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How to craft the perfect cold brew

An elevated, chilled beverage has stolen iced coffee’s spotlight. Here's the DIY version.

For a growing number of java drinkers, the just-add-cubes variety of iced coffee simply isn't cutting it. Hence cafes, companies, and caffeine aficionados are toting a more elevated version of the summer staple: cold brew.

Traditional iced coffee is brewed hot and poured over ice, and the result is a (generally) more bitter and acidic-tasting coffee, says Lynda Sylvester, co-founder of Red Thread Good Coffee. A good cold brew, she says, brings out the true flavors of the coffee bean. “It has a unique freshness and depth in the flavor palette, which iced coffee does not.”

Dating back hundreds of years—it's been a popular drink in Japan dating back to the 1600s—there’s more to cold brew than just flavor. “Cold brewed coffee is much less acidic than hot coffee—some say there’s up to 67 percent less acid,” says Sylvester. Which means it may be easier on your digestive system, your heartburn, and your teeth. Plus, it’s packed with all the same antioxidants.

To perfect the art of at-home brewing, heed this barista-tested advice.

be picky about beans

“The best cold brew starts with the best organic coffee beans — custom roasted for cold brewing,” says Sylvester. “The beans are ground coarsely and placed in water.” Matt Bachmann, co-founder of Wandering Bear Coffee Co. encourages you to experiment to find out which beans you like best. “At Wandering Bear, we use Colombia beans, roasted medium-dark, and ground coarsely.”

give it time

Cold brewing should be done at room temperature, where the coffee grounds sit in filtered water, undisturbed, for 12 to 17 hours, suggests Sylvester. You should use 1 part coarse ground coffee to six parts water to brew. If you have more time, great. (Bachmann says Wandering Bear cold brew is steeped for 18 hours. Lighter roasts can also take a longer time too, adds Sylvester.)

At the end, filter the coffee through an unbleached filter or a strainer and let the grounds drip until it stops. The result is worth it: “What remains is the nectar, or concentrated brew, which should be refrigerated.” Then take one part of the nectar and mix it with one part cold water, and pour over ice. “Less water or just ice is preferred by some,” says Sylvester.

check your equipment

“All of this has to do with your kitchen,” says Sylvester. “Some people find a French press works, but I find that the nectar turns out cloudy and bitter.” You could use a Toddy-like system, or even just a pitcher and a nut-milk bag to hold the grounds, says Bachmann.

serve it black

“While people often feel the need to doctor up iced coffee with heavy amounts of cream and sugar, there’s no need to add anything to cold brew,” says Bachmann. “The taste is already so smooth.”