As temperatures slowly climb across the country, it looks like cold beer season is finally here. officially on us. So, let’s get something clear: while some people use the terms “cold brew” and “iced coffee” interchangeably, the two beverages are actually distinct.
Iced coffee is, as its name suggests, coffee served over ice. When you order it at your local coffee shop, it’s probably a chilled version of whatever brew they made that day.
Related: How to make better coffee at home, simply and without expensive equipment
Cold brew, however, refers to a coffee-making process. Coarse coffee grounds are mixed with cold (or sometimes room temperature) water. The mixture sometimes steeps for up to 24 hours before being served over ice. This process brings out different flavors in the coffee compared to hot brewing the same batch of beans.
As someone who has traveled years to brew a better cup of coffee at home, cold brew appeals to me because you don’t need fancy equipment. All you need is a grinder, water and time.
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Oh, and good coffee helps too.
As I stayed home during the pandemic, I tried dozens of different beans from roasters across the country in my search for the best coffee for cold brew. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting things to try, but here are 5 of my favorites.
1 Whirling Dervish — Dancing Goats Coffee
This medium-dark roast from Atlanta-based Dancing Goats Coffee roastery (formerly Batdorf & Bronson) is like taking a sip from a chocolate covered cherry, especially when served over ice. While some perfectly delicious coffees can get a little acrid when cold brewed, the velvety citrus notes of Whirling Dervish stand out even more when cooled.
2 Aire — Dark Matter Cafe
Per Dark Matter, its Aire blend is sourced from Finca San Jorge and “is processed with honey, leaving the sticky mucilage on the coffee pulp to increase fermentation levels producing a juicy, sweet cup.” It holds up very well to the cold brewing process. The resulting cup has top notes of apricot and plum, underlined by a sweetness of caramelized molasses. If you like to add coconut milk or cream to your cold brew, this would be the perfect coffee for that pairing.
3 Kenya Karatina AB — Coffee Roasters ReAnimator
A coffee-loving friend sent me this limited version of Philly’s ReAnimator Coffee Roasters. As soon as I opened the bag, I knew I had to stock up for the first really hot weeks of summer. It smells like it tastes, with hints of dark fruit, candied grapes and a hint of black licorice-cola. It’s also strong enough to withstand cream but fruity enough to drink black.
4 Dark Roast, Cold Brew — Stone Street Coffee Company
Dark chocolate notes reign supreme in Stone Street Coffee Company’s Dark Roast, which has been specially formulated to be cold brewed. It’s rich and robust but has low acidity, which means it won’t wreck your stomach if you’re a multi-cup drinker like me. While Stone Street bills itself as “a serious cafe for serious New Yorkers”, it’s definitely worth brewing in your kitchen, wherever you are.
5 Guatemala El Injerto Bourbon — Stumptown Coffee Roasters
For something a little sweeter, try the Guatemalan El Injerto Bourbon from Stumptown Coffee Roasters. This single-origin coffee tastes a bit like a milk chocolate candy bar flecked with orange peel, filled with a drizzle of cherry jam. It’s buttery and creamy on the palate, perfect for topping up with a little vanilla cream.
More ways to up your coffee game at home: