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Is Cold Brew Coffee Strong? Read This First Before You Order

mason jar of cold brew on white counter beside stack of books, is cold brew coffee strong

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There’s a lot of buzz about cold brew coffee these days. And rightfully so. It’s a tasty beverage.

But one thing we hear repeatedly is that cold brew coffee is strong. If you find this confusing, you’re not alone. The word “strong” may refer to a few different things. Perhaps it has a bold taste. Or maybe cold brew is high in caffeine.

And, if this is actually so, why is cold brew coffee strong? Let’s dive deeper into this beloved cold coffee drink and get to the bottom of this claim.

Is Cold Brew Coffee Strong?

Before we answer the question, is cold brew coffee strong? Let’s first define what we mean by strong. While some may use the term to refer to the flavor of a coffee, we prefer the term “bold” when describing the taste.

Coffee strength typically refers to the concentration of the coffee or, in other words, the coffee to water ratio. Brewed coffee with a higher coffee to water ratio, like espresso, will naturally have a bolder flavor and a higher caffeine content.

So to answer the question, is cold brew coffee strong? We’ll look at the coffee to water ratio for cold brew and a few other factors that contribute to the strength of the final brew.

glass of cold brew on ice shot from above on black surface,
How do you make cold brew
What’s a cold brew coffee

What’s Cold Brew?

Cold brew is a deliciously refreshing iced coffee beverage you can find in your local grocery store, grab at just about any coffee shop, or make at home.

The brewing process makes cold brew coffee different from other cold coffee drinks.

The term “cold brew” refers to the brewing method, not the serving temperature. Cold brew steeps slowly (12+ hours slow) at room temperature versus regular hot coffee brewed hot in mere minutes.

No special equipment is needed to make cold brew coffee. Our favorite method for making cold brew is the French press. Even though cold brew coffee is strong, it’s also extraordinarily smooth and less acidic than traditional iced coffee.

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Best Bean For Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee may be made with any coffee bean. Some believe the best cold brew roast is a light roast coffee, but we wholeheartedly disagree.

No two people will share identical coffee preferences, so there isn’t one best bean for cold brew that will suit everyone’s palates. We always recommend cold brewing with various coffee beans to find the best cold brew roast for you.

We love this single-origin medium roast on cold brew, and you might too.

Shedlight coffee roasters single origin organic Columbia medium roast

What Grind For Cold Brew

Once you select your coffee beans, it’s time to grind them. Whatever you do, don’t buy pre-ground coffee. There are several reasons to avoid pre-ground coffee, but to stay on topic, the main reason to avoid pre-ground coffee for cold brew is that the grind size is not coarse enough.

Pre-ground coffee is ground to a medium grind. You want coarse or extra coarse coffee grinds for cold brew. Your grounds should resemble coarse sea salt or even rock salt.

We use a coarse grind for cold brew to avoid over-extraction during steeping. A coarse grind is needed to ensure slow extraction because cold brew steeps for a long time.

If you don’t have a burr grinder for cold brew, check out our recommendations for cold brew grinders.

fellow opus grinder
The Fellow Opus Grinder

Coffee To Water Ratio For Cold Brew

The coffee to water ratio for cold brew is the key to answering our question, is cold brew coffee strong? The answer is yes and no.

The ideal ratio for cold brew coffee is 1:5 coffee to water. This cold brew ratio will result in a potent cold brew concentrate that is meant to be diluted with water or milk before consumption.

Please don’t drink cold brew concentrate straight. 

This cold brew coffee to water ratio will work well with most roasts. We like to use medium-roast coffee for our cold brew, but light roasts are also popular.

hand pouring milk into stemless glass of cold brew coffee on ice,
Best recipe for cold coffee
Cold brew coffee diy

Cold Brew Concentrate

Ok, now we understand the coffee to water ratio for cold brew. So, why exactly is cold brew coffee strong?

It all comes down to the cold brew concentrate vs. the diluted final product.

When you make cold brew coffee at home, the result is not a ready-to-drink iced coffee beverage. After steeping your cold brew for 12+ hours, you have a cold brew coffee concentrate instead.

This concentrate has significantly more caffeine than regular coffee but is meant to be diluted with water or milk (or both) before consumption.

Fellow Clara French press in black

The great thing about cold brew concentrate is that you can control how much caffeine is in your daily cup when you brew it at home. Simply adjust your cold brew ratio when diluting it to consume.

If you need an extra kick, use less water. Prefer a low dose? Add a little more milk. Cold brew coffee concentrate is entirely customizable.

Just know that when you order a 16 oz cold brew from a coffee shop, it’s already diluted, resulting in a caffeine content that’s comparable to regular coffee (about 95 mg of caffeine per 8 oz).

How Much Caffeine Is In Cold Brew Coffee?

As with all coffee beverages, the amount of caffeine in cold brew varies greatly. The average 16 oz cold brew has about 200 mg of caffeine

If you’re at Starbucks, this would be a Grande-size cold brew containing 205 mg of caffeine. In contrast, the same-size cold brew from Dunkin’ Donuts has 260 mg of caffeine. Others from similar retailers contain up to 330 mg of caffeine.

So how much caffeine is safe to consume in a day?

According to the FDA, up to 400 mg of caffeine is acceptable to consume daily. That is the equivalent of about 4-5 cups of regular coffee. But is cold brew coffee strong compared to regular coffee?

Making a direct comparison between the caffeine content in cold brew and regular hot brewed coffee is challenging because the two beverages aren’t the same.

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Airscape Stainless Steel Coffee Canister

The coffee to water ratio is the main difference between cold brew and regular coffee, other than the brewing method. The ratio for cold brew is about 1:5 or 1:6 coffee to water, compared to regular coffee, which is about 1:16 for your standard drip coffee maker.

If the coffee to water ratios were equal, regular coffee would have more caffeine than cold brew because caffeine’s solubility is highly dependent on temperature. Hot water will increase the amount of caffeine dissolved.

But because cold brew coffee uses a much more significant amount of coffee in brewing, the resulting beverage naturally can contain far more caffeine.

angular stemless glass of cold brew with milk swirling on edge of wood counter,
How much caffeine is in cold brew coffee

Final Thoughts: Is Cold Brew Coffee Strong?

So, is cold brew coffee strong? The resulting cold brew concentrate is quite potent in flavor and caffeine.

And also, no. Properly diluted cold brew coffee has a smooth, mild flavor and comparable levels of caffeine to drip coffee or regular iced coffee.

So the answer to our initial question is cold brew coffee strong is both yes and no. But either way, cold brew is delicious. Now let’s move on to our favorite cold-brewed coffee recipe and get to the fun part.

How To Cold Brew Coffee

Cold brewing coffee at home is actually surprisingly easy. The most challenging part is waiting for the coffee to steep.

Here’s how to cold brew coffee with a French press, aka our favorite method:

pouring cold brew into glass with ice,
Cold brewing coffee recipe
How to cold brew coffee

Cold Brewed Coffee Recipe

Step 1: Gather What You’ll Need To Cold Brew

  1. French press
  2. Filtered water 
  3. Coffee beans
  4. Coffee Scale
  5. Coffee grinder
  6. Paper filter
  7. Sealable container(s) 
  8. Spoon

Step 2: Measure Coffee

Using the 1:5 ratio for cold brew coffee, use your scale to measure 140 grams of your coffee beans of choice. 

Step 3: Grind Your Coffee

Now that you’ve weighed your coffee beans, it’s time to grind them. You’ll want to use a coarse to extra-coarse grind to make cold brew in a French press.

Grab your burr grinder, grind your coffee, and pour it into your French press.

Step 4: Add Filtered Water

Again using the 1:5 ratio for cold brew coffee, measure 700 grams of cool or room-temperature filtered water. Using filtered water for coffee dramatically improves the flavor of the brew.

Slowly pour the cold water over the grounds in a slow, circular motion. Do not stir.

Use the back of a metal spoon to gently press down any floating grounds near the top, ensuring all coffee is submerged.

Step 5: Steep Cold Brew

Cold brew steeping time isn’t an exact science. A good rule of thumb is to steep for at least 12 hours.

We often steep ours for 14-16 hours but start with 12, then adjust.

We recommend steeping at room temperature for this cold brewing coffee recipe, provided you’ll be available after 12 hours to finish the process.

Steeping cold brew in the refrigerator slows the brewing process. If you plan to be away longer than 16 hours, it might be best to steep in the fridge for the best results.

Bella 14755 12 cup coffee maker

Step 6: Finish Your Brew And Store

Congratulations! You survived the long wait, and it’s time for a cold brew!

Plunge your French press as you normally would, but move slowly with cold brew. Shoot for a full 30 seconds, and don’t rush it.

Be careful not to press the plunger all the way down.

Place a secondary filter (any pour over paper filter is fine) on the top of your sealable container(s) and, with the screen in place, pour your cold brew into the container(s).

Step 7: Enjoy Your French Press Cold Brew

Now that you’ve mastered this easy recipe for cold brew coffee, you’ll likely become obsessed like us. It’s ok. We’re here for you.

Just remember that cold brew is incredibly concentrated!

glass of cold brew on ice shot from above on corner of wooden table,
Best recipe for cold coffee
Cold brew coffee diy

Does Cold Brew Go Bad?

So you’ve made your first batch of cold brew coffee in a French press, and now you’re wondering how long you can savor it. This will depend on how it is stored.

When you make cold brew at home, the resulting cold brew concentrate will last up to two weeks when stored properly in the refrigerator. Cold brew should be stored in an airtight container for best results. (or, if you’re feeling fancy, you can add a nitro infusion to your cold brew and store it in a keg for up to three months)

A little advanced planning, and you’ve got cold coffee at the ready for weeks! Well worth the effort, don’t you think?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Calatrello

Heather Calatrello owner of ShedLight Coffee Roasters