It’s cold brew season, plain and simple, and because I’m a self-proclaimed addict with a working—but not expert— knowledge of how to make cold brew and the best coffees to use for cold brew, I spoke with someone who is (an expert). That would be Erika Vonie, an N.Y.C. Coffee Masters Champion & Director of Coffee for Trade—a buzzy new delivery service that’s reimagining access to good coffee.
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Trade just launched a personalized, make-at-home cold brew subscription package, along with proprietary cold brew bags which are, according to the team, one of the easiest and best ways to brew proper cold brew coffee at home. Resident cold brew guru Vonie was kind enough to walk me through the basics of cold brew coffee, why it’s so (pardon) “hot” right now, and some tips for making at home—including the one thing to consider for a perfect batch of cold brew that might seem obvious but people still get wrong ALL the time.
Why is cold brew so popular right now?
“People like cold brew for its rich flavor, big bodied mouthfeel, its ability to taste great with milk and sugar, lack of acidity, and its cold refreshment. And I love it because it can be a gateway for coffee drinkers to experience roasters they may never have heard of before, and give specialty coffee a try.
Cold brew is having a moment, and I am here for it! Historically, specialty coffee did itself a disservice by not treating cold brew like a legitimate brewing method. Roasters would use old beans, not care about extraction time, and harp on ‘oxidation’ making cold brew taste flat.”
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“Luckily, that rhetoric is being left in the past. Because a lot of people love cold brew, roasters have upped their game to get them the best coffee they can. Intentionally sourcing and roasting coffee for long extraction, using nuanced brew methods to cut down on oxidation, and even making really special cold brew blends are all trends of late.”
What’s the easiest way to make good cold brew?
- Grind 3 ounces of coffee on the coarsest setting on your grinder.
- Add the coffee to your cold brew bag using a spoon or a funnel. Tie the bag off securely so no grinds get loose.
- Place the bag in a Mason jar, or other container with a lid, and pour 28 ounces of cold, filtered water into the jar as well. Screw the top on, and store in a temperature stable place, away from sunlight. If you’re storing the cold brew in the fridge, expect to let it brew between 18 to 24 hours. If you leave your cold brew out at room temperature, expect a slightly faster extraction of 12 to 16 hours.
- When your cold brew is at the strength you like (you can steal sips hour-by-hour to find that sweet spot), remove the bag from the jar and throw away. The bag is made of corn, so you can even compost it for added sustainability.
*For a detailed step-by-step with visuals, check out Trade’s cold brew guide.
What are the best coffees styles to use for cold brew?
“Traditional flavors and coffees that ‘taste like coffee’ generally have more medium-to-dark roast profiles. Lucky for us cold brewers, darker roasts are more soluble in water, which means slightly easier and more even extraction. Darker roasts tend to also have less perceived acidity or ‘brightness’ to them, which is something many cold brew drinkers value. This is why we chose medium- to dark-roasted coffees for our new cold brew subscription service.”
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“Coffee like PT’s Old Front and Irving Farms Cold Brew Blend fits this classic profile seamlessly and give cold brew drinkers the experience they’re after. For the more adventurous, try Kuma’s Sun Bear, which is a lighter roast with more berry-forward notes. Those fruity notes will develop deeper the longer your coffee brews, so take sips starting at 12 hours to find the extraction time that works best for you.”
Ball Mason Jars (Set of 4), $13.40 on Amazon
A classic (& classy) place to store your smooth af cold brew.
Is there one thing people should consider when making cold brew?
“It’s all about the water! Make sure you avoid hot water in your cold brew at all costs to get the smoothest extraction possible. This includes keeping it out of sunlight so the temperature doesn’t change while brewing.
When making cold brew water temperature makes those flavors pop. With hot coffee, the temperature of the water causes acids to decay into bitter compounds. If the coffee isn’t quite hot enough, those compounds don’t dissolve and remain sour. The heat of the water will also evaporate aromatic oils within the coffee, which is why hot coffee smells so good. Those aromatics trigger our nose and prime it to then taste those flavors when we sip the coffee.”
“Taste is still overwhelmingly tied to smell though, and the human body can smell more ways than one. In cold brew, we use cold or room temperature water to brew with, so those acids don’t decay, and those aromatics don’t evaporate. However, when we drink the cold brew, those oils hit you while in your mouth. This is called ‘retronasal olfaction’, which refers to the flavor of cold brew being created from molecules in the coffee, being pushed up into our nasal passages while drinking.”