How Long Does Cold Brew Really Need to Steep?

A glass of cold brew coffee on a table.

Who says you need to bring the heat to start your day? Cold brew coffee offers a delightful, invigorating way to start your day without waiting for your java fix to cool down before that first sip. The truth is that the cold-brew process is a bit mystifying for many of us.

What exactly is cold brew? Let's talk about what it’s not for a second. Cold brew is not simply an ordinary coffee that has been poured over ice!

The reason why cold brew is so dark and strong when compared to regular coffee is that it’s made using a slow, steady brewing process. Cold brew is made using immersion instead of the traditional process that many of us are familiar with. Here's a quick breakdown of what the immersion process entails:

  • Coffee grounds are placed in a vat of water.
  • Coffee grounds are left to steep for a period of time.
  • Soluble elements are slowly extracted by the water.
  • Coffee grounds are filtered out.

The result of the immersion process behind cold brew is a smooth, refreshing flavor that “wakes you up” in a way that typical hot coffee can't really touch. Of course, the big difference between a traditional cup of hot coffee and cold brew is that cold brew takes a much bigger time commitment. There's really no such thing as a last-minute batch of cold brew!

The most important step is the steeping process! This is where cold brew gets its caffeine and flavor. In fact, handling the steeping process improperly can ruin a batch of cold brew.

One of the big questions that people have revolves around exactly how long cold brew needs to be steeped. You'll find a few differing opinions when it comes to steeping requirements. Let's take a look at what it takes to make a good cold brew using the right tools and timing!

How Long Does Cold Brew Need to Steep?

Making cold brew is something of an art. Of course, all true masterpieces take time! That's why you need to be patient about waiting for your cold brew if you're used to using coffee makers that deliver ready-to-drink coffee in minutes.

How long is the steeping process for cold brew? You actually have a few different options. The “correct” way to make cold brew is to let your mixture steep for between 12 and 24 hours.

You may be thinking that you don't have a whole day to wait for your coffee! The good news is that you can trim the steeping time if you want your drink sooner. What many people don't realize is that most of the flavor elements from your beans are actually extracted during the first four to eight hours after you put your cold brew in the fridge to steep.

The fact that cold brew is “technically” ready after eight hours means that you can certainly put your mixture in the fridge before going to bed if you want to drink it in the morning. You will get a flavor that is completely passable!

It should be stated that steeping your cold brew longer doesn't actually make it stronger. That means you will not get more caffeine from your cold brew if you do allow it to steep for the recommended 18 to 24 hours. You may be wondering why exactly anyone would recommend such a long steeping time if caffeine levels aren't impacted.

The recommendation to allow the cold brew to steep for 18 to 24 hours actually has to do with flavor! Extended steeping times allow for the flavor compounds within the brew to loosen up. That means that more flavors will be released with each hour that passes!

What if you don't have time to wait for your cold brew to steep every day? No problem! You can actually make a large batch that can be enjoyed for several days without spoiling or losing flavor!

What Are the Benefits of Cold Brew?

You might be wondering what the perks are when it comes to skipping the traditional brewing method. There are many reasons why people are swapping out regular coffee in favor of cold brew. Here's a look at some of the benefits of cold brew:

  • No heat or special equipment required.
  • Easy to custom measure as much or little as you want per batch.
  • Very simple to make.
  • A mellow, balanced flavor.
  • Low acid.

Many people prefer cold brew specifically because it offers a low-acid alternative to brewed coffee. In fact, cold brew can have almost 70 percent less acid than normal coffee. That's great news for anyone with a sensitive stomach!

Why Would Somebody Want to Make Cold Brew at Home?

There's one really good reason why you might be inspired to make your own cold brew at home. Coffee shops actually charge quite a bit more for cold brew than they do for coffee. In fact, sales of cold-serve beverages at coffee shops around the country add up to around $22 billion annually!

The Perfect Treat in the Morning

One of the things that people love about cold brew is the fact that they can set things up to ensure that a cup of crisp, delicious java is waiting for them in the morning. The process for making cold brew is actually perfect for anyone looking to make a batch before going to bed. You will have a perfect cup waiting for you in the morning if you kick off the “brewing” process before you go to sleep at night.

What Is Needed to Make Cold Brew?

Many people love the fact that there's no need to use complicated equipment or keep a large machine on the counter once they make the switch to cold brew. What's more, you aren't stuck cleaning out a coffee machine between uses. That doesn't mean that you won't still need some tools for making cold brew.

The first thing you'll need for making cold brew is some type of container that will hold your liquid. You can use any type of cup, bowl or container for this! Many people find that a glass vessel works especially well.

A filter will be used to remove the grounds once you're done with the brewing process. Many people use things like standard coffee filters, mesh filters, cheesecloth and pillowcases for cold brew. There are many different styles and techniques that you can research when figuring out a recipe for how to make cold brew at home.

Pay Attention to the Beans

Many people focus on the “brewing” process of making cold brew. However, the way you steep your cold brew isn't the only thing that will impact the final result. The beans you use will actually play a big role in how satisfying your final product can be!

What's the secret to using the right beans with cold brew? Coffee beans used for cold brew should be Medium to coarse grind size gives the best cold brew. However, you want to avoid grounds that are too fine. For more HOW TO GRIND COFFEE BEANS FOR COLD BREWING

Coffee Grind Size
Coffee Grind Size

Grounds that are too fine can actually lead to a bitter taste because too much is extracted from the beans. The aim should be to grind the beans just a little coarsely. This is what will give you that balanced, smooth taste that high-quality cold brew is famous for delivering.

Get That Ratio Right

The ratio of water to grounds that you use is important. The general ratio to follow is one pound of coffee beans for each gallon of water. Of course, you can scale that down for whatever serving you intend to make at home.

What About Water Temperature for Cold Brew?

Some people assume that you need to start with chilled water when making cold brew. That's actually not the case. Room-temperature water will be just fine!

Can You Store Cold Brew After Making It?

Cold brew has a much longer shelf life than regular coffee. In fact, many people keep their cold brew hanging around for a few days. Some even store cold brew in the fridge for as long as two weeks without noticing any changes in flavor.

Try Steeping Cold Brew at Home

Don't be intimidated by the fact that making cold brew can take up to 24 hours. The actual preparation process only takes a few minutes! The steeping process for cold brew is a totally passive process that doesn't require your attention.

Mastering the art of steeping cold brew for the right amount of time will give you the freedom to enjoy an artisan java fix every morning without dropping up to $5 per cup at the local coffee shop. Knowing that you're saving all that money should be enough to give you a really nice jumpstart in the morning!

Related Article: CAN YOU HEAT UP COLD BREW COFFEE?