Cold-Brewed Coffee

Another clue in the Mystery of the Tight Pants: I had to run over to the gas station to buy cream to whip for our peach crisp the other night. Want to know why? Because the pint we bought earlier this week (in anticipation of a veritable parade of fruit cobblers, crisps and pies-we managed one, anyway) was used up by my SISTER while making us COFFEE every morning (and more than the occasional afternoon). Here I thought it tasted so good because the freshly ground beans were organic and from Salt Spring Island and I was sipping it on the porch overlooking Clayoquot Sound. Nope – apparently it had more to do with the 35% cream, in (according to my calculations) outrageous quantities.

We decided to launch a sort of coffee project this week, partly because both of us are a little bit workaholic and she, as a single mom of three and full-time teacher, grabs on to projects like lifelines when faced with a week completely devoid of structure. She decreed that we would test different beans from different roasters and sourced from various countries, then experiment with brewing processes (drip, perk, French press) until we came up with the perfect cup we could make at home, thus relieving us of our chronic Tim Horton’s problem.

One hurdle: although we have access here to several lovely varieties of beans, there is only a plain old $18 coffee maker in this house, and we drew the line at buying more than a new coffee grinder, purchased at the hardware store.

So we’ve been happily testing beans: Salt Spring Organic, Karma, Frog Friendly, thinking we may have to take care of the brewing method once back home. But then I remembered a story in the New York Times a few years ago about cold brewing, done simply by steeping coffee in water in a jar on the countertop overnight, then filtering it in the morning to make iced coffee. Although there’s nothing stopping you from cooling down your regular Joe and serving it over ice, cold-brewed coffee has a lower acidity and less bitterness than the heat-brewed coffee we’re accustomed to, allowing for flavour nuances in the beans to come through.

So, wait. Cold brewing gets rid of the bitterness? And requires no equipment, nor energy? Why is this not the preferred camping method (beats instant)? And might it further allow us to get rid of the collection of coffee machinery in constant rotation between our kitchen and basement? I mean, if it’s good enough for iced coffee (which by the sounds of things is more finicky), why can’t it simply be reheated in the morning to make a hot cup? Is it just me, or is it a revelation to know it’s possible to “brew” with nothing but ground beans and a jar?

Literally, all you need is some medium-ground coffee, water and a jar. The ratio is half a pound of coffee to 5 cups of water (or for a smaller batch, 1/3 cup coffee to 1 1/2 cups water); stir them together in a bowl or jar, cover and let the mixture steep overnight. It seems there is some debate over whether a 12 hour vs. 24 hour soaking time is best; either way, you have a 12 hour window in between, which allows about as much flexibility as anyone could ask for.

After steeping, strain the sludge; first through a fine-meshed sieve, and then through a coffee filter to get rid of all the grit. (Alternatively, this whole process could take place in a French press; let it sit for as long as you want it to, then press and pour it out.) Dilute the resulting coffee concentrate 1:1 with hot water from the kettle, or cool water or milk for an iced coffee, or pour it straight over ice and spike with cream.

We tested this method against the drip coffee maker, and my sister actually preferred it, even using the concentrate that we had strained in the morning, drank a cup of and then let sit around until the afternoon. (You get lazy after several hours in the sun and wind at the beach.) Turns out a cup brewed using the cold method has about a third less caffeine too – which may or may not be a good thing. She only noticed while trying to stay awake during the kids’ surfing lesson – I didn’t notice at all.

This homemade coffee concentrate will also suit the purpose if your goal is to recreate an Ice Cap in your blender: to ¼ cup concentrate add ¼ cup coffee cream (18%) or half & half (10%), 2-3 Tbsp. sugar and 5 ice cubes, and pulse until it’s a sippable consistency.

One Year Ago: Chili-Rubbed Salmon with Fruit Salsa


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41 comments on “Cold-Brewed Coffee

  1. Melanie
    July 21, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Brilliant, I say!

  2. robyn
    July 21, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    I’m so glad I read further down to the part where you dilute the coffee….I was thinking half a pound to 5 cups of water would be brutal!!

    Sounds delish! I’ll have to give this a try while we’re camping this weekend.

  3. Wow. That sounds great. I’ve been making mine in the coffee maker – 3/4 cup ground coffee to 3 cups of water. I brew it, then add 3 – 4 cups of ice. It’s great. I am going to try this, though, and see how it compares. Taking out the bitterness would be perfect. I love coffee and am always up for a better cup of joe!

  4. Heather
    July 21, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Or to make a Vietnamese iced coffee. 😉

  5. Kate
    July 22, 2009 at 4:18 am

    One or two words of caution…. Please be sure you and your sister NEVER drink the coffee elixir without diluting it. You both sound like you are on Super Woman speed already!!! 🙂

  6. Sandy
    July 22, 2009 at 4:18 am

    Anxious to hear what your choice for best source of beans is. My daughter brings back coffee beans from Thailand and Honduras and is searching for what to buy here.

  7. Carolyn
    July 22, 2009 at 4:27 am

    Not being a coffee drinker, I won’t try this one, but the whole vacation project thing sounds amazing — and what vacations are all about! Thanks for keeping us posted on your adventures — I’m living vicariously through you.

  8. ladyloo
    July 22, 2009 at 4:45 am

    It’s like an explosion of cold brewed coffee on the internet these days – probably because of the need for iced coffee this time of year. I’ve had the idea bookmarked for weeks, now I just need to find some decent beans out here in the boonies. Thanks for hte reminder!

  9. Barb
    July 22, 2009 at 5:42 am

    I make my own lattes, too. Fresh roasted decaf beans from a local roaster (Cuppers) brewed into double strength coffee, sweeted lightly, and mixed half and half with plain (skim) or flavored (1%)milk. Once in a while I will add a couple of tablespoons of flavored coffee creamer for a change. Serve ice cold. Yum.

  10. Luann
    July 22, 2009 at 5:48 am

    I tried the coffee concentrate last summer and it worked great – I especially loved the ice cap version. When I went to the store the other day, the only large cream they had was 35%, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

  11. Monica
    July 22, 2009 at 6:38 am

    I am thoroughly addicted to cold brew! I make a small pot of hot in the mornings when it’s not already hot out. After that, it’s all cold brew. I LOVE diluting it with lite chocolate soy milk- HEAVENLY!

    I got the Toddy system to do it b/c i’m a messy girl & figured making my own system would be gnarly. It’s awesome & makes a huge jug of concentrate!

  12. Cheryl Arkison
    July 22, 2009 at 7:47 am

    You can do the same thing with tea for unsweetened iced tea. A couple of bags in a jar of cold water overnight gives you tea concentrate for iced tea. Add some simple syrup and water, or maple syrup and water, or lemonade.

  13. Sue (London, ON)
    July 22, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Oh Julie, you are hilariuos! I love living my life vicariously through you! Seriously, how much of living at the beach (in Tofino no less!) contributes to the flavour of coffee or anything else!!
    Sounds like an amazing vacation! Have fun!

  14. Carol SB
    July 22, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Mmm, iced coffee. I love the cold brew idea: gotta try it.
    Our Camp Coffee is like Heather’s thought (above): I carry sweetened condensed milk (no refrigeration required until opened; then, like Luann (QED), “ya gotta do what ya gotta do”). We have a mini bodum; use *almost* espresso roast (dark beans). Make killer concentrated coffee, add condensed, dilute to taste. (Hot water or ice cubes: I confess “camp coffee” has insinuated itself into our life at home as well, so ice IS a possibility here).
    Julie, I’m glad to read “we’ve been happily testing beans: Salt Spring Organic, Karma, Frog Friendly” and I’m looking forward to some opinions. Of the coffee I buy, here are my favorites: Kicking Horse 454 horsepower dark; Britt (from columbia; friends get together and buy a case or so every winter); and, when I can get it, Balzac’s House blend:
    Balzac has a shop in Stratford Ontario. Their (micro-roast, marble blend)”Balzac’s Blend” is arguably the best in Canada. (From the awesome *Blue Carrot* in Victoria to the fabulous *Just Us* in Wolfville!)
    I can’t wait for your reviews.

  15. heather
    July 22, 2009 at 11:30 am

    my boyfriend and i make this every other day in our french press and we can’t get enough. gourmet iced coffee at our fingertips for pennies on the dollar compared to cafes! can’t hate that!!



  16. Dana
    July 22, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Hey — I love your blog, and since you are posting about coffee… the best coffee I have ever had is from Shawnigan Lake, B.C. I am sure you can get it, seeing as you got Saltspring Island stuff, anyway! It is beyond words. Seriously. Holy. If you are close, you should try to order some!! I am in NYC, and I miss it so much.

  17. Charmian Christie
    July 22, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Cold brewed coffee? Why have I never heard of this? Man, this could have saved me from some of the world’s worst coffee while traveling.

    Thanks a million!

  18. Melanie
    July 22, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    You also have to try the Organic French from 49th Parallel – available here in Cochrane at Java Jamboree (one of CBC Food Critic – John’s favorite coffee stops!!) The smell of those beans is unreal!!! So is the taste!

  19. margo
    July 22, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Monica, what is a toddy system; is it a french press? I too would love to avoid using coffee filters etc.
    I am intrigued by what you said Julie about cold brewed coffee having 1/3 less caffeine?? That would be fantastic; I don’t enjoy decaf but while I like my coffee strong, I don’t like so much of a buzz.

  20. notUrtypicalGma
    July 23, 2009 at 9:51 am

    heck yes you save money!!! i make iced coffee and add “torani” brand flavored syrup for a truly better than starbucks experience, a 12.7 oz. bottle cost me 4-6 dollars depending on what store i go to, they also offer sugar free. visit their site! my recipe is on in the notUrtypicalGmas favorites.

  21. bluejeangourmet
    July 23, 2009 at 11:42 am

    This is a staple in our fridge–we do ours with a French press as well, and it’s ridiculously smooth. I love mine with some vanilla soymilk, it’s my Friday morning treat to myself on the drive to work!

    Everytime we have friends over for brunch and offer this up, we make converts out of them. We save a lot of money because my partner is a coffee fiend.

  22. Anonymous
    July 27, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    As long as the beans/grounds are Fair Trade coffee, then any method works!

  23. Lynn
    July 29, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Wow! My dad used to make cold brew coffee but he used a big filter contraption and froze the concentrate in ice cube trays, one cube makes one cup of hot coffee. I love that I can make it in a jar and not have to hunt down a whole separate piece of equipment! Jars I have! Thanks for the smaller proportions, I’m going to mix some up now.
    By the way, I am an only decaf drinker and have trouble finding good beans. My all time favorite are the Decaf Sumatra beans from Jessica’s Biscuit. Coffee to dream of!

  24. Janice
    May 5, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I finally tried this over the weekend and it was AMAZING! I love that it is ready when I get up in the morning and it is so much smoother than brewed coffee. Mmmmmmmm.

  25. Alanna
    July 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    Hi Julie,

    Just want to thank you for the introduction to cold-brewed coffee, what a revelation last year and I’ve been making it ever since. I posted my own version ( but the inspiration definitely started with you.

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