5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Homemade Cold Brew Iced Coffee

updated May 7, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Cold brew coffee fuels warm-weather days. It is the cooling caffeinated refreshment we all need to power our spring and summer fun. Cold brew is about as easy as mixing ground coffee with cool water and letting them sit together overnight, so the best cold brew is subtly improved by avoiding some key pitfalls.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Homemade Cold Brew Iced Coffee

1. Grinding the coffee too fine.

Just like drip coffee and espresso require different coffee roasts and different grind sizes, cold brew has some bean specifications too. A fine grind for this coffee will leave you with a bitter cold brew.

Try this: Grind the beans to a coarse grind, about the texture of coarse sugar, grinding in batches if needed for a big batch (trust us — you’ll want to make a big batch of this stuff).

2. Making a small batch.

Here’s the thing: Cold brew takes a long time to make. Most of that time is hands off, but it’s a waste of your time and resources to take 18 to 24 hours to make just two cups of cold brew.

Big-batch it! How many cups of coffee do you drink in a week? 10? 12? That’s how much cold brew you batch brew every weekend! Plus, cold brew lasts well in the fridge for up to two weeks, meaning you only have to wash the dishes for prepping this concentrate once a week or every other week if you plan well.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

3. Not soaking the coffee long enough.

Cold brew extracts all the tasty goodness of coffee with none of the acidity or bitterness that can come from drip brew. It does this via cold extraction. If you soak the grinds for just 12 hours you’ll find a cold brew that is weak and somewhat astringent, but after about 18 hours the brew is super smooth.

Stick it in the fridge: Use cold water (filtered, if you want to really get specific) and let the brew sit in the fridge for 18 to 24 hours before straining.

4. Straining too quickly.

After already waiting overnight for your cold brew, it can be tempting to rush the straining process by squeezing, pressing, or otherwise forcing the cold brew through the cheesecloth and strainer. I know, because I’ve done just that and found that a poked and prodded batch of cold brew is bitter and disappointing.

Divide and conquer: When making our big-batch cold brew, I always strain in two batches and plan for straining to take about 30 minutes total time. I let gravity do all the work and my reward is sweet, smooth, obsession-worthy cold brew.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. Drinking cold brew neat.

Cold brew is stored in the fridge, so ostensibly you could drink it straight from the fridge — but then you’d be revved up on high-octane coffee and miss the delights of sweetened, iced cold brew.

Dilute and ice it: Most cold brew recipes (including ours) make a concentrate designed for longer shelf life and require a little water and ice for a balanced cup. Use a 50/50 ratio of cold brew to cold, filtered water and serve over ice. Personally I like to sweeten the cup by making my own sweet cream at home, too.