Cold brew. It’s smooth, velvety, and packs a greater caffeine punch than espresso by volume. Endless amounts of cold brew is a dream come true for any caffeine addict.
Before we get into how to make cold brew coffee, let’s take a quick look at what makes it the nectar of the gods (more than coffee already is!).
You may be confused on what makes cold brew different than iced coffee; aren’t they both just coffee but cold? Well, no, but also yes. The names themselves give away most of the answer, but let’s make sure it’s crystal clear. If we want to make cold brew coffee with a French press, there’s two key differences:
- Water Temperature
- Brewing Duration
Cold brew is brewed with cold water. That might have seemed self-explanatory from the name, but in the coffee industry where hot water extraction is the norm, using cold water to make coffee was somewhat revolutionary. Hot water forcefully releases the flavor and caffeine from the beans quickly, and cold water has a vastly slower interaction time.
To balance this out, cold brew is brewed for a long, long time. Hours, if not a full day. Boiling water immediately creates coffee from the grounds, which is why espresso pulls in under 30 seconds. Cold water is slower, so it needs to soak into the grounds for much longer. A good average is 18-20 hours of soaking to create quality cold brew.
A French Press is the perfect brewing receptacle for this because it allows all the coffee grounds to brew equally because of the cylindrically-shaped container. The ability to easily strain and pour once it’s done brewing is also key in extracting quality cold brew.
How to Make Cold Brew Coffee with a French Press
The good news is that you don’t need to rely solely on your local coffee shop to provide you with delicious cold brew. It is a simple process, almost easier than brewing hot coffee. Making cold brew at home in a French press is simple enough, the hardest part is waiting for it to be done so you can drink it!
To start, get your hands on a quality bag of dark roast whole beans. This will be easy, since anywhere worth it’s salt that sells coffee will have a dark roast. If you feel daring, choose one that mentions notes of chocolate or spice! Deep flavors work well with smooth cold brew.
Next, grind it at home or have the coffee shop do it for you- but ask for a coarse grind. Most coffee grinders have a specific setting for French press. If the coffee grounds are too fine the cold brew will come out gritty and over extracted. Blech!
The ratio of water to coffee varies, but a good place to start is with a 4:1 ratio. A scale can come in handy here to ensure absolute accuracy, but is not necessary. This works out to roughly one tablespoon of coffee grounds per ½ cup of water. If the resulting cold brew is too weak or watery, add another spoonful to the next batch. If it’s too strong, use more water or dilute it to your preference with water, ice, or milk.
Alright, here’s where the action begins. Place the coffee grounds in the French press, then slowly pour the water in. Try to use a circular pouring motion so all the grounds get wet, and avoid stirring it if possible. The grounds shouldn’t be agitated, but merely sit in the water for best results.
Now we wait. Minimum 12 hours and up to 22, with 16-18 being the sweet spot for most cold brews.
Once the time is up, simply press down on the pump to strain the coffee, and pour it into a sealable container! Voila! Drink it straight if you dare, but ice, cinnamon, and a splash of milk a tasty beverage make.
Why a French Press is Good for Cold Brew
A French press is ideal for the at-home barista to make cold brew because it is very forgiving. The cylindrical shape allows maximum extraction of the coffee beans, and the built in strainer contains the mess.
Also, most French presses are relatively small, meaning you can create a scalable amount of cold brew. Most cold brew is made 5-10 gallons at a time in a coffee shop. While delicious, that is simply too much for one or two people to consume in a week.
(Freshly made cold brew should be consumed within a few days of making it. The flavor may change from sitting in the fridge.)
In addition to making a manageable amount of cold brew, with a French press you can set it all up, then put it to the side and ignore it while it steeps. It is a self-contained set-up, meaning you don’t need any extra equipment during the pouring or brewing phases. This is goes hand in hand with meal prepping, and can be fit into any part of your schedule that has a few extra minutes. So if you have a few square inches of countertop, you have enough to brew cold brew in a French press!
Great French Press Coffee Makers
A necessity for making cold brew with a French press at home is quality equipment. French presses are simple contraptions, but it’s worth spending a bit on one to guarantee your cold brew is top notch. Lower grade French presses might not seal around the grounds, allowing some to leak into the cold brew, and thus you might be stuck with drinking grainy brew.
We researched a few options and came up with great jumping off points, depending on your particular French press needs.
Here’s a few options of quality French presses I recommend:
This Upgraded 20z Glass French Press
20 oz glass French press, non-slip base, easy to clean. Great choice for beginners that don’t want to skimp on style. Find it here for $21.99.
How about A Beautiful Copper French Press?
34 oz glass and stainless steel French press, plastic handle, quadruple filter. Greater capacity means more cold brew! Find it here for $25.99.
A Massive 34 Oz Insulated French Press
34 oz heavy duty insulated French press. The double walled design means this is great for hot brewing as well! Find it here for $25.97.
Alternatives to a French Press for Making Cold Brew
If you don’t have a French press to make cold brew, or simply want to challenge yourself with something new, there are a few other ways to brew it. As long as the basics are followed, brewing containers and straining methods are only limited by your imagination!
To size up your at-home operation, those 5-gallon heavy duty containers can be used. Be sure you put a strainer in the bottom so when the spout opens no grounds can come out with the cold brew.
If you don’t have any straining equipment at all, plain coffee filters or cheesecloth can work. In that case, mix medium to coarse grounds with the appropriate amount of water in any container that suits your fancy. A narrow top, lip, or pour spout will make the next step easier. After enough time has passed and you are ready to strain, get your storage container ready. Place the coffee filter/cheesecloth over the opening of the final container you want to keep your cold brew in, and strain by slowly pouring the mixture in, grounds and all. Dispose of the filter and spent grounds in the compost bin.
Thanks for joining me as we explored how to make cold brew using a French press! With this knowledge you can start experimenting and bring the deliciousness of cold brew home with you.
We covered the main points: the importance of a coarse grind, an appropriate ratio of water to grounds, and letting the mixture steep for a minimum of 12 hours before filtering.
If you don’t have a French press, the options listed above are a great investment to make hot and cold coffees. A French press takes most of the guesswork out of the equation, and lets you strain the final mixture in seconds.
However, if that isn’t an option, remember that all you really need are grounds, water, two containers, and a coffee filter. One container for mixing and steeping, and another to strain into. Grind, combine, wait, strain, it’s really that easy. Without a French press the cleanup will be a bigger job, but still worth it for that delicious cold brew!
Armed with this new knowledge, I challenge you to make some delicious cold brew with (or without) a French press and impress your friends! Up your coffee game and stay caffeinated in hot and cold weather. Happy sipping!
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