October 10, 2018

Cold Brew Coffee: Different Brewing Methods Compared


Sweet and refreshing cold brew coffee is a great option for summer or in hotter climates. But how do you make cold brew? What do immersion, drip, and Japanese iced coffee involve?

And which brew method should you use for your perfect coffee – whether you’re craving a sweet, mild cup or a complex, fruity single origin?

Take a look at the different methods in this quick-and-easy guide, and learn how you can improve and adapt your cold brew for a delicious result every time.

You may also like How to Spice Up Your Cold Brew Coffee

A cup of iced cold brew coffee from Toma cafe.

Cold brew with ice from Toma Café in Madrid, Spain. Credit: Julio Guevara

Choosing a Method of Cold Brew Coffee

Just as in conventional coffee brewing, there are many ways of creating cold brew and there are many ways to tweak it to your taste.

Cold brew has a reputation for being sweet, mellow, and lacking in acidity, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Before you choose a method, consider what profile you like your coffee to have. This will allow you to choose an extraction method that accentuates the elements you enjoy.

Heat speeds up extraction and some compounds, such as acids, are only extracted with heat. This means that cold brewing requires some different considerations from conventional coffee.

You should also think about the practicalities. How much time and effort are you willing to invest in your cold brew? Do you drink it often enough to buy specialty equipment or is it something you only choose occasionally? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the different methods.

A glass of iced cold brew coffee.

Iced cold brew coffee. Credit: Matt Hoffman

Immersion Brewing

Immersion brewing involves combining cold water and ground coffee and letting it sit for a few hours. After straining, you create a mellow coffee with minimal effort.

Immersion cold brews are typically balanced with low acidity as its acidic compounds are only extracted with heat. For a mellow, sweet coffee, try a natural processed Burundian or Bourbon to emphasise its sweetness.

Some people dismiss cold brew for a perceived lack of complexity and nuances. But its acid compounds include fruity notes and liveliness. Dylan Thome, manager for Café Registrado in Buenos Aires, highlights the importance of the right extraction method. “Cold brew gets a bad rap in specialty coffee because it lacks acidity and complexity. I bring out those attributes by tweaking the toddy procedures a bit.”

Discover more: Why Are Some Coffees More Acidic Than Others?

Bottles of cold brew made a Toddy. Credit: Cappuccino Man

Toddy technique uses a filters to make the immersion method easier. Dylan outlines his preferred method. “I use a 1:8 coffee to water recipe but start with a hot bloom for the first minute, followed by an ice bath. After 16 hours we taste tests and measuring TDS until we’ve created a balanced beverage.”

Ivan Totti Heyden works in quality control at Academia do Café in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He says: “I’ve been exploring cold brew since 2013. At first, I was making it in a bottle and brewer with paper filters. I didn’t like it so I dedicated myself to making it good. I experimented with different times, ground size, concentrations, time, and roasts.

“After I found my recipe, I got the Toddy to make bigger volumes and bottling it. I still use the small Toddy every day to make fresh cold brew to serve in the café.”

Don’t dismiss immersion cold brew as flat and lacking fruitiness. With experimentation, you can make it your own.

Learn more! Immersion Cold Brew Recipes: 4 Things You Need to Consider

A glass of cold brew coffee with straw.

A glass of cold brew at The Fix in Madrid, Spain. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre

Japanese Iced Coffee Method

This is not technically cold brewed coffee because the coffee is brewed hot. But it’s not iced coffee either. This method involves brewing hot coffee directly on to ice. Think a pour-over device with the body filled with ice.

Japanese iced coffee has a distinctive taste for cold brew coffee. Because the hot water extracts acids, it has a bright, crisp, and refreshing finish. If you enjoy this profile, try it with coffees from origins like Ethiopia, which tend to be high in acidity.

The Japanese ice method has the advantages of being quick, easy, and affordable. If you spontaneously want a cup of cold brew, this is the easy way to do it. You probably already have the equipment to make a pot – just use your Chemex or V60.

Learn more in How To Make Japanese Iced Coffee

A jug of iced cold brew coffee.

Japanese iced coffee method. Credit: Sebastian Franzén

Ice Drip Brewing

This technique is also called Kyoto ice drip or Dutch ice drip, and it is for only for those willing to dedicate both time and effort. Ice drip brewing involves cold water slowly dripping on to coffee. Think of it as an extremely slow pour-over – it can take over 24 hours.

The result is clean coffee that has some body and a wide range of nuanced flavours. The technique emphasizes any floral or fruity notes because the sugars from the coffee are extracted but not muddled by a long immersion. Lipids are also extracted, giving the final coffee more viscosity than Japanese iced coffee.

The downside here is the investment in both time and equipment. With a drip per second or even slower, it can take a whole day to produce a pot of coffee. And unlike immersion cold brewing, this is not necessarily passive. Ice drip brewing requires you to monitor and adjust the drip rate as needed.

It also requires some expensive tools. Glass slow-drip towers look impressively scientific, but they don’t come cheap. They also take up a lot of room and are fairly delicate equipment. If you have a small apartment, active family, or busy coffee shop, this may not be the best method for you.

A Hario cold brew coffee tower.

Hario cold brew tower. Credit: Hario Peru

Cold brew coffee can be a great option in warm weather or as a change from your go-to hot drink. As you can see, its reputation as one-dimensional isn’t necessarily accurate. Why not play around with some techniques and different beans to find a recipe that works for you?

Enjoyed this? Check out Immersion Cold Brew Recipes: 4 Things You Need to Consider

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