Updated: April 19, 2022 by Owen Richardson
Are you wondering how long to steep cold brew?
Making your own cold brew is an easy process, but it does require some trial and error. While it’s not a very hands-on task, the amount of time you let the coffee beans steep and the method you use will yield very different results.
In this article, I will talk to you about how long to cold brew coffee, the methods you can use, and how long the entire process should take. By the end, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to create your perfect cold brew at home, and hopefully save yourself a few bucks along the way!
What Is Cold Brew?
Cold brew coffee results from mixing coarsely ground coffee beans and cold water. The result is a sweet and flavorful drink, much less bitter and acidic than a regular coffee.
You might think that cold brew has to be consumed cold—the clue is in the name, right? That’s actually a common misconception, as cold brew can be served hot too. The term “cold brew” is literally just a description of the brewing process.
How Long to Steep Cold Brew
At a glance, making cold brew looks like a long and drawn-out process. So, how long does it really take?
The brewing time highly depends on your personal preference and how you like your coffee to taste.
To create the perfect cup of cold brew according to coffee experts, you should brew for between 12 and 18 hours.
Any longer than this will result in a bitter, unpleasant drink. The cold brew mixture will be over-extracted, meaning that too much of the coffee flavor will have been pulled from the beans.
On the other hand, a brewing time that’s too short will give you a watery drink with a very faint coffee flavor. The reason cold brew needs to steep for hours is that, without the heat element, the water needs more time to draw out the flavor from the coffee beans.
The ideal cold brew has a concentrated, full flavor with notes of sweetness. If you get an acrid taste from your cold brew, you’ll need to rethink the process.
The Cold Brew Methods
Cold brew can be created either at room temperature or in the refrigerator. The overall time that the cold brew should steep will depend on which of these methods you use.
Room Temperature Method
If you would rather steep your coffee grounds at room temperature, you’re best sticking to the lower end of the 12-to-18-hour time frame. This does depend on the temperature of your room at the time of course, but you’ll soon nail down an exact time the more you practice.
If you like a chilled cold brew, the coffee will need to be cooled down after the brew time is up. Whether you use an ice bath or the refrigerator, that’s up to you, but be mindful that this will add time to the overall brewing which, as we now know, could affect the finished taste.
This is the preferred method if you like to drink your cold brew… well, cold. Once the brewing time is up, you’ll be able to make your cold brew as you like it and it will be ready to go.
However, using this method will result in a longer brewing time and it may take closer to 18 hours. This is because the water will be chilled and will need to work a lot harder to extract the best flavor from the coffee beans.
Making Cold Brew at Home
The first thing you’ll need is a coffee grinder. Cold brew requires a coarse grind, which you’re unlikely to be able to achieve through manual methods. Take a look at the best coffee grinders for cold brew here.
From here, the process is actually very simple.
Add those coarsely ground coffee beans to some room-temperature or chilled water and leave it to soak for between 12 to 18 hours.
Several gadgets will complete the whole process for you, but you can create delicious cold brew using common kitchen items: a glass carafe, a sieve, and some filter papers.
Once the brewing process is complete, line the sieve with the filter papers and carefully pour the liquid through, into a clean container. Don’t rush this process—let the brew drip through slowly to truly maximize the flavor.
Are There Any Common Mistakes to Avoid?
There are several mistakes to avoid when making your own cold brew at home.
1. Making Small Batches
The first is making too small of a batch. While making cold brew isn’t a labor-intensive process, it still takes time and resources.
As discussed above, the perfect cold brew takes between 12 to 18 hours to make, depending on whether you leave it to steep at room temperature or in the refrigerator. It, therefore, makes more sense to make it in larger batches. Work out how much coffee you drink in a week so you can create the perfect amount.
2. Not Steeping for Long Enough
I know I’ve mentioned this already, but the length of time you leave cold brew steeping is vital.
Many people get impatient and will only leave it for between six to eight hours, which is only half the minimum recommended time. This isn’t long enough.
Cold brew should be sweet and full-bodied. The optimum flavor is the goal here — weak and watery coffee is not.
3. Mistaking Cold Brew for Iced Coffee
Again, this is something I touched upon above, but cold brew can be consumed piping hot if you wish. Once the brewing process is over, you can do whatever you want with the liquid…even bathe in it if you desire! But it isn’t the same as iced coffee.
What is the best coffee to use for cold brew?
The process of cold brewing coffee brings out a full-flavored and sweet profile. Try looking for a fruity bean such as this African blend, which has notes of blueberries and cardamom. If you prefer something sweeter, how about one from Hawaii with tasting notes of coconut and caramel.
We cover the best coffee beans to use for cold brew here.
Can you steep cold brew for too long?
Absolutely. If you leave the grounds steeping in the water for longer than 18 hours, the result will be an unpleasant and bitter brew that no one is going to want to drink.
Should you stir cold brew while it’s steeping?
There’s no need to disturb the grounds while they’re steeping. Simply add the water, place them either on your kitchen counter or in the refrigerator, and leave them for the allotted time. Setting a timer is a good idea.
Why is my cold brew weak and watery?
If the flavor of your cold brew is weak, you haven’t let it steep for long enough. To extract the best, well-rounded flavor from the grounds, it needs to brew for a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 18 hours depending on the method you use.
Does cold brew need to be kept refrigerated?
Yes is the short answer. Even if you’ve brewed it at room temperature, you must keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to consume it.
The brew will last for around seven to 10 days when kept refrigerated — another reason to make larger batches when you’re in the mood to brew!
Can I use decaf beans?
Of course. The beauty of making cold brew at home is that you can create your cold brew however you want, and this includes using decaf beans. Try and find a fruity or sweet blend if possible, as this will result in the best cold brew flavor.
Good Things Take Time
At first glance, cold brew might seem like a convoluted and even unnecessary drink to make at home. Who wants to wait for a drink to steep for 18 hours?
The reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, it requires some patience, but I guarantee that once you make your own batch of cold brew, rather than spending a few dollars or more a pop at the local coffee shop, you’ll be converted and won’t look back.