Your French press provides an easy way to make cold brew

Cold brew can seem like a complicated beverage best left to Starbucks or specialty coffee shops, but it’s actually quite easy to make your own. You don’t need any special machines or contraptions to do this at home. You can make a big batch every weekend.

View of cold brew in a French press
© Joseph Robertson | Creative Commons

In this article, we’ll show you how to make cold brew coffee using a French press, so you won’t have to wait in line at Starbucks or buy it at the grocery store anymore.

What is cold brew coffee?

Cold brew coffee is brewed using room temperature or cold water, distinguishing it from traditional coffee and iced coffee which are both made using hot water. While cold brew has become popularized by Starbucks and other big coffee companies, it has actually been around for a long time.

Brewing coffee with hot water takes only a few minutes because the high temperature extracts flavor and aroma compounds quickly from the coffee grounds. At lower temperatures, cold brew coffee requires soaking the grounds for hours to extract flavor.

You might wonder why anyone would choose a method that takes 10 times as long as regular brewing, especially if all you end up with is cold coffee. Why not just make iced coffee?

Well, cold brew is not the same. Iced coffee is brewed with hot water, then cooled in the fridge or over ice. Brewing coffee with cold water and letting it soak helps extract different flavors from the coffee beans. The result of this process is strong, unique-tasting coffee that tastes much less acidic than regular coffee or iced coffee.

Many coffee drinkers prefer this smoother, less bitter taste.

What’s more, you don’t have to drink cold brew coffee cold! It works just as well heated up.

There are a number of devices you can use to make cold brew, but a French press is one of the most convenient.

What you need to make French press cold brew

  • Coffee beans (see our recommended beans for cold brew) or coarse ground coffee: 1 to 1 1/2 cups
  • Burr grinder (if your beans aren’t ground)
  • Scale (optional)
  • Filtered water at room temperature: 3 to 3 1/2 cups
  • French press
  • Fine filter (optional)

Step-by-step instructions

These measurements are for a making cold brew coffee using a standard 8-cup French press:

1. Measure and grind beans

Make sure the result is a coarse grind. A burr grinder is great for this. If you have pre-ground coffee, just skip this step.

2. Add ground coffee

Closeup of coarsely ground coffee in a French press
Always use a coarse grind for cold brew—or French press, for that matter. (© Joseph Robertson | Creative Commons)

A coffee-to-water ratio of about 1:5 is good, but you can play around depending on whether you like it stronger or weaker. Use around 155 grams of ground coffee if you have 3 to 3 1/2 cups of water.

3. Top with water

Pouring water onto ground beans in a French press
© Joseph Robertson | Creative Commons

Pour your filtered water in over the grounds in a circular motion, making sure all the grounds are submerged in the water. Stir gently, but not too much.

4. Let it steep

Let your coffee sit for no less than 12 hours. If you try to rush this step, the coffee will come out with less flavor. We recommend anywhere from 14-16 hours.

5. Plunge

Closeup of the filter and plunger on a French press
Be gentle with the plunger when you’re filtering out the grounds. (© Joseph Robertson | Creative Commons)

Slowly push the plunger down a few inches to decant. Be sure not to press too aggressively or too far, or it could agitate the grounds and bring more bitter notes into your coffee.

6. Pour

Pour your coffee into your drinking vessel. If you want, you can pour through an additional fine filter to make sure there are no stray grounds.

7. Dilute

Cold brew is quite concentrated, so you can dilute it to your liking and enjoy it either iced or hot.

Does it matter what coffee you use?

There really is no “right” coffee for cold brew. It just depends on what you like. The different roasts do give a slightly different taste. Start out with whatever you use for regular coffee and go from there.

Roasts

Many people prefer a dark roast for brewing cold brew, for several reasons. Dark roast coffee has been roasted to a higher internal temperature, which gives it an earthy or chocolatey flavor. Dark roast usually has a hint of bitterness, but the process of cold brewing helps to diminish that. Instead, it brings out a nutty or syrupy flavor. Dark roast gives off a strong bold flavor that many people love. It’s often more affordable, because so many people prefer a lighter, more floral roast for regular brewing.

Lighter roasts usually feature more fruity, floral flavors and bright acidity that is hard to bring out with cold brewing. The low temperature of the water struggles to extract those notes from the coffee. This option is great for those who like a lighter, milder flavor to their coffee. If you do choose to go with a lighter roast, we recommend soaking the grounds a little longer to get a fuller flavor.

Grind

Another important factor when it comes to cold brew is the grind of the coffee. With hot brewing methods, a fine grind is great for extracting flavors, but for cold brewing we recommend coarsely ground coffee. A coarse grind lets the water flow easily between the soaking to allow for full flavor extraction.

Beginning to pour water over beansin a French press
The coarse grind makes it easier for water to find its way around the beans. (© Joseph Robertson | Creative Commons)

A coarser grind also helps you avoid the gritty taste that can come from finer grinds. Finer grinds can also become over-extracted during cold brewing. When you’re soaking for hours, it’s easy to cross the line with finely ground coffee and bring out bitter, distasteful flavors.

Cold brew coffee is easily made at home, so don’t shy away from trying out this great brewing method. Even with a simple tool like a French press you can come up with some unique, bold coffee flavors that are a nice change of pace.

Image at top: Joseph Robertson | Creative Commons