How Long Should You Let Cold Brew Steep For The Best Coffee?

Mike C
Written By Mike C

I've been writing about coffee and espresso machines for 3 years. My goal is to provide you with helpful content that you can trust based on my own personal experiences, information from manufacturers, and tips and tricks I've gathered from other coffee and espresso machine users.

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Tips On How Long To Brew Cold Brew

Cold brew may be easy to make and give you that morning or afternoon jolt you need, but there is one thing it isn’t. Fast. Making cold brew concentrate the right way will require several hours, usually 12 hours or more. Exactly how you’ll need to steep your cold brew will depend on a few factors, most importantly the type of cold brew maker you are using. Keep reading to learn more.

How Long To Steep Cold Brew?

If you look at the various articles that come in search results, you’ll find a range of suggestions for how long you should brew your coffee concentrate. The best way to know how long you need to let your cold brew steep is to look at your specific coffee maker’s user manual. Otherwise, you can follow these general instructions.

Immersion Method Steep Time Needed

Immersion is the most common method for making cold brew, such as with the popular Toddy coffee system. This is when you submerge the coffee grinds in a large volume of water and let them steep. As it does so, solubles, caffeine and oils are slowly extracted from the coffee grinds. Slowly is the key word here. This process can take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours at room temperature. That’s quite a wide range. Everyone would tell you to never go beyond 24 hours.

Most experts will say that somewhere between 12 and 18 hours is the sweet spot for the immersion method. Depending on how sensitive your palate is, you may or may not notice much of a difference in that range. Letting it steep closer to 12 hours will make a lighter brew, while 18 hours will be a bit stronger and have more flavor. You can experiment with batches at 12, 14, 16 and 18 hours and see which one tastes best to you. Beyond 18 hours, most people would probably say the coffee tastes too bitter. If you want a stronger taste beyond what you can achieve in 18 hours, you’d be better off using more concentrate or less water when you go to make to your coffee.

Drip Method Brew Time

Unlike in the immersion method where the coffee grinds and water are together, in the drip method they are separated. These cold brew makers usually look like a tower. At the top there is chilled ice water. In the middle there are the coffee grinds. The water will slowly drip into the coffee grinds and be absorbed by them. Eventually, these water drops will fall into the container at the bottom, carrying the coffee oils and caffeine. Depending on how much concentrate you want, this can take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. It’s faster than the because the movement of dripping water will extract more from the grinds vs still water.

Generally speaking, drip cold brew coffee makers will hold a lot less water than immersion systems. That means you’ll end up with a smaller volume of concentrate each time. However, the plus side is that it could save you several hours. A smaller volume may be ideal if you don’t plan on drinking your concentrate within the first 7 to 10 days when it is freshest.

Brewing For Too Long

If you steep the cold brew for more than 18 to 24 hours, you will over extract the coffee grinds. The result will be a bitter taste that most people would find unpleasant to drink. If you are looking for a stronger taste or a bigger caffeine boost, you’d be better off steeping for 18 hours and just using a greater ratio of concentrate to water when you go to make coffee.

Not Steeping Long Enough

If you’ve run out of cold brew and you are in a rush, you may be tempted to steep for less than the recommended time. If you try it, you’ll very likely be unhappy with the results and will have wasted your grinds. Cold brew that does not steep long enough will taste watery and weak vs properly concentrated coffee. That’s because you will not have given it enough time to extract enough flavor from the grinds.

Can You Speed Up or Slow Down The Cold Brew Steep Time?

Unfortunately, making cold brew is a process that takes time. There isn’t anything you can do to speed it up. If for some reason you wanted to slow it down, maybe to accommodate your work schedule, you can steep it in the fridge instead of at room temperature. The colder temp will slow down the extraction process a little so you could probably leave it sitting for 14 to 20 hours.

What Time Of Day Should You Start Steeping Cold Brew?

Hopefully after reading this, you understand that making a delicious cold brew coffee concentrate is all about timing. Before you start steeping, think about where you are going to be in 12 to 18 hours. You want to make sure you are going to be home. it should also be a convenient time to finish the process and put the concentrate in the fridge. You probably don’t want to have to wake up in the middle of the night to do this. For most people, starting early in the morning before work or in the evening would make the most sense. If you start in the morning, you can finish up before bed. If you start in the evening, you can take care of the last steps before heading out to work.

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