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What is cold brew coffee and why is everyone — including Starbucks — into it?

The cold brew coffee craze is hardly new, but it might finally be mainstream. Starbucks recently announced that it's launching cold b
/ Source: TODAY

The cold brew coffee craze is hardly new, but it might finally be mainstream.

Starbucks recently announced that it’s launching cold brew in more than 2,800 stores in the U.S. and Canada, the latest java trend the coffee giant has incorporated into its menu.

While cold brew is, well, cold coffee, it’s not just regular iced coffee. Chris Cross, a roaster at New York City’s Cafe Grumpy, told how the trendy brew is made, and why it’s different.


“It’s coffee that’s brewed with room temperature or cold water over a 12 to 24-hour brew time,” he said. “It depends on the recipe, it’s done to taste.

“Because it’s made with colder water, it’s generally a bit mellower and tastes more rounded out,” Cross added. “So there’s more of a full body and a little less acidity [than iced coffee.]”

Cross said he discovered cold brew four or five years ago, but suspects many people have been fans for longer. Popular cold brew brands include Blue Bottle Coffee and Stumptown Coffee Roasters, but — like Starbucks — plenty of coffee shops have started to make their own version, including Cafe Grumpy.

Once the coffee is steeped, “you end up with a very strong coffee concentrate and you cut it with water, about 50/50,” Cross said, and voila: you have cold brew.


There’s also New Orleans-style cold brew, which is made with chicory for a kick of spice.

You can make cold brew tea, too, but Cross said it’s hasn’t caught on like cold brew coffee.

Starbucks’ version has “chocolate and light citrus notes,” and a brew time of 20 hours, the company said. Its traditional iced coffee is made by brewing coffee double-strength, and pouring it over ice. (For the record, iced drinks like lattes and Americanos are made with espresso and ice.)

“Our goal was to find the perfect spot where the coffee was rich, dense and slightly sweet,” Starbucks employee Michelle Sundquist said in a statement on the company’s website.

Starbucks cold brew will be in select stores on March 31. But you won’t see the stubby glass bottles many fans have come to expect cold brew be served in — Starbucks’ cold brew will be in regular plastic cups, a spokesperson said.

The brand has already had a busy year: It introduced flat whites, coconut milk, new lattes and more in recent months.

This article was originally published Mar. 17, 2015 at 4:13 p.m. ET.