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While cold brew seems to be a power move for every hip coffee peddler these days, the process dates back to 17th-century Japan, when Dutch traders passed on their method for the steeped brew that kept them caffeinated through long voyages.
It’s a relatively easy process, calling for coffee grounds, cold water, and a vessel to brew them together. That said, there are a few key factors. “The most important thing about making cold brew is the coarseness of the coffee grinds and the type of water used,” describes Linda Rivera, owner of Rey Sol Coffee in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
You also need excellent beans. To start off your cold brew journey, here are our favorite expert-approved coffee brands to make top-notch cold brew right now.
Best Overall: Stone Street Coffee Dark Roast
New Yorkers swear by Stone Street, a quintessential Gowanus, Brooklyn roastery. While the roastery started as a small Brooklyn outpost, it has since expanded to a full-on coffee empire, boasting partnerships with major chefs and an impressive roastery of farms.
Though the brand has expanded outside of its Brooklyn roots, it keeps its small-batch nature. Case in point; the dark roast. When made into cold brew, the Colombian blend is rich, creamy, and pure; excellent sipped with simply ice or with a dash of milk or cream.
Stone Street sells their coffee either ground or whole bean. The blend is made with 100% Colombian Supremo beans.
"I love my coffee as much as my cocktails and they often go beautifully together. Stone Street dark roast is one of my favorites for cold brew. It's a bold flavor bomb but drinks smooth and is low in acid—perfect as an ingredient in a coffee cocktail."
— Prairie Rose, Editor
Best Single Origin: Brandywine Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Yirgacheffe
“My favorite coffee for cold brew in cocktails is Ethiopia Yirgacheffe from Brandywine Coffee Roasters,” describes Mika Turbo, a national finalist for the US Coffee Championships Coffee in Good Spirits competition (USCIS).
The coffee was grown high up in the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia, 1,400 meters above sea level. Coffee is dried for two days in cherries then further dried on raised beds. The single-origin beans are light, with notes of raspberry and coconut.
“I find it to be the perfect addition to many spirits and cocktails,” says Turbo. “Recently, I have been enjoying it in a Smoked Piña Colada.”
Best Organic: Lifeboost Coffee Single Origin
“I love everything coffee, and cold brews are no different,” describes Coffeeble coffee expert Thomas Fultz. “But there are a number of factors that contribute to what makes a good cold brew, whether it's price, ingredients, or use of pesticides. However, if you want an all-around excellent option, then the Lifeboost Single Origin is definitely it. Their roasts are handpicked, spring water-washed, and free of Mycotoxin and Pesticide free. All their roasts taste amazing when cold brewed!”
Their medium roast is low acid with wood and sweet cocoa notes, letting the single-origin flavors shine. Lifeboost sources Arabica and Maragogipe beans from the mountains of Nicaragua.
Good to Know: “Pour your cold brew into stainless steel,” says Rivera. “If it's poured into plastic, the flavors can be transferred.”
Best Decaf: Lavazza Whole Bean Blend
The centuries-old coffee brand has established itself as a solid, widely available option. Their decaf coffee beans are particularly enticing to those who don’t partake in caffeine. To make their decaf beans, Lavazza follows an all-natural method where green coffee is treated with steam and the caffeine is removed using carbon dioxide. The CO2 process retains the integrity of the bean while removing any traces of caffeine.
The coffee is fully roasted using hot air to produce a roast that sips like your standard caffeinated cup; balanced and fuller in body.
Make it into a cold brew via your favorite method of making cold brew, or use it in a French press or espresso machine.
Good to Know: “Usually, people make their cold brew in a French press so it’s important to have a good filter. Paper filters are recommended over mesh filters because of the different textures and qualities of the coffees,” says Rivera.
Best Budget: Cold Brew Lab
Who better to trust with your cold brew than a brand that specifically crafts their coffee to cold brew?
Cold Brew Lab sources, roasts, and blends all their coffees specifically to cold brew flavor profiles balancing out the acid and smoothness with round, non-bitter flavors. All blends are made with USDA-certified organic 100% Arabica Colombian coffee. Cold Brew Lab also offers a rainbow of different flavors; try the Tahitian Vanilla for subtle floral vanilla flavors, or the pumpkin spice for an elevated riff on everyone’s favorite seasonal coffee. All beans are roasted in New York City.
We recommend opting for the whole bean option and grinding your bean to spec with a burr grinder.
Best Splurge: Bean & Bean Downtown Blend
“We serve cold brew coffee using Bean & Bean’s Downtown Blend, medium roast,” describes Jisun Yoon, the owner of Cafe Terrace in Queens. “Coffee drinkers love the smooth and chocolatey yet fruity taste that is brought out from Downtown Blend.”
Downtown Blend is a balanced blend of 100% Arabica specialty-grade coffee beans from Peru, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. The Korean-American mother-daughter team behind the brand carefully blend each of the coffees together to create this easy-going blend. The downtown blend is smooth and sweet with flavors of caramel and chocolate that lend themselves well to cold brew.
Mother Rachel immigrated from South Korea in 2000. Since then, Rachel and daughter Jiyooon have honed their coffee skills, expanding their Queens roastery into a local-loved online shop. Both are certified Q graders.
Best Ready to Drink: Modern Times Coffee Roasters
“We are lucky enough to get our cold brew in nitro form on draft from Modern Times Coffee Roasters!” explains Jesse Peterson, bar manager at Morning Glory in San Diego. While Morning Glory opts for five-gallon kegs of cold brew, Peterson notes Modern Times also offers convenient cans of Nitro Cold Brew; excellent if you don’t want to go through the effort of steeping your own. “The taste is so smooth!”
Modern Times offers both single-origin and barrel-aged cans of cold brew. While this is a low-effort option for quick caffeination—simply keep a fridge or kegerator stocked with cans or kegs—Peterson notes Modern Times’ coffee lends itself well to cocktails. “ A favorite personal cocktail I’ve enjoyed brings a little vanilla and light sweetness with bold coffee and Broken Shed Vodka.”
Cold brew fans swear by the ever-popular Stone Street (view at Amazon), and for good reason; it’s approachable and when made into a cold brew, it is robust, yet smooth and elegant. The richness can also hold its own in a spirit-forward cocktail. For a ready-to-drink option that you can easily add to your favorite cocktail, baristas and bartenders love the versatility of Modern Times’ nitro cold brew cans ( view at InstaCart) and kegs.
What to Look For
How do you like your cold brew? Keep this in mind when picking your cold brew coffee. There are many types to choose from—nitro, concentrate, canned, or New Orleans-style—and your choice in beans should reflect that. Are you making large jugs or single-serving? Opt for an amount of beans that match this.
Look for brands who keep sustainability in mind. Keep an eye out for practices like pesticide-free farming, or co-op farmed coffees that put money in the pocket of the farmers.
Considering cold brew contains just two ingredients—water and coffee—you want to make sure both are top-notch. Look for flavor profiles you typically enjoy in hot coffee, though keep in mind the acidity will change with cold brew. Avoid coffees with additional ingredients, like spices or flavorings.
How do you store coffee beans?
To keep your beans fresh, store them in an air-tight container. Keep them at room temperature, but avoid sunlit areas; the light will ruin the flavors.
How long are coffee beans good for?
If stored correctly in an air-tight container, coffee beans will stay fresh for a few months. That said, be sure to check the expiration date and any storage guidelines the roaster recommends. A telltale sign is if the beans smell stale or dull; noting that they have probably passed their peak.
How fine do you ground them?
To make cold brew, the grounds should be medium or coarsely ground. If ground too finely, the beans can impart a bitter flavor.
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Kate Dingwall is a seasoned beverage writer and sommelier and has spent the last five years writing about wine and spirits and the last decade as a working sommelier. Her work appears in a variety of national outlets, both print and digital.