Choosing a coffee for cold brew
Across coffee shops around the world, cold brew has exploded in popularity. According to market analyst firm Grand View Research, the global cold brew market will be worth some US $1.63 billion by 2025.
One of the reasons that it’s so popular is that it’s relatively straightforward to prepare, whether at home or in a coffee shop. But despite its simplicity, choosing the right coffee for your cold brew is essential.
When doing so, it’s important to align the sensory characteristics of the coffee with the ideal flavour profile for cold brew. To do so, you’ll want to look at a number of factors, including origin, processing, and roast profiles.
To learn more, I spoke with Yiannis Taloumis, co-owner and CEO of Taf Coffee in Athens, Greece. Read on to find out what he told me about selecting the best coffee for cold brew.
You may also like our article on how you make cold brew coffee at home.
How is cold brew made?
Unlike most other coffee brewing methods, cold brew is made with water at room temperature or below. It is generally made by adding coarsely ground coffee to water (a practice known as full immersion brewing) and steeping it for up to 24 hours. The grounds are then filtered out.
The longer extraction time is a result of the lower brewing temperature. At room temperature or below, extraction takes much longer than at higher temperatures. This is because the water molecules have less kinetic energy at lower temperatures. To counteract this, cold brew is steeped for anywhere from 8 to 24 hours.
As a result of longer brew times, cold brew usually contains a higher number of total dissolved solids (TDS) than espresso or filter coffee. This can mean that concentrated cold brew contains more caffeine than other coffee beverages. As such, many consumers will dilute it with water or milk.
It’s also important to note that cold brew is different to iced coffee. In some coffee shops, the terms can be interchangeable, but the two beverages are prepared in different ways. Generally speaking, iced coffee is brewed hot and then quickly cooled down and served over ice.
What is the “classic” cold brew flavour profile?
The extended brew time for cold brew typically results in a sweeter and more mellow cup profile than most other brewing methods. This is largely because the longer extraction time mitigates acidity and bitterness, allowing more of the coffee’s natural sweetness to come through.
Traditionally speaking, this can mean that medium roast coffees work best for cold brew. This is because the extended development time brings out more of the innate sweetness in comparison to lighter roasts.
Naturally, this also means there are more chocolate and nut flavour notes in most cold brew beverages, as opposed to the fruitier and more floral flavours found in lighter roasts.
However, while this is the classic flavour profile, it is possible to make cold brew using a range of different coffees. In recent years, specialty coffee brands have started to experiment with brighter and more acidic coffees using this method. Fruit-forward coffees can work well in cold brew and contribute to the overall sweetness.
For example, Taf Coffee uses Ethiopian beans in its ready-to-drink Iced Brew coffee. The coffee – sourced from Hariti in Guji – is more fruity and floral than “classic” cold brew.
“Usually, most people choose mild coffees for cold brew,” Yiannis explains. “Hariti [has notes of] bergamot, and chocolate, [with a] sweet acidity and silky body, [which we think works] perfectly over ice.”
Choosing the right coffee
During warmer months, coffee consumers opt for more cold beverages, such as cold brew. Yiannis tells me that many people in Mediterranean countries often prefer to drink iced and cold coffees, such as the freddo espresso or cappuccino.
However, he explains that cold brew coffee is becoming increasingly popular, especially with younger demographics.
“Cold brew is a higher-quality alternative [to traditional iced and cold coffees], therefore people are starting to drink it more,” he says. “Cold brew, such as Taf’s Iced Brew coffee, is a convenient way for them to [experience cold coffee].
“Millennials and Gen Z especially value that they can grab cold brew from the fridge, or that they can store it [at home], add it to cocktails, [and pair it with a range of milks],” he adds.
And while it is certainly a versatile way of preparing coffee, choosing the best beans for your cold brew can be difficult.
Firstly, Yiannis says quality is key. “For Taf, the most important factor when sourcing coffee is exceptional quality,” he tells me. “Once we guarantee this, we try to highlight the coffee’s characteristics in the best possible way.”
However, he notes that there are naturally a number of other factors to consider.
While blends can work well, single origins are often the best coffee for cold brew, especially if you want to enhance or highlight specific characteristics of the coffee.
Coffees from Central or South America (such as Brazil, Colombia, or Guatemala) often work best for more traditional cold brew flavour profiles. This could mean more chocolate, nut, and caramel flavours in your cup.
East African coffees, meanwhile, such as those sourced from countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, will often have more fruit-forward and floral tasting notes – which will in turn mean higher levels of acidity.
“[Hariti] is part of Taf’s Single Estate coffee series,” Yiannis says. “We used this Ethiopian coffee for our Iced Brew because of its refreshing and clean flavour profile.”
Finally, Southeast Asian coffees, such as Vietnamese and Indonesian beans, tend to lean towards more earthy flavours with notes of various spices.
A coffee’s roast profile is arguably one of the first things you should consider when choosing your coffee. This is because sweetness is generally the most prominent characteristic of cold brew, which varies according to roast profile.
If you usually prepare lighter roasts for hot coffee, you might want to go a little darker and choose medium roasts for cold brew. Medium to dark roasts contain more fully developed sugars thanks to the longer roast times, meaning the cold brew will be sweeter.
However, there is a sweet spot; if your roast profile is too dark, you can end up extracting a greater volume of bitter flavour compounds than you may have anticipated.
Furthermore, if you want to try a light roast for cold brew, it might be worth starting with a coffee which is naturally sweet and acidic for the best-tasting results.
There are a number of different methods used to process coffee, including washed, natural and honey processing.
Yiannis explains that the Hariti lot used in Taf’s Iced Brew is a washed coffee. This means the coffee is more acidic, as well as tasting brighter and cleaner, because the pulp and skin is removed once it is picked.
With natural processing, however, the fruit remains on the beans while they dry. This gives the sugars more time to develop, creating a sweeter and more complex flavour profile with more “funky” fruit flavours.
Meanwhile, there are various different subtypes of honey processing (including black, red, yellow, and white), which are differentiated based on how much mucilage is left on the bean. For instance, black honey processed coffee (more mucilage) has similar flavours to natural processed coffee, while white honey coffee (less mucilage) will likely taste closer to washed coffee.
Other considerations for cold brew
Cold brew is one of the most versatile and straightforward brewing methods, especially for those who are less experienced with specialty coffee. It is generally simple to adjust any given cold brew recipe, allowing you to experiment with a range of variables to tweak the flavour profile.
“Cold brew also gives you the option to enjoy your coffee for longer without losing any of the flavours and aromas,” Yiannis explains. “For customers, it can be an elevated coffee experience.”
To add to this, cold brew is also a practical option for many coffee shop owners.
“It can be easily stored on shelves or in refrigerators, and it can also be used as an ingredient, in addition to offering it as a standalone beverage,” Yiannis tells me. “At Taf, we look for refreshing cup profiles, and then we adjust them for our cold brew recipe.”
He adds that for both coffee shop owners and consumers, it’s important to research which coffee will work best for your cold brew.
“[For our research], we travel to coffee-producing countries and visit the farms of the coffee producers we work with through the Taf Direct Relationship programme,” Yiannis says.
Cold brew is a staple menu item for many coffee shops, and it’s clear that after the cold coffee explosion in recent years, it’s here to stay. But just like other brewing methods, it brings out its own unique range of flavour characteristics, so choosing the right coffee is imperative.
So, when choosing a coffee for cold brew, it’s clear that origin, roast profile, and processing method are all important factors to consider, as are your or your customers’ preferences. By keeping all of these in mind, you can choose a coffee that will continue to shine as cold brew, batch after batch.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article on exploring RTD cold brew’s rising popularity.
Perfect Daily Grind
Please note: Taf Coffee is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.
Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our newsletter!