After lots of testing, we found the perfect recipe for homemade cold brew coffee

Cold brew coffee made at home by Scott Pollenz, after much trial and error to get the recipe ratio just right. Photos by Scott Pollenz, Times staff writer.
Cold brew coffee made at home by Scott Pollenz, after much trial and error to get the recipe ratio just right. Photos by Scott Pollenz, Times staff writer.
Published Nov. 6, 2017

Hot coffee is terrible. Hot tea equally bad. Actually, there is almost no drink better hot than it is cold, and especially not coffee.

I never understood the coffee hype until a year or two ago. Hot coffee always tasted burned to me, took too long to cool and seemed watery. Iced coffee was the same; just hot coffee carelessly poured over ice.

Cold brew changed everything.

Cold brew coffee is made by soaking ground coffee beans in water for 24 to 36 hours before serving. The result is a less-acidic, delicious wake-me-up, the homemade version a cheaper alternative to buying the iced coffees sold in Tampa Bay.

The great part about a cold brew recipe is the simplicity of its ingredients (coffee, water, patience) and materials. (Don't be fooled by fancy coffee contraptions. You only need a pitcher/large drink container and a strainer of some kind.) Here's how I perfected my method.

Start with a good bean: If you want to splurge, grab beans from your favorite roaster in town. You will need a coffee grinder if you are buying your beans whole, but some local shops will grind them for you if you ask. You will want a coarse grind, similar to one for a French press, for your beans. One of my favorite spots to grab coffee is Mazzaro's in St. Petersburg. The prices per pound are fair with a tremendous mix of coffee bean styles, plus they have a grinder on site. Publix's Premium line of coffee is also superb — woo, their ground espresso is strong — and often on sale.

The second ingredient is water, and just like beer, the better the water the better the coffee. Use filtered or spring water and steer clear of the unpalatable water that comes from some Florida taps.

When it came to the actual brewing, the biggest issue I came across was finding the best coffee-to-water ratio. After consulting the internet, I found a delirious amount of ratios. I started with Jamie Oliver's recipe, but his 1:8 milliliter "liquid conversion" had my American brain befuddled. How many cups in a liter? How am I supposed to pour 4.22675 cups and still find this magic 1:8 ratio? Can you even use decimals in fractions?

A friend directed me toward a recipe she loved from the Pioneer Woman with — thankfully — a lot less math but perturbing imagery about being a "naughty, naughty, bad, bad girl" when it came time to add cream to the coffee.

I attempted to find a middle ground between their ratios and start with 1 cup ground coffee to 5 cups water, since I knew I wanted my coffee to be a bit stronger and the brew would likely be sitting for only 12 hours since I was making it the night before I'd drink it. I ended up marking on my pitcher where these lines usually fell, so the process became easier over time. And the results were oh so (naughtily?) delicious.

How to make it

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Explore all your options

Once you have mastered your first coffee brew, the fun begins as you experiment with different flavors. Just toss whatever you want in with the coarse beans to infuse the flavors into the coffee. During fall, I've been incorporating a lot of allspice, cloves and orange peels. As winter approaches, nutmeg and cinnamon will be musts. During the other 10 months of the year in Florida, dried fruit or flowery, bright flavors sound like an excellent complement to warm weather. I prefer my coffee black and find that the rich, robust flavors of the beans I buy rarely require sweetener, but I also love bitter IPAs and detest most sweet flavors. You may want to add some sweetness. A hot trend with cold brew right now is mixing in tonic water instead of creamer. If you want to take that one step further, just top your brew with La Croix or some lesser seltzer and call it a day. The combination is incredible.

Basic Cold Brew

1 cup coarsely ground coffee beans

5 cups water

Place the coarse coffee beans into an empty pitcher.

Add filtered water.

Stir beans to incorporate. Make sure the beans are not just sitting at the top but floating throughout the pitcher.

Steep the brew for 24 to 36 hours in the fridge.

Place a cheesecloth (see note) over a mesh strainer positioned above a large bowl.

Pour your steeped coffee, beans and all, slowly into the bowl. Press down on the beans with a spatula or wooden spoon to get any excess liquid out. Remove strainer.

Using a funnel, transfer the coffee back into the pitcher.

Pour desired amount of coffee over ice into a glass and mix with your favorite creamer or sweetener.

Makes about a liter and a half, which lasts me two or four days depending on the kind of morning I am having. A full pitcher can keep for up to a month.

Note: If you are not using a cheesecloth, your concentrate might need to be strained twice. I found once was usually enough if the beans were coarse.

Source: Scott Pollenz,
Tampa Bay Times