Is cold brew sweet enough to avoid adding sugar? This article explores the flavor of cold brew and the special qualities that make it easy to enjoy.
For cold brew lovers, one of the key benefits of the brewing method is that it produces such a smooth and velvety result. Most agree that cold brew doesn’t need sugar or milk to be worth drinking–but is cold brew sweet all by itself?
Technically, no. But while cold brew isn’t necessarily sweet on its own, there’s still some interesting chemistry involved that means you probably need less sugar or milk than you might think–and you might not need to add anything at all to enjoy your cold brew. Read on to learn more!
Is Cold Brew Sweet?
Is cold brew sweet on its own? The short answer is that it isn’t–not in the way that most people think of it. However, because of the brewing method, it tends to have a sweeter flavor than hot-brewed coffee.
In addition, it’s not as harsh, and it’s much smoother, which means that many cold brew coffee drinkers don’t feel the need to alter it with sugar, syrups, or even milk.
If you’ve never tried cold brew coffee before, and you’re expecting it to taste the way that coffee with sugar does, you’re going to be disappointed. While coffee beans do have some sweetness to them due to natural sugars that exist in the organic material they’re made of, there are bitter compounds present too–and so coffee, all on its own, doesn’t taste sweet no matter how it’s prepared.
All that said, however, coffee lovers can find cold brew coffee a more palatable option for drinking black, without any sugar added—the reason why comes down to a bit of chemistry.
The Chemistry Of Cold Brew
The secret to the smooth, rich flavor of cold brew coffee comes down to chemistry. Almost everyone who has tried various types of cold brew agrees that the coffee is much less harsh and less acidic than its hot brewed counterpart. But why is that the case?
It’s no secret that cold brewing takes much longer than hot brewing methods do. Some recipes recommend twelve hours; some recipes even go for as long as 24, though it’s rare that extraction takes that long unless it’s a very large volume of coffee concentrate. Cold brew gets its characteristic mellow smoothness not from the time it takes to brew but from the reason it takes longer to brew that way.
Hot water extracts the volatile compounds in coffee very quickly, and it also does that in a somewhat indiscriminate manner. So you get all the delicious flavors in the coffee grounds you brew, but you also tend to extract some things that aren’t so pleasant–particularly acidic compounds and sometimes some of the less enjoyable byproducts of the roasting process.
By brewing in cold water for a more extended time, you’re extracting the compounds out of the ground coffee much more slowly. Some acidic compounds that come out so easily in hot water don’t make it out of the ground coffee when the water is cold. The result is that cold brew can have up to 65% less acidity than hot brewed coffee.
The result of this careful chemistry is that cold brew has a sweeter taste that many people find doesn’t need sugar, syrup, or even milk to make it enjoyable. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your cold brew coffee with a little sweetener or milk.
I like to pair my cold brew with a toffee or vanilla syrup–those flavors bring out some of the roasty, caramel flavors that my favorite cold brew coffees have. You can also branch out and consider more exotic pairings, like coriander syrup or even mint syrup–a favorite combination in many countries.