, and the more compounds you can extract from the coffee. Sounds great right? Well you don’t want all of those in your coffee, because many of them are extremely bitter. For this reason, most recipes will call for a very coarse grind to minimize this. I personally use a medium fine grind, and compensate by using a little less water. Usually you would use one part coffee (by weight) to 4.5 parts water (also by weight). I reduce the water to just four parts, because after a certain point, the water can’t absorb anything else, and those bitter flavors are the last ones to steep out of the coffee. I also try to err on the shorter brew times. (I really only prefer the finer grind because that’s what my grinder is set to already and I’m too lazy to adjust it before I make cold brew)
If you are using a blade grinder (think Mr. Coffee grinders with the little clear cup on top) you may have an easier time grinding coarser. I personally have a nice burr mill, which is better overall for grinding coffee. A burr mill will crush the beans between two moving discs, which helps release the oils of the beans. A blade grinder just chops the beans into little pieces like a blender or food processor. Burr mills also usually come with actually settings for coarseness of grind and the amount you want to grind. If you make a lot of coffee from whole beans, it is a really good investment.
You know what else is a good investment? A kitchen scale. All of my dry ingredients will be listed by weight unless its a piddly thing like teaspoons or tablespoons. You can get them anywhere and they are super cheap. I got mine at Harbor Freight for $10. And it wasn’t even a sale. No excuses. Its way neater and more accurate.
This recipe also calls for the addition of a vanilla bean. Vanilla is a very special ingredient that often takes a backseat in many recipes. Its considered a “boring” flavor. My friends, if you think vanilla is boring, you’ve never had good vanilla. It is a complex flavor on its own while enhancing, rather than obscuring, the flavors it is paired with. For that reason alone it pops up in almost every cake, cookie, or muffin recipe you will ever find. Another special quality of vanilla is that it tricks your tongue (via your nose) into thinking that things are sweeter than they really are. This is an advantage in cold brew. It will be sweeter tasting without being overwhelmingly vanilla. But like I said, if you don’t like vanilla, you’re doing it wrong.
A final note: This recipe has very few ingredients, so you need to make sure you are using really good ones. I got a medium roasted coffee from a local roaster, Magpie Coffee Roasters, here in Reno. I’m not being compensated for endorsing them or anything, I just really like their coffee. I also used bottled water. If you have a filter or pitcher, please use it. If your water tastes bad, you coffee will taste bad. (My mother could probably use tap water, but she draws from a well in the middle of nowhere and her tap water tastes amazing) So please hydrate wisely.
Grind coffee beans to the desired size. (See above) I used a medium fine grind. Place in large container. I used a 2 quart mason jar.
Pour the water over the grounds and stir gently to make sure that everything gets wet. Cover with lid and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
Place the strainer over your large pitcher, and pour the coffee and grounds through it. Allow to drain thoroughly. Line your strainer with a coffee filter.
Place the lined strainer over your small jar and pour enough concentrate in to fill the filter. Allow to drain completely, gently stirring occasionally. when the filter is drained, replace it and pour the rest of the coffee through. This should take about 30 minutes to drain. You can use cheesecloth instead, but the finished product may be a little cloudy.
If adding a vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds out with a knife. Add them to the concentrate and drop the rest of the bean in the jar. If not using vanilla, simply put a lid on your concentrate and keep it in the refrigerator up to a week.
To use the concentrate, dilute with either hot or cold water, depending on if you want a hot (think Americano) or cold drink. I use a quarter cup of concentrate to a full cup of water, but you can adjust this ratio to your own taste.