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No, cold brew is not iced coffee — here's how to make it

It's time to stop buying overpriced coffee.
Woman pouring cold brew in her kitchen from her cold brew maker
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If you prefer to drink iced coffee all year round or simply skip hot espresso during the warmer months, it might be time to try cold brew. Much like its name reveals, the brewing process involves cold water rather than hot, making the process a bit more lengthy than the brewing time for your typical cup of coffee. However, the results — a delicious, full-bodied and highly caffeinated brew — are worth it.

What is cold brew?

Since cold brew leaves hot water out of the mix, the grounds must go through a slower extraction process. So while you can't make cold brew by simply popping a pod in your Keurig, you'll find that you might not want to anyway.

"Strictly using cold water combined with 18-24 hours of extraction greatly reduces the acidity of the coffee and produces a more full-bodied and rich result," Josh Cook, cafe manager at The Coffee Fox in Savannah, Georgia, told us. "Regular iced coffee, "flash brew" in this case, uses hot water and is immediately cooled with ice. Non-cold brewed iced coffee is essentially just hot coffee poured over ice."

Cook says that not only does coffee brewed this way give it a "much lighter" body, but it also makes the coffee a bit more acidic. Cold brew is also worth considering for anyone who wants a bit more of a caffeine boost, as Cook says it has a much higher caffeine content than hot coffee over ice — a standard cup typically contains 95mg, while a cup of cold brew can contain upwards of 200mg.

How to choose a cold brew coffee maker

Though there might be slight differences among each kind of cold brew maker, Jesse Gordon, an educator at Counter Culture Coffee, says that, "most cold brewers will be fairly simple and will function the same way. You need a vessel to hold water and some kind of filter to hold and remove the coffee grounds."

Depending on how seriously you take your coffee, you may want to take other factors besides price into consideration. While the cold brew method itself requires time, clean up and ease of use might also be worth looking into.

"There are some cold brew makers that have some 'automation' or nice gadgets that make the process as easy as possible and less manual," Kymme Williams-Davis, owner of Bushwick Grind Cafe, told Shop TODAY. "There are some that are sophisticated enough to insulate the coffee more tightly or control water temperature, keeping the coffee colder than other brewers would."

In terms of clean up, you can also consider metal vs. no-mess filters, and plastic vs. glass carafes when it comes to durability.

"Cold brew is a fairly simple brew method, but one thing you definitely need to keep in mind is being able to easily clean whatever brewer you choose," Gordon said. "Compared to plastic, glass makes cleanup much easier considering the oils found in coffee."

While an aesthetically-pleasing cold brew maker might look nice on your counter or serve as a conversation piece, Williams-Davis says you should also have "your capacity for brewing, ambition for brewing and budget as your respective desires" in mind.

However, no matter your brew method, Williams-Davis says the most important thing should be where your coffee is sourced from.

"Coffee can be a very abused product and producers (largely from Black and brown countries) historically received pennies on the dollar for the very manual process harvesting and shipping green coffee," Williams-Davis said. "Roasters who adopt a fair or direct procurement practice typically will reference that on the retail bags."

Below, we rounded up a few expert-approved cold brew makers, as well as customer-loved models that can also make brewing easy.

Expert-approved cold brew makers

Hario Brewing Coffee Bottle

Gordon and Cook say they use this model from Hario to make cold brew at home. It's made from heatproof glass and can make up to five cups of cold brew.

"This product uses the same basic process, but it all happens in one 24-ish ounce bottle," Cook said. "This is what I use at home regularly in the warmer months."

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffee Pot

Williams-Davis also likes Hario products for various brewing methods. This model can brew up to 4.5 cups of coffee and features a reusable metal filter. It's dishwasher-safe, making it easy to use and clean.

"Their products keep it pretty simple, are very well made, have more than one option for the same brew method and are aesthetically pleasing," she said.

Toddy Cold Brew System

Toddy's at-home system is a good pick for those who need to make individual brews, Cook told us. It uses about seven cups of water to make the brew, and can keep it fresh for up to two weeks.

Toddy Commercial Model Cold Brew System

Cook says The Coffee Fox uses this model from Toddy to make cold brew, which uses about five pounds of coarsely ground coffee. If you take your cold brew seriously or prefer to whip up big batches, it can make up to two liters of cold brew at a time. Sarina Prabasi, co-founder of Buunni Coffee in New York City, also says they use the Toddy System to make cold brew at their coffee shops.

Top-rated cold brew makers

Takeya Patented Deluxe Cold Brew Coffee Maker

This Shop TODAY editor-approved cold brew maker is also Amazon's bestselling cold brew maker. It boasts over 27,000 verified five-star reviews and can make enough cold brew to last for up to two weeks. Since it is made from a durable glass, you can use it to serve hot or cold coffee.

OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker

OXO's cold brew maker uses paper filters and a perforated top to ensure an even brew. It can make up to four cups of cold brew and features a release switch to help you control the brewing process. With a 4.6-star overall rating and a 4.7-star rating for flavor, it's an affordable pick for anyone looking to make the brewing process easier.

KitchenAid Cold Brew Coffee Maker

If you take your cold brew seriously, KitchenAid's cold brew maker might be a bit of an investment, but it's more than 1,000 verified five-star reviews say it's worth it. It can make up to 14 servings of cold brew and even features a tap spout so you can serve it straight from the fridge.

"This is the perfect in-fridge cold brew coffee! I'm saving money by brewing at home," one wrote. "It's easy to clean and makes very fresh tasting coffee!"

County Line Kitchen Cold Brew Mason Jar Coffee Maker

Several of the experts we spoke to say that you can make cold brew at home with some of the items you may already have — including mason jars. County Line's cold brew coffee maker uses just that, and it has the approval of almost 8,000 verified five-star reviewers. It comes with a stainless steel filter and an attachable lid so you can enjoy your brew on the go.

Dash Cold Brew Coffee Maker

Dash's cold brew maker takes away the overnight process and whips up cold brew in as little as five minutes. Depending on how you like your flavor intensity, the longest the brewing process will take is 15 minutes. It can make over a liter of coffee that can be stored for up to 10 days.

Ovalware Airtight Cold Brew Maker

Ovalware's cold brew maker can brew in as little as 12 hours and uses an airtight silicon seal to ensure freshness for up to two weeks. It's amassed a 4.6-star rating from more than 8,000 verified reviewers, and has earned a five-star rating from 77% of reviewers.

How to make cold brew coffee

You'll need to either purchase beans and grind them yourself at home with a reliable coffee grinder, or purchase grounds.

"As with any brew method, we highly recommend weighing out your coffee and water so you know exactly how much you’re using," Gordon said. "This helps with consistency from batch to batch."

The grounds should be saturated with water before the overnight brewing process begins, and you'll want to brew it in the refrigerator for the best results. If your grounds are coarse, they'll likely need to brew for a full 24 hours, but Gordon says finer grinds can lead to a shorter brew time of 8-12 hours.

Once the coffee is finished extracting, Cook says you can then filter it into the carafe and store it in the fridge. However, if you want to preserve the flavor, you'll want to keep the brew as fresh as possible.

"Cover your brewer with something like plastic wrap so it’s airtight to keep out as much oxygen as possible during the brew time," Gordon said. "We were blown away at the difference this can make for flavor in our testing."

When it comes time to enjoy your cold brew, you should also be conscious of how everything in your cup affects the flavor.

"Keep in mind that ice is part of the recipe," Williams-Davis said. "At times, folks may consider the coffee not to be 'strong' enough because the amount of ice used in the cup or because of how long the ice sat in the cup and has diluted the beverage."

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