With temperatures slowly creeping up across the country, it appears that cold brew season is finally officially upon us. So, let’s clear something up: While some folks use the terms “cold brew” and “iced coffee” interchangeably, the two drinks are actually distinct.
Iced coffee is, as the name suggests, coffee served over ice. When you order it at your local café, it’s likely a chilled version of whatever batch brew they’ve made that day.
Cold brew, however, refers to a process for making coffee. Coarse coffee grounds are mixed with cold (or sometimes room temperature) water. The mixture steeps sometimes for up to 24 hours before being served over ice. This process brings out different flavors in the coffee than hot brewing the same batch of beans would.
As someone who has been on a years-long journey to make a better cup of coffee at home, cold brewing appeals to me because you don’t need any fancy equipment. All you need is a grinder, water and time.
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Oh, and good coffee helps, too.
While homebound during the pandemic, I tried dozens of different beans from roasters across the country in my search for the best coffee for cold brew. I’m always on the hunt for new and interesting things to try, but here are 5 of my favorites.
This medium-dark roast from the Atlanta-based Dancing Goats Coffee roastery (formerly Batdorf & Bronson) is like taking a sip of a chocolate-covered cherry, especially when served over ice. While some perfectly lovely coffees can get a little acrid when cold brewed, Whirling Dervish’s velvety citrus notes pop even more when chilled.
Per Dark Matter, its Aire blend comes from Finca San Jorge and “is honey processed, leaving the sticky mucilage on the pulped coffee to increase fermentation levels producing a juicy, sweet cup.” It stands up to the cold brewing process really beautifully. The resulting cup has top notes of apricot and plum, underscored by a caramelized molasses sweetness. If you’re a fan of adding coconut milk or cream to your cold brew, this would be the ideal coffee for that pairing.
A coffee-loving friend sent me this limited release from Philly’s ReAnimator Coffee Roasters. As soon as I opened the bag, I knew I’d have to stock up in preparation for the first few truly hot weeks of summer. It smells like it tastes, with notes of dark fruit, candied grapes and a little black licorice-Cola kick. It’s also strong enough to stand up to cream but fruit-forward enough to drink black.
Dark chocolate notes reign supreme in Stone Street Coffee Company’s dark roast, which was formulated specifically for being cold brewed. It’s rich and robust but has low acidity, which means it won’t wreck your stomach if you’re a multi-cup drinker like me. While Stone Street markets itself as “serious coffee for serious New Yorkers,” it’s definitely worth brewing in your home kitchen wherever you are.
For something a little more mellow, try Stumptown Coffee Roasters’ Guatemala El Injerto Bourbon. This single-origin coffee tastes a little bit like a milk chocolate candy bar flecked with orange peel, filled with a streak of cherry preserves. It’s buttery and smooth on the palate, perfect for augmenting with a little vanilla-flavored creamer.
More ways to up your at-home coffee game: