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Curious How Long to Brew Cold Brew For? Steeping Secrets Revealed

By Connor Wilson

May 13, 2019

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Cold brew coffee is an effective and delicious way to enjoy a cup of joe in the morning. With this highly intuitive method of immersion brewing, you can easily prepare coffee the night before without compromising on freshness or flavor.

Before we get too far into this article, I want to make the distinction that cold brew is not the same as iced coffee. Iced coffee may be cold, but it is not brewed the same (made with hot water), and generally has a very bitter flavor.

If you want to learn more about the differences between iced coffee and cold brew, you can learn more about that our linked article above.


It's Not Rocket Science

It's really not complicated to make cold brew. Beginners who usually make hot coffee find learning how long to steep ground coffee for cold brew is pretty straightforward. In fact, it is much easier than what most people think as it doesn't require many steps.

You will find all the tools you need to make cold brew at home. We hope that by the end of this article, you will feel confident enough to make cold brew batches with pride every time.

If you love the results, please share your experiences in the comments section.

How Long Should I Steep Cold Brew Coffee?

If you are wondering how long to brew cold brew, remember it is best to steep it between 12 hours and 18 hours, but no more than 24 hours. The time varies because there are a few methods to create this kind of brewed coffee.

As with most brewing methods, cold brew recipes are not an exact science. Subtleties, such as how many parts water do you need to grounds, or what coffee filter to use, are often asked.

One of the best ways to find out how to make cold brew coffee for your specific needs is through trial and error. 

Each person will prefer a different strength for their cold brew, and as such, you'll have to experiment with various steeping times and water ratio. 

Just know that brewing ground coffee for any longer than 24 hours will cause your cold brew to develop a bitter and woody taste. 

An essential rule of thumb to remember, if you will brew your cold coffee at room temperature, then a steep time of 8-12 hours is enough. 

If you wish to steep your cold coffee brew in the fridge, then the steep time increases to 12-24 hours as cold temperatures will slow down the extraction of the coffee from the beans.

Your favorite recipes may call for different cold brew strengths. The main thing to remember is the longer the grounds remain immersed in water within the recommended time-frame; the stronger the coffee will become. 

Here are some of the most popular methods...

The 8 to 12-Hour Method (Ideal for Drip Systems)

If you're someone who is in a rush, you'll find that steeping cold brew for eight to twelve hours will give you a similar flavor profile to a typical pot of percolator or drip coffee, minus the bitterness of course.

While this is less than the recommended steep duration, it is still useful for when you are short on time.

There are a few variables to consider when you make cold brew with this method. If you select a drip system for your brew, the friction from dripping water will extract more from your grounds than with a standard immersion brew.

Depending on the beans you use, you'll likely extract a little more flavor using this method over hot brewing. However, compared to longer steeping times, it won't be as rich or robust in flavor.

The vast majority of people find that allowing their cold brew to steep for 12 hours gives them the perfect flavor profile. It also gives them the ability to brew coffee the evening before, so that it's ready before leaving for work during the day.

Compared to other methods, you might find that steeping at least 12 hours will easily fit into your schedule. This method works best for cold drip systems as immersion brews need a bit longer to extract the right amount of flavors and caffeine from your chosen beans.

The 18-Hour Method

Most experts recommend steeping your cold brew for 18 hours to if you prefer something stronger. Typically, immersing your ground coffee for 12 hours or less won't make the coffee as round and robust as you might expect, especially if you are using an immersion brew system like a mason jar.

When you reach the 18-hour mark, you'll also enjoy the more subtle notes of the bean. 

Plenty of people opt for cold brew coffee over hot drip coffee because it's more gentle on their stomach and more comfortable to digest. It also helps to eliminate the symptoms of heartburn, which can be uncomfortable to deal with throughout the day.

Aside from a lower acidic content, 18-hour cold brew coffee also has more subtle flavors without the harshness of bitter solubles. This distinction is especially crucial if you prefer a dark roast, as it's infamous for harsh flavors and acidic notes that will seep through when brewed hot or for longer durations.

Do not steep your brew for more than 24 hours in a fridge as this will produce more earthy and woody undertones that you might not find pleasant. The longer you submerge the coffee in the water, the more the bitter agents, such as chlorogenic acid found in ground  coffee beans, will mix in with it.

NOTE: If you want a stronger concentrate, use less water to coffee ratio rather than soaking the brew for more hours.

New and Innovative Methods

Due to the ever-increasing demands of cold brew consumers, rapid-brew machines have entered the market.

These devices promise to deliver cold brew within a matter of minutes over hours. So if you are looking to make cold brew tailored to your specific tastes, consider checking out the various cold brew coffee makers on the market.

While they miss out on the subtleties of drip systems or strictly immersion systems, these agitator-systems and hybrid machines offer speed over finesse. 

But if you prefer something you can easily find at a grocery store, you'll be just fine using a French Press. There's no need to go crazy with adding a paper filter or cheese cloth if you choose a French Press, so it is a go-to option for most beginners.


FAQS

Now that you have a better idea of how long you should immerse cold brew coffee, I'm sure you likely have other questions too. Let's discuss some of the most popular items around cold brewing.

Knowing as much about cold brewing as possible will help you to create the perfect coffee your first time around.

What Coffee Should I use to Make Cold Brew?

There are hundreds of different types of coffee that you can use to create a cold brew, though the best cold brew coffee grounds are those with earthy or chocolatey profiles.

Consider African coffees if you prefer fruity and citrusy notes that are sweeter when drinking black coffee, but you should probably use a drip cold brewer if you pick these.

You will lose out on a lot of lighter notes with immersion brewers. If you prefer to add some sweetener and milk, Latin American coffee is preferred as it is more rooted in flavor.

Beginners may also experience some success with balanced blends as they have a combination of sweet and complex flavors and share elements of both African and Latin coffees. These are easy to drink black or with added sweeteners.

Try to grind coffee in medium to course grinds for the best results no matter which beans you choose.

How Long is Cold Brew Good For in the Fridge?

Yes. It's easy to assume that once the brewing process is "complete," you can remove your cold brew from the fridge. However, I highly recommend that you keep it cold for as long as possible.

If you made your cold brew concentrate at room temperature, once your steeping process is complete, immediately store in in the fridgeLeaving cold brew outside for longer than the required brewing process will result in a stale brew. 

Keeping your batch in the fridge will maintain the flavor profile and keep the coffee fresh if you go back for a second or third cup.

Ideally, you shouldn't keep the coffee in your refrigerator for more than ten days. The shelf life of your cold brew is no more than 2 weeks. You'll easily be able to tell if your coffee is starting to feel off, as it will begin to smell and taste strange.

Can I Steep Cold Brew for Less than 24 Hours?

Yes, there's very little pressure when it comes to choosing the perfect length of time for steeping your cold brew. Try steeping your coffee for anywhere between 12-20 hours. You can soak for up to 24 hours if you are cold-brewing your batch in the fridge.

That said, steeping for longer than 18 hours and up to 24 hours may significantly change the flavor of your batch. We recommend steeping at 16-18 hours for the best flavor and concentration.

Is Cold Brewing Recommended for Decaf Coffee?

Yes definitely. You can brew a great cup of cold-brew coffee with decaf coffee beans using the same brewing process. It's important to remember that not everyone drinks cold brew for its caffeine content.

There are plenty of people who simply enjoy the taste of coffee, and using decaf will unlock all of the flavorful elements of your favorite grounds without giving you the jitters.

What's the Recommended Grind for Cold Brew Coffee Makers?

Some cold brew systems may give you specific instructions as to the proper grind size for that maker. Always follow the instructions included in the manual to ensure the longevity of the machine, while making the best possible batch with it.

The most important thing when deciding on a coffee grind is the filtration the grounds will receive. Ideally, you should achieve a coarse grind similar to what works best in a French press

This grind size will allow the grounds to filter nicely and still allow the coffee to steep in the water for a long time without dissolving entirely.

Coffee grounds that are too fine or small will result in a cloudy and particle-filled cold coffee brew and may produce a bitter taste as smaller grinds produce a higher acidity content.

How Cold Should the Water be When Cold Brewing?

The majority of the "coffee-making magic" happens when you allow time for your cold brew coffee maker to steep with your chosen grounds. The temperature of the water may affect the speed at which the good stuff extracts, so keep it room temperature in most cases.

Another point to note is that you should use clean and filtered water for your cold brew. Just as the quality of ground coffee you use is essential, having clean filtered water will affect the outcome of your cold brew coffee.

What Type of Filters Should I Use?

Filters are quite crucial with cold brew, and there are plenty of variations available. Most at-home users rely on paper filters as they're the most accessible and the least expensive.

You may want to consider buying reusable filters. These filters are slightly more expensive, but with the proper care, they'll last a long time.

With cloth filters, you will want to rinse them with hot water after every use, store them in a freezer bag, and freeze them. When you need to make another pot of cold brew, defrost the filter in warm water.

Metal filters such as a french press are also ideal for filtering, as they don't let many sediments through during the coffee drain process, especially when you work with a very coarse coffee grind. 

Additionally, for larger batches with coarse coffee grounds, you can use a sieve with tiny and tight holes with a cheesecloth layered over it to produce your own homemade filter.

What Types of Coffee can I Make with Cold Brew Coffee?

There is an extensive drink menu you can make from your cold brew coffee batch. You can use cold brew coffee concentrate to make cold coffee with cream, blended frappes recipes, iced mocha coffees.

You can even heat your cold brew concentrate and add water to make a traditional hot cup. Making hot coffee this way will not alter the flavor of your cold brew.

Depending on the taste and methods you prefer, you can be as creative as you like with additions such as flavor essences. Flavor additives like hazelnut, caramel, or french vanilla are excellent enhancements, or you can drink it black for that extra caffeine shot in the morning.

Your cold coffee brew concentrate is also useful in many different dessert recipes as a tasty syrup or for a natural coffee flavor additive.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Many factors go into making the perfect cold brew coffee. The flavor and the type of coffee beans you use are essential; however, knowing how long you should steep cold brew is one of the most critical parts in creating the perfect cup or pitcher of coffee.

By experimenting with the different time methods and testing out cold coffee brewing variations, you will find the ideal balance that suits your tastes.

Based on the strength and flavors you're looking for, you may find that brewing for around 16 to 18 hours is preferable. The best option is to try out the different time methods to find the perfect robustness for your preference.

The next time you find a refreshing cold coffee brew on the menu, be sure to take notes and share them in the comments below. We love sharing recipes with the community!

Connor Wilson

About the Author

A cold brew coffee enthusiast and blogger, Connor was fresh out of college with a ton of student debt when he realized that a normal corporate job wouldn't cut it for him. He worked his tail off building an online business and now is fortunate enough to blog for a living.

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