It’s hot out. Like, really hot. You need your caffeine fix, but your body temperature might rise to the point of killing you if you drink a hot coffee.
So you go into the coffee shop and order a cold brew, right? But do you actually know what that means, and how it differs from iced coffee? Let us fill you in! We’ve got the full scoop on cold brew coffee – its history, what it is, how to make your own, and some of the best spots to find it in New York, Philly, and SF.
What is cold brew?
Cold brew (a.k.a. cold drip, cold press, or toddy) refers to coffee that is made by steeping ground coffee beans in either cold or room temperature water, rather than the boiling hot water that is typically used. What does this mean for us? As it turns out, keeping your beans away from heat gives you an irresistibly sweet cuppa without the acidity of hot brew, making the perfect iced coffee to cool you off on a hot summer day.
Does it have more caffeine?
EVERYONE asks this question, and it’s not that straightforward. Cold brew can be higher or lower in caffeine content than regular coffee depending on how much it’s diluted (more on this later). So whether you want it to knock your socks off or just give you a small energy boost, cold brew stays flexible.
How is it made?
Let us tell you, you’re not paying more for this baby for nothing. A lot of time goes into the cold brewing process. As a general rule, the coffee beans need to be ground coarsely and soaked in the water for 12 hours or more.
After steeping, the grounds are filtered out, leaving a coffee concentrate that is usually diluted with water or milk, unless you’re the type of coffee superhero that shoots it straight (WARNING: this may result in being awake for days and/or ultra-productivity bordering on manic behavior). For the rest of us mortal humans, it can be served in a variety of ways, including over ice, hot, and blended with flavors like chicory, vanilla, or chocolate.
Where did it come from?
This process was popularized by Cornell chemical engineering graduate Todd Simpson, who was inspired by a cup of joe he had in Guatemala in 1964, and is responsible for it being referred to as toddy. In Guatemala, he was served cold coffee concentrate alongside boiling water, and thought that the different flavor might have appeal among people who weren’t regular drinkers. His company, Toddy, invented and patented a simple system for creating homemade cold press coffee, which is now used around the world in both private and commercial settings.
Although cold-brewed coffee of this nature seems to have been around in South America for a long time, something similar also has been happening in Japan since at least the 1600s, using what is today referred to as the Kyoto method.
In the Kyoto method, water is dripped through coffee grounds very slowly, one drop at a time, rather than left to sit in cold water for hours, and can take about the same amount of time. Many coffee shops make their cold brew Kyoto style because aside from the flavor benefits, which are similar to those of toddy style, the equipment used looks really cool in action.
Why do so many people swear by it?
Proponents of cold drip swear by it due to its simplicity. The Toddy system, for example, is really just a plastic pitcher with a fabric filter at the bottom, where the coffee concentrate drains into a separate container below. All you need to do is add the ground beans and water into the top and leave it over 10-12 hours, and you’ll have a coffee concentrate that is ready to be served. It doesn’t even require electricity.
The reason that cold brewing coffee results in a drink that is so different from hot brew is that many of the compounds that are extracted from the beans during the typical brewing process are only activated and dissolved by heat. These compounds are the fatty acids and oils responsible for the bitter, biting taste that causes most people to weaken their brain juice by adding sugar. The cold drip process extracts the sweeter flavor compounds and some of the caffeine in the coffee beans, but leaves these other compounds behind, resulting in a concentrate that can then be added to hot water without creating a bitter flavor.
Are you still reading? You really must have had a cup of cold brew. Now enough science, let’s get into how you can make your very own cold brew in the comfort of your own home, with minimal ingredients and preparation. Too good to be true? Yeah, we know. Thank us later.
How can I make it at home?
Things you’ll need:
- A pitcher
- A coffee filter
- Coarsely-ground coffee
- Cold water
- Saran wrap
Though it may take more time than brewing up a pot of joe, making your own cold brew is actually pretty low maintenance (much like the best significant others). That is, unless you qualify using a Keurig or Nespresso as “making your own.” In that case, we aren’t friends anymore.
You’ll start with coarsely-ground coffee beans that you either bought that way or ground yourself. Purchasing the beans whole and grinding them will always result in a fresher-tasting cuppa for a number of reasons, but buying it pre-ground will work too. The most popular choices of coffee beans tend to be African or South American, but any type will work, so feel free to experiment.
The whole process takes 12-24 hours, and the resulting coffee concentrate will stay fresh for 1-2 weeks, so you could make it in bulk on Sunday and drink throughout the week for maximum efficiency. If you don’t have the time, CUPS is a convenient alternative for exploring coffee shop cold brews! Download it for iOS or Android.
- Add your beans and cold water to the pitcher in a ratio of 4:1, water to coffee. Anywhere from 2:1 to 7:1 will work, but 4:1 is a pretty safe bet (there’s some flexibility since you’re making a coffee concentrate to dilute).
- Cover the pitcher with saran wrap and leave for 12-24 hours.
- Pour the mixture into a new pitcher or similar container, through the coffee filter (so it catches all of the solids). This is a slow process and you will have to do it a little bit at a time. It helps to put the filter in a fine-mesh strainer, and you made need to change filters partway through.
- Once you get to the bottom layer of grounds with little liquid, you can stop. Keep in mind that the grounds should not go down a drain or garbage disposal, so just pour them into the trash or recycle them for other uses.
- You now have a coffee concentrate that will vary in strength depending on the ratio from step 1, which you can mix with hot or cold water or milk. Mixing 1:1 is a good place to start, although you may find that you want to use more milk/water than coffee concentrate. We found that from a 4:1 ratio in the first step, mixing the concentrate 1:1 with ice cold water and adding a splash of milk produced a perfect cup for a hot day.
- You’re now a cold brew pro! Keep it covered and refrigerated, and your coffee concentrate will be usable for up to two weeks.
That’s one DIY way to make your own toddy, but there are other options. You could use a French press instead of a pitcher, which saves you some trouble in terms of filtering, not to mention making you feel quite fancy in the process. With a French press, you’ll put your water and ground coffee beans into the press with the plunger at the top. After letting it sit for 12-24 hours, all you have to do is slowly move the plunger down until only the grounds are below it, and you’ll have fresh cold-brewed concentrate. The Toddy system is an option as well, at only $35, and allows the coffee to slowly drip down into the lower chamber, rather than pouring into a new vessel at the end of 12 hours.
I’m not into waiting that long, where can I buy the best already-made cold brew?
There are a lot of ways to get your hands on cold drip coffee if you don’t have the time or motivation to make it yourself. Brooklyn-based companies Brooklyn Diamond and Grady’s Cold Brew make cold-dripped coffee concentrate that you can buy and keep refrigerated, and then mix to taste with hot or cold water or milk. Their products can be ordered online, and are widely available in markets and bodegas around many major cities. Austin-based Chameleon Cold Brew is another similar option, and is widely available across the US, including in stores like Whole Foods and King’s Supermarkets. There are many other brands to choose from if you can’t find those in your area.
If you’re in New York and looking for a delivery service, maybe for an office, Grady’s will also deliver its product right to your door, as long as you buy in bulk. The minimum order is either 6 32-ounce bottles or 12 16-ounce bottles. If you’re feeling really hardcore, you can even get cold drip kegs of java from Joyride Coffee, who offer a variety of blends and deliver in both SF and NYC. They also offer non-keg options for different-sized offices or personal use. If you live somewhere else, Wandering Bear Coffee delivers to both homes and offices across the US, and is available for pickup in a couple of NYC stores.
Cold brew is also available at many coffee shops and cafes across the country. You could find it at Starbucks, but we know you’re totally better than that, so keep reading.
Sounds amazing, why doesn’t every coffee shop sell it?
One point that needs to be made is that many coffee shops don’t serve cold brew for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is hard to keep an in-demand product in stock when it takes hours and hours to prepare. Also, making it in bulk requires a lot of space and some expensive equipment, both of which can be hard to justify in a place as expensive as NYC. Some also feel that it is wasteful because it can use more coffee beans per capita than regular coffee, and doesn’t make full use of those beans.
Despite these misgivings, it is undeniable that people love the taste of toddy, especially in the summer, and there are a ton of cafes that overcome these barriers to produce it anyway, usually at a higher price than their regular coffee. Many of the shops CUPS work with have killer cold brew, and some of our favorites are highlighted below.
New York | Philly | San Francisco
The Jeffrey (Upper East Side)
Yelp: 4/5 | Foursquare: 9/10
The Jeffrey is an espresso bar by day and craft beer bar by night, known for great food and drinks at any hour and a big backyard for when its nice out.
Ground Central sets a killer vibe with vintage rock and roll played on vinyl, and a nice lounge area in the back, not to mention well-made java that has earned them a very loyal crew of regulars.
The Jolly Goat (Hell’s Kitchen)
Yelp: 5/5 | Foursquare: 8.8/10
This little coffee shop is a staple of Hell’s Kitchen, and boasts an all-organic food menu, as well as brew made with Stumptown beans.
Simon Sips (Midtown West)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 8.8/10
Although a little bit hard to find (its inside a set of revolving doors across the courtyard from the restaurant Utsav in between 46th & 47th), Simon Sips is a hidden gem known for their latte art.
Madman Espresso is known for super friendly baristas, and uses beans from Seattle’s Caffe Vita, who are proponents of the Farm Direct movement, meaning they work directly with growers in various countries.
Yelp: 4/5 | Foursquare: 8.3/10
This tiny cafe is a neighborhood favorite known for a friendly staff and delicious food to complement their variety of coffees.
Coffee Foundry (West Village)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 8.5/10
This spot is famous for their killer iced coffee (which is cold-brewed), and becomes a karaoke bar by night.
Housing Works (SoHo)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 9.4/10
Housing Works is a fully functional bookstore with a cafe inside, where the staff is all volunteers and 100% of profits go to Housing Works charity. There are always events happening as well, so keep an eye on their calendar.
Daily Press (Bed-Stuy)
Yelp: 3.5/5 | Foursquare: 9.2/10
Serving coffee from small local roaster Kitten Coffee, Daily Press has a great ambience with a back terrace for the warmer months, and the Bed-Stuy location offers beer and wine as well.
Brooklyn Diamond serves a chicory-infused toddy that is also available bottled in grocery stores around the tristate area, and is one of the only cafes on its side of Brooklyn that serves high-quality craft blends.
Blind Barber (Williamsburg)
Yelp: 4/5 | Foursquare: 8.9/10
This place is a barbershop, bar, and coffee shop all rolled into one. A haircut comes with a free drink!
Greenstreet Coffee Co. (Washington Square)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 8.8/10
Greenstreet is a CUPS team favorite, with a hidden gem kinda vibe and plenty of outdoor seating. They’ve got cold brew on tap, and a bunch of other delicious coffee concoctions.
Bodhi’s two spots are both very cozy and quiet, with super friendly staff and (obviously) delicious cold brew.
Lombard Cafe (Society Hill)
Lombard’s got a way about it – mirrors all over the wall, cool music always in rotation, and lots of space. Also great food, nice people, and killer cold brew.
Square One is the perfect spot to hang out and get some work/studying done. They’ve got some of the coolest lighting in the city, an eye-grabbing bright yellow espresso machine, and very friendly baristas.
Jasani Cafe (Italian Market)
Jasani roasts their own right on the premises, so aside from the great drinks you can get in the cafe, they have tons of fresh beans for sale.
P.S. & Co. (Rittenhouse Square)
P.S. & Co. is a great little vegan place with delicious goodies, and Brazil Nut milk (where else can you get that?). Their cold brew is as delicious as everything else they make, and it’s got the “you could chill here all day and watch the world go by” vibe that one looks for in a great coffee shop.
Flywheel Coffee Roasters (Haight)
Yelp: 4/5 | Foursquare: 8.8/10
Flywheel is a great spot to work, with tons of space and an industrial vibe. They roast their own in-house, and have some of the best coffee in the city, including a potent Nitro brew that ill knock you on your ass.
Artis’ three Bay Area locations all boast gorgeous interiors, not to mention amazing coffee that’s roasted in the Berkeley store. They even have an outpost in Thailand! There are lots of coffee options, and you really can’t go wrong here.
Wildcraft Espresso Bar (Castro)
Yelp: 5/5 | Foursquare: 9.2/10
Wildcraft is a true espresso bar that has some of the smiliest and nicest staff in the whole city, and they have sheep’s milk, which you need to try in your coffee if you haven’t. Their cold brew and affogatos are to die for.
Devil’s Teeth Baking Company (Outer Sunset)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 9.4/10
Devil’s Teeth has mouth-wateringly good Southern-style food. We seriously can’t overstate how delicious it is, especially the Special Breakfast Sandwich. If you want your coffee with a side of the best breakfast you’ve ever eaten, this is your place.
Sundays by San Franpsycho (Inner Sunset)
Sundays has locally-sourced food and coffee from various great small brands, including Three Twins Ice Cream. Seriously is there a better summertime combo than cold brew and ice cream?
Wicked Grounds (South of Market)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 8.6/10
Wicked Grounds boasts the very rare combination of a coffee shop mixed with a store selling locally hand-craft BDSM- and kink-related books and gear. If you like your cold brew with a side of leather and rope, look no further.
Jebena Coffee & Tea (Tenderloin)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 8.2/10
Jebena is known for being a nice, quiet place to get some work done, with extremely friendly staff. They’ve got great pastries and a mom and pop feel to complement your cold brew.
Contraband Coffee Bar (Nob Hill)
Yelp: 4/5 | Foursquare: 8.8/10
Contraband is a great spot to work, with tons of natural light and a delicious selection of funky pastries. The coffee is also amazing, and they rotate various single-origin brews through their Nitro tap.
Picnic on Third (SoMa)
Yelp: 4.5/5 | Foursquare: 8.6/10
Picnic on Third is the place to go if you want an incredible brunch with an always-changing menu of unique food choices and a down home feel. The coffee is just as good as the food, trust us.