For those not familiar with the term “cold brew(ed) coffee,” the phrase refers to a process of grinding coffee beans at a coarse grind and then soaking those beans in water for up to sixteen hours. The process yields a concentrated coffee that is more of an extract than a straight beverage. It’s simple — you make the concentrated coffee, filter the brew, pour it over ice, and finally dilute it (at a ratio of your choice) with a little milk or water. If you’re interested in learning how to save time and money on your caffeine endeavors, a step-by-step guide is included below so you can make your own cold brew at home instead of paying $3 (or more) for a single cup of iced coffee.
As a side note, when you do purchase an iced coffee at your favorite café, ask if the coffee is cold brewed or just regular drip coffee that has been refrigerated. A good café offers iced coffees made from cold brewed coffee (sometimes called a coffee “toddy”) because it is more flavorful; a sub-par café brews a pot of drip coffee, refrigerates it, and then increases the price by more than a $1 just to serve it to you over ice. Shame on them. True story: we were once charged $7 for an awful iced coffee made from some hazelnut or vanilla-flavored roast. It’s funny now, but are you kidding me?
You know how a barista truly wins my heart? They fill their ice trays with coffee so the beverage isn’t diluted as the ice melts. That’s love. But even most of my favorite coffee spots use regular ice instead of fancy-schmancy ice because it’s not practical, or possible, to keep 400 trays of coffee ice cubes in the freezer. C’est la vie. Still, I get excited when I find a charming little shop that makes the extra effort to keep my coffee fresh (mmm… memories of Café Delmarette in Santa Cruz, CA) . Enough about coffee shops– let’s make some amazing coffee at home, and then use it to make delicious cocktails.
Check-list of items you’ll need to make your own cold brew at home: Coffee (1 lb bag), Large Glass Jug, Cheesecloth, Funnel, French Press, Pitcher or Large Bowl, Tasty Filtered Water.
Some tips for making a tasty cold brew:
♦ Using high quality coffee will enhance your experience. Don’t use instant coffee, Folgers, Maxwell House, or any similar brand. Why? Well, there are several reasons. Cheap coffee comes from farms that use a mass-picking system that does not differentiate between ripe prime berries and unwanted berries. That means berries that are unripe, ripe, and overripe are all picked, mixed together, processed/shipped, and roasted in massive quantities, ground, and then packaged. When berries are roasted in a large facility that cares more about the assembly line than the quality of the product, beans are often burnt or roasted to the point of destroying the delicate flavor compounds. Then the beans are ground days, or weeks, before ever making it to your pantry, which means oxygen has been stripping the beans of flavor before you’ve even poured your first cup. That’s not getting your money’s worth! Would you serve wine, made from under/over-ripe grapes, that has been sitting on the counter opened for four days to your dinner guest? Doubt it. It’s no wonder so many people associate coffee with burnt water that needs plenty of sugar or milk to make it palatable. I was a victim of the same mentality until I had my first cup of Verve. That brings me to discussing reputable roasters.
♦ Roasters that deeply care about the quality of the coffee they’re providing are producers every medicinal mixologist should support. Reputable roasters are people who have traveled to coffee producing regions, met with the farmers, observed farming practices, purchased berries that have been hand-selected, and then carefully roast the berries so the flavor compounds are not destroyed. That means an Ethiopian coffee should taste different than a Costa Rican coffee ( just like Australian wine tastes different than French wine). Roasters we love: Verve, Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Handsome, Cuvée, Lexington, Blue Bottle, Ninth Street Espresso, and Café Grumpy. Explore the websites to see if your local grocer stocks any of the roasters listed above. We purchase our beans from a local café that supports a few of the aforementioned roasters.
♦ Choose a single-origin coffee (beans from a single region, village, or farm within a specified country).
♦ Roast date is another factor to consider. Select a coffee that has been roasted 3 to 14 days before you grind the beans and mix your cold brew. (I know, that number probably seems strangely specific, but trust: 3 days is long enough for the beans to off-gas after being roasted, and 14 days is long enough for the beans to go stale from oxygen exposure. We try to go through a bag in 10 days or less.)
♦ Grind the beans immediately before making the cold brew. Do not buy pre-ground coffee. Buy whole bean and then grind. Don’t have a grinder at home? No problem. We only have a hand grinder made for preparing a single cup of coffee. We don’t particularly feel like hand-grinding a pound of coffee on our day off from work, so we ask a nearby café to do it for us with an electric grinder. If you’re buying beans from a café the same day you’re making your cold brew, ask them to grind the beans for you. If you’re purchasing your coffee online, approach a local grocer or café and ask if they can grind the beans for you; you’ll be surprised to learn people don’t usually mind. We’ve asked multiple cafés (that don’t sell the brands we prefer) to grind our beans for us. No matter what, you’ve got options when you lack the funds to spring for a $100 coffee grinder.
Just remember to request that the beans be ground COARSE, as they would be for a standard french press brew.
♦ The jug should be large enough to hold 10 cups of water and a pound of ground coffee beans. We use a gallon jug left over from apple cider we bought at the grocery store. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Now that we’ve explored the details, let’s brew some coffee!
(The process does take 12 to 16 hours, so it’s best to start making the cold brew before dinner so the brew can steep over-night.)
1. Grind the coffee beans at a coarse grind (french press is usually the coarsest setting on any grinding machine). It is important that the beans are ground so the particle size is still rather large; for instance, there should not be a lot of powder-size particles. Larger grinds are ideal because they make for a slower, longer extraction (powder-size grinds become thick mud when water is added, and this makes for an uneven extraction).
2. Ratio: 1 lb coffee bag (ground) to 10 cups of water.
3. Find a glass container large enough to hold the 10 cups of water and 1 lb ground coffee. Pour the grinds into the glass jug.
4. Pour half the water (5 cups) in the jug and swirl the coffee so all the grounds are saturated and wet. Add the remaining 5 cups.
5. After all the water is added, gently turn/shake the jug (or stir if you’re using an open container without a lid) one last time before storing away. If the jug you’re using lacks a lid, cover with saran wrap and bind with rubber bands (no need to seal the brew, just to keep out unwanted debris).
6. Allow the coffee to steep at room temperature for a minimum of 12 hours and a maximum of 16 hours. During steep time, give the jug a shake when you pass by it every now and then. Don’t stress about this. The important thing is to saturate the coffee well enough the first time (when you mixed the coffee grounds and water together).
7. There are many filtration methods out there, but we’ve found a two step method that involves pouring the coffee in a large french press to press off the first sediment/grinds (the process will take multiple batches) and then pouring the french pressed coffee through a funnel lined with cheesecloth.
Step one (first filtering): Pour the coffee bean water directly from the glass jug into a french press. Press down to complete the first filter. Pour this into a large bowl or pitcher. When all the coffee is removed from the glass jug used for steeping, wash the jug so it can be reused for storing the cold brew.
Step two (second filtering): Fold a cheesecloth multiple times to make a thick square. Place the cheesecloth inside the top of a large funnel. Place the funnel in the mouth of the (now clean) jug you originally used for steeping the coffee. Pour the filtered coffee from the french press or pitcher into the cheesecloth-lined funnel. Once the coffee has been filtered twice (to remove any small sediment), put the jug in the refrigerator.
8. Enjoy. Coffee extract should be diluted with each serving. Some shops will pour a 50-50 concentration of water to coffee extract. I like more of a 70-30 (strong!), but be aware that some flavors are lost if you drink the extract straight or at really high concentrations. We all have different palettes, but certain fruit flavors present in the cold brew need water dilution to fully become apparent.
This recipe will produce enough coffee to get you through a week or two. . . or maybe a little less if you’re using the extract to satisfy your caffeine cravings and to add richness to your nightly cocktail creations.
Hey, isn’t this what Medicinal Mixology is all about? We’re all alchemists at heart, so turn your coffee routine into something more exciting and enjoyable. Brew a concoction that will awaken your spirits and get the creative juices flowing. After all, coffee is one of the elixirs of life — or so we think — and we love to sip on elixirs.
Drink to good health!