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How to Make Iced Coffee (The Best Method Isn't Cold Brew)

How to Make Iced Coffee (The Best Method Isn't Cold Brew)

By Maggie Hoffman, Maggie Hoffma, Emily Johnson, Tammie Teclemariam, Lauren Joseph, David Tamarkin

Before we really hit iced coffee season, I want to register some complaints about cold brew. Yes, I know it has become ubiquitous, with the stubbies and the Ventis and the milkshake-sweet New Orleans style. But just because something has gotten popular doesn’t mean it’s good. And now that you’re in control of your coffee destiny, you have an opportunity to try better methods for making iced coffee, no matter what sort of coffee-making equipment you have.

Wait… Cold brew is bad? But that cute barista convinced me it was somehow more delicious!?! Sorry, you were duped. Or maybe we all were. Cold brew was new and intriguing in the early 2010s and soon, well-marketed, perhaps because it’s fairly easy for a café to produce, especially compared with individual espresso shots. But fundamentally, you’re not getting the most out of your coffee beans in cold brew, in terms of flavor or financial investment.

Let’s start with the flavor. Cold brew can be smooth and mellow, but it lacks what can be exciting about good coffee. Ryan Moser of Blanchard’s Coffee Company in Richmond, VA walked me through it: “What’s innately unique about really good coffee is the amount of volatile aromatic compounds that are developed during the roasting process,” he said. “These compounds are the reason why your coffee can have a hint of blueberry or remind you of pipe tobacco”—they’re what sets one coffee apart from another. To get these flavors and aromas into your cup, though, you need hot water, which has the power to coax all those flavors out of your coffee beans and into the liquid of your brew. Cold water simply doesn’t dissolve the good stuff. “With cold brew, you’re really missing most of this experience,” Moser says.

It looks good, but does it really taste good? Photo by Chelsea Kyle

And let’s not get started about your steeping vessel. Is it truly airtight? If air is circulating in and out of the pour spout of your French press, or there’s a lot of space inside the vessel and the coffee’s unprotected, your drink is getting oxidized and stale. Think of a cut apple turning brown: that’s your cardboardy-tasting week-old cold brew.

What’s worse, Moser adds, is that all too often, cold brew is actually made at a tepid temperature (say, north of 41 degrees), “which truly just maximizes on the mildew-scummy flavors this style of brewing displays,” without actually being hot enough to help your coffee shine.