cold brewed iced coffee

Morning fuel

Most of my friends go out every day to buy their coffee. They complain of tiny kitchens and not enough counter space to house a coffee maker, and maybe even a grinder (if you’re one of those virtuous souls and have the deepest respect for the beans.) It’s too much, they say, the effort for a decent cup of coffee is too great. Easier to just walk across the street to your nearest cafe (and New York has no shortage of those, including the ubiquitous Starbucks) and have a trained barista make you a coffee, an espresso, a latte, an Americano, a cortado whatever your heart desires.

And it’s true: Our New York kitchens are smaller than most people’s bathrooms, or even, to be more precise, half of their bathrooms. And yet a lot of us, dealt this paltry hand, still make breakfasts, and lunches, and dinners. We throw parties and we host brunches. We ask a group of friends to come together and then pass the h’ors d’oeuvres around. And somehow everything and everyone fits, and even though we complain of our lack of space, we cannot seem to quit the city. We want to go, and yet we don’t budge. And even the most kitchen obsessed in us, will make even go as far as make bagels at home, but we’ll go out for coffee.

Cold brewed

As far as kitchen spaces go, I got freakishly lucky with mine. There is shelving and lots of it too. The cabinets go deep and I’ve been known to unearth an item or two I’ve completely forgotten I had. Which reminds me that now is a good time to clean out those shelves – right before we get married.

But even if your kitchen is officially listed as a kitchenette (yes, they are quite common in New York rental listings), you can make cold brewed iced coffee at home. And easily too.

All you need is a nice largish jar, some strong ground coffee, filtered water, and a fine mesh strainer. A lot of folks will make their cold brewed coffee with coarsely ground beans (as in like for a French press). But I read somewhere recently (and I can’t remember where) that you get much better and bigger flavor if you finely grind your beans (think espresso grind). This, of course, makes sense: finely ground beans, means more surface area. More surface area means more flavor. More flavor means better tasting coffee.

You spoon some of that coffee into your jar. How much coffee you want to spoon is somewhat dependent on the kind of beans you’re using and how strong you want your coffee. I’d start with 1 tablespoon per 6 ounces of water and see where that takes you. Usually for a 3 cup jar, I use about 4 to 5 tablespoons of ground coffee, depending on the intensity of the beans. Sometimes I’ll use 6 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of ground coffee if I’m craving a stronger morning brew.

Once your coffee is in the jar, you cover it with some cold, filtered water, give it a stir, cover and let it sit either overnight or for 24 hours. And when you’re ready to drink it, strain the coffee via a fine mesh strainer into a tumbler or a mug.

Now, purists, will also tell you that you need to make iced coffee ice cubes because regular ice cubes will dilute the taste of your iced coffee and there go all your fine efforts.* I don’t go quite that far. To think so far ahead as to make coffee ice cubes is, frankly, a bit beyond me and my abilities to juggle planning a wedding and writing a book. I say, go ahead, pour that coffee over regular water ice cubes and enjoy it. But before you add any sugar/simple syrup/milk, taste the coffee first. Cold brewing brings out coffee’s natural sweetness and avoids the typically bitter notes of hot coffee. You might want to drink you cold brewed iced coffee straight – I do.

Best of all, you don’t need much counter space or fancy machinery. And the coffee brews while you sleep. Which is kind of awesome if you think about it: you rest and the coffee works. Brilliant.

*Purists will also balk that I am suggesting that you buy your coffee pre-ground, but hey, if you’re lacking kitchen space for a coffee maker, then you’re probably not going to spring for a coffee grinder either, right? Right. Just buy your coffee in small quantities to keep it as fresh as possible.

**UPDATE JULY 1, 2012**
After writing this post, I embarked on rather geeky pursuit of trying to figure out which is better: coarse or fine grind for the cold-brewed iced coffee. The advantage of a coarse brew is it takes less time to strain, which if you’re in dire need of caffeine in the morning, can make a difference. However, you need more coffee to get as flavorful a brew, which translates into buying coffee more often. How much more coffee might you need? In my testing, I discovered that to get the flavor equivalent of a finely ground brew, you need to use 50% to 75% more coffee beans that are coarsely ground. However, in the last 4 years or so, coffee prices have been climbing steadily (look at this chart). I’m no coffee futures trading expert, but in this economy, if I can save a few bucks by using less coffee (finely ground) to get a flavorful brew, I’m all for it. In our household, we treat ourselves to quality beans that we get from a local tea and coffee shop, foregoing cheaper, less delicious beans, so for us, the additional money spent on quality beans makes the financial sting a bit easier if we use a little less coffee, but take a little more time in straining it.

Also, sorry about that ramble up top, but I have found that using a french press is helps a lot. You press the plunger down, and then strain the coffee via a strainer lined with a paper towel. Easy peasy.


  • Laura

    Mmm, have to agree, cold brew coffee is one of the best parts of summer for me. I started making it last year in a bowl, covered in plastic wrap, then I’d carefully pour it into my french press for straining, roughly using this recipe (sans chicory):

    But this year, I want to try the ATK recipe which recommends fine grind, 24-hours and… salt to top:

  • Jen @ Savory Simple

    I’m too picky about my coffee to buy it out (except for the occasional Starbucks soy latte, so darn good). I’ve always preferred espresso beans. The flavor is so much smoother!

  • heather @ chiknpastry

    I’m a fan of cold-brewed coffee. I was inspired to make some after seeing a post or two on Pinterest (and after paying the ginormous prices for it in the store). It’s still not as economical as regular hot coffee, but dang, it’s SO. Freakin. Good.

  • Cate

    I’ve been so tempted to buy the Bodum cold coffee press since it makes cold brewed coffee so easy (and chic!)… might pull the trigger today. And I’m very impressed you’re still taking time to blog so close to the big day :)

  • Radish

    Cate – don’t waste your money :) just use the jar! Seriously, try it before buying a new contraption. :)

  • Cate

    But the Bodum press is so cute! Alright- will give the jar method a shot this weekend… a 3-day out here in Honolulu :) Yay for Kamehameha Day!

  • Radish

    Cate – I actually know of the day! Enjoy the long weekend! I’m just trying to save you some money :)

  • Dana

    The salt (though this is inherited knowledge because coffee makes my tummy oh so unhappy) helps take off the bitter edge.

    I love your notebook in the photos!

  • Emilia

    I am a true coffee drinker and this looks like something I need to try out, even though I usually prefer my coffee hot. Thanks Sassy Radish ;)

  • Radish

    Dana – that’s why i am confused – there’s no bitter edge in cold brewing.

    Emilia – I do too, but it’s SO hot already I need to cool myself off.

  • Eileen

    I am one of those who buy their coffee nearly every day–but then, I’m also buying a space to work in the coffeeshop, so I’m ok with that. That said, this is a brilliant idea! Iced coffee on hand all the time–yes please. Now I may need to start buying my own cream…

  • Diana

    I use a French press in my small kitchen and habitually use fine grind coffee rather than coarse grind, which probably breaks some sort of rule in using French presses. But the concentrated flavor is just so nice it’s hard to break the habit. Plus it works and gets me caffeinated in the morning. :)

  • Melissa Daniel

    Question- I have a French Press and have always used a coarse grind to keep any grinds from sneaking into my coffee. Will using espresso grinds in a French Press result in grinds in my coffee? Or is that not a problem?

    I’m going to try the cold brewing jar method soon!

  • sarah @ two tarts

    Nice pics, and I always love your site. I’ve finally gotten on the cold brew coffee band-wagon this summer too! Even though everyone and their brother probably knows this recipe by now, I had to snap some pics because coffee & cream are so pretty together.

  • {Gail} A Stack of Dishes

    OMG! So hilarious! If I was to send you a snap of my desktop right now there would be a moleskin journal with recipe/blog ideas (mine is grid paper) and a class of cold brewed iced coffee- though I like mine with milk. Instead of your owl, I have rocks that I collected from Costa Rica and a tiny buddha in the exact same position. I cold brew my espresso, which was introduced to me by a dear friend from New Orleans. There they sell concentrated cold brewed coffee in the supermarket.

  • dervla @ The Curator

    I stopped drinking hot coffee because I required so much sugar to make it taste pleasant. I think I’ll give this a shot cause i may not need to add sugar. Thanks for this! Also, your wedding photos on twitter were gorgeous. Congratulations!

  • Radish

    Melissa, I haven’t tried it with the fine grind french press method, so I can’t say. Let me know what results you get.

  • Catherine

    It may be that coarsely ground coffee is specified because a lot of coffee shops make their cold coffee concentrated (dilution by ice cubes is preferable in that case) and in bulk. It would be messy and time-consuming to try and strain one to two pounds of finely ground coffee at a time, but it is simple if it’s coarsely ground. Coarse grounds tend to make for a clearer drink. I also think that one of the reasons people might prefer cold-brewed coffee is that if made from coarse grounds it will generally contain less caffeine and acid than a cup of hot-brewed coffee. Finer grounds will increase the acidity and the caffeine (and the flavor) no matter the brewing style.

  • Radish

    Catherine – thanks for this – some great food for thought. i’ve been doing a lot of side by side batch testing at home with coffee after i wrote this post. In fact I was planning to update the post today. I prefer, by a long shot, finely ground brew. My stomach is pretty sensitive and it hasn’t been bothered by finely ground versions. I use about 1.5 times more beans to brew a flavorful coffee with coarsely ground than i do with finely ground. Coffee, in recent years, has increased in price and it’s something we still splurge on (buy quality beans) but doing the finely ground way, allows me to save a couple of dollars. I don’t mind waiting to strain the coffee. In fact, my paper towel method works much faster than the coffee filter method. Anyway, you can get a flavorful brew coarsely or finely ground… however, i’d much rather use 4 scoops to do it than 6 or 7. :)

  • Brian

    Thanks for this post! I live in Warsaw and have a commie studio flat. The kitchen is really small and I use cleaned out plastic one liter milk bottles to stepp coffee. The milk bottles have wide lips and I can put them under the water tap to fill them. ( easy to clean) The fridge is also small and the milk bottles store well in the side rack. I use a glass jar to strain the coffee in a glass jar because I can fit a steel mesh tea strainer over the lip of the jar. I then funnel the strained coffee into a clean soda bottle where the coffee can be stored. Espresso grind is the common grind for preground coffee in Europe; so, now I’m happy that a cold brew coffee lover is finally endorsing Espresso grounds for cold brew coffee! Previously, I thought I was the only one who used fine grounds for this!

  • Chef Richard Bishop

    I’d like to start off by wishing you a congratulations on the upcoming wedding and may you have the best years of your lives together yet to come.

    Moving on I am not a huge fan off “Ice Coffee” but its my opinion that there is nothing better than a massively intense vanilla late be it you make it on your own or even from such a place as Starbucks. I wanted to add to this to let everyone know that you can add various flavors to your ice coffee and its easy to do. For example we will use the flavor of vanilla. One method would be to use an extract although I don’t feel the flavor is as natural or intense. My preferred method would be to use a fresh vanilla bean. Depending on the strength of the vanilla flavor and the amount of ice coffee your looking to make you may not need an entire bean.

    You can cut the bean in half, again depending on the strength and quantity you making and then split the bean down the center lengthwise to expose all that wonderful flavor and yumminess. Scrape the insides of the bean into the jar and when finished add the bean skin thats left after scraping the insides out. And viola you now have vanilla iced coffee.

    Thank you for sharing this great method for making Ice Coffee.

  • Radish

    Chef Richard – thank you for your good wishes – and for those who like iced lattes – this is a lovely tip. Me – I’m boring and love my coffee straight. Snooze, I know. But makes my life a wee bit earlier in the AM!

  • Jennie

    Love your blog (and the awesome fairy wing wedding photo-that is surreal)
    Our iced coffee routine runs like clockwork..I have two big plastic pitchers I use (also used for Sangria for book club). I put half a bag of ground beans in a pitcher, cover with cold filtered water and let it sit overnight. I strain it into a cheese-cloth lined strainer and put it into pitcher #2. Eventually I funnel it into a glass milk bottle (takes us less room in the fridge) that I was supposed to return for deposit. It sits next to the sun tea in the fridge and lasts us about three days…I need to go on a vacation with all the money this method has saved me (probably ten bucks a day if I’m honest…writing a thesis takes a lot of coffee!)

  • The L.A. Lady

    I just found this post and a) love your blog and b) agree with the size of the grinds. I’ve been doing the whole process in a french press, too. It seems to strain the coffee pretty nicely without having to use cheesecloth or paper filters. I like the idea of cutting out that part of the process so I’m not having to buy something disposable week after week. Once I found the grind that my french press will filter out, I stuck with it. AND don’t like ice cubes diluting my iced coffee. I have a couple of insulated tumblers and the cold press coffee stays cold for hours.

    LOL at kitchens not being big enough to make coffee… utterly hilarious. That’s the one thing you CAN make in a New York kitchen!

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