Why Does Cold Brew Coffee Taste Better

If you’ve ever tried a cold brew coffee, you might’ve been surprised that it tasted so different from regular coffee, even different from iced coffee.


Maybe you enjoy its sweeter, less acidic profile.


COFFEE CHEMISTRY

Cold brew coffee is brewed by putting coffee grounds in water that’s room temperature or even colder, and then letting it just sit there for hours or days.

That changes the taste because temperature is super important when it comes to the chemistry of coffee.

When you mix coffee grounds with water, all the fun stuff in the beans that make up coffee flavor (acids and sugars, and yes, caffeine) get pulled into the water.

That new solution is what we call coffee.

 

HOT COFFEE BREWING

Most brewing methods use hot water, of course, and it's around 93 degrees Celsius because most of the components we know and love in coffee are quickly and easily extracted at that temperature.

Hot water has more energy, so it dissolves things more easily, speeds along the diffusion of molecules from inside the beans out into the water, and accelerates the chemical reactions that break down compounds when they come into contact with water.

All of that means lots of flavor in a matter of minutes, whether it’s espresso, French press, Chemex, or just plain drip.

 

THE COLD BREW - TEMP vs TIME

Traditional iced coffee is made from hot-brewed coffee that’s cooled down, usually just by pouring it over ice.

Cold brew, on the other hand, trades temperature for time.

Since the water isn’t hot, extracting deliciousness from the coffee grounds takes a lot longer.

And while you’re probably getting most of the same compounds, you’re not getting the exact same ones, or the same amounts.

Some bitter plant molecules, for instance, take a lot longer to extract, or need higher temperatures, which could explain why a lot of people say cold brew tastes smoother and less bitter or acidic.

Water temperature also plays a role in how quickly certain molecules are broken down or degraded after the coffee’s been brewed.

One big complaint about hot coffee, for instance, is that it gets sour if it’s been sitting out for too long.

That’s from compounds reacting with oxygen in the air and from the water.

Heat speeds up those chemical reactions, which is why you can barely choke down stale coffee that’s been on a hotplate for five hours in a diner.

Cold brew will eventually go stale, too, but with no heat in the mix, you’re less likely to have that problem.

So, there are lots of reasons why a simple change in temperature will change the taste of coffee.

 

SIMPLE COLD BREW RECIPE

Step 1
Stir together ground coffee beans and water in a large bowl or lidded container. Cover and steep at room temperature for 
at least 10 hours and up to 1 day.

Step 2
Line a fine-mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set inside a large bowl. Pour coffee mixture through strainer, pressing with 
a spoon to encourage draining. Discard coffee grounds. Store coffee concentrate in an airtight 
 container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Perfect Iced Coffee (Serves 1)

  • ½ cup coffee concentrate
  • 2 tsp. light agave nectar 
or simple syrup
  • ¼ cup half-and-half 
or whole milk


Fill a 16-ounce glass with ice. Add concentrate, ½ cup water, and agave nectar; stir to combine. Top with half-and-half.

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