Why Cold Brew Coffee is More Expensive (Even if You Make it Yourself)

Why Cold Brew Coffee is More Expensive

When walking into a coffee shop, the price for a normal cup of coffee is usually around $2.50.

If you go to order cold brew however, it can be $1 or more extra in price.

This can seem excessive to those not looking to pay extra for coffee. What is it about cold brew that makes it more expensive than the average cup?

The answer to that question is the process in which cold brew coffee is made.

An average cup of coffee can be made in five minutes or less. With more advanced coffee makers such as a Keurig, regular coffee has the potential to be made in under a minute!

Cold brew, however, takes between 12 to 18 hours to create and requires more care and energy than any other type of coffee. To the naked eye, making cold brew coffee may seem very simple- the only tools required are coffee beans, water, a glass container, a coffee grinder and multiple types of strainers.

Those few resources make the process look uncomplicated, and indeed, for a seasoned preparer it may be.

When delving deeper into the system of cold brew coffee making, one sees that precision can be vital to producing the perfect cup to be savored and enjoyed.

How Cold Brew Coffee is Made & Why It Costs More

Cold brew coffee is made by hand the majority of the time. Cold brew coffee makers do exist, but can be expensive and still only produce small quantities at a time.

Even though it is made cold, it can be served either hot or chilled.

To ensure that the cold brew taste is exceptional, the barista will use filtered water and coarsely ground coffee beans. The consistency of the beans is important because grounds that are too thin may over-infuse the water to create a grainy texture.

It’s also important to note that cold brew coffee is usually brewed with a lot more grounds than other brewing techniques require – this means added costs for the preparation on top of labor costs.

The amount of time that grounds are left in the water is important, as well.

If the coffee is strained prematurely, the end product will be weak and lack flavor; if it is filtered too late, the cold brew will be bitter and unpleasant. The filter must be efficient enough to remove every piece of coffee grounds, and then the correct amount of milk or flavoring can be added.

Is It Expensive To Make Cold Brew Yourself?

The bottom line is that at home cold brew production is measurably cheaper than buying cold brew at your favorite coffee shop. Of course your coffee shops offers an environment and a trained barista, but your at home cold brew supply can offer you consistent wi-fi and a whole lot of savings.

These savings are ultimately the result of using only a few ingredients, waiting time, and no convenience fees.

We all know coffee has been of the biggest businesses of the last few years, for Starbucks alone has made the leap from local coffee expert to pop-culture influencer.

However, what everyone doesn’t realize is how much we are paying exactly for that “Starbucks” (or insert your favorite coffee shop here) experience.

The True Cost Of Making Cold Brew

To better analyze the true cost of at home cold brew production, we must first understand what ingredients go into any production of cold brew coffee.

  1. Ground Coffee
  2. Water
  3. Time

That’s it! Cold brew only uses three (well, really two) ingredients.

Now, for the cost.

Ground coffee on average ranges from five to twelve dollars a bag. Stumptown, one of the highest regarded coffee companies in the cold brew discourse, sells their 12 oz bags of coffee for around $15 each at my local grocery store.

At Starbucks, or any local coffee company cold brew averages $3.50 a cup. Therefore, for the cost of five or six store bought cups of coffee, you can produce multiple bulk batches of cold brew.

Cold Brew Recipe

  • Remove 3/4 cup of coffee beans from the bag and grind them (for cold brew you want a coarser grind; similar to what you would produce for a french press recipe)
  • Transfer ground coffee into a 32 oz jar or container.
  • Screw on lid and give the mixture a few good shakes
  • Leave coffee mixture sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours.
  • Wake up the next morning and strain the mixture.

(Yes, this is cold brew concentrate.)

  • Clean the 32oz container, clean it, and repour the concentrate into the mixture
  • Add ice, milk, or dilute the concentrate to your liking.

Did you notice the important part?

Three quarters of a cup of coffee beans is a lot of coffee for only 32 ounces of water! That is 144 grams of coffee grind, probably more than a quarter of your entire 12oz bag of coffee.

If you make cold brew concentrate at home then expect to get 3-4 batches of cold brew out of every bag of coffee beans you buy. If each batch only gives you four 8oz cups of coffee then a $15 bag of premium coffee beans will only net you a maximum of 16 cups of drinkable coffee compared to 50-60 cups of standard brewed coffee.

That’s pricey and it’s because making cold brew requires a lot more grind than other brewing methods.

More on the Grounds-To-Water Ratios For Cold Brew

At home cold brew production can result in fantastic results and competitive savings to buying it pre-made or from a coffee shop. In addition, cold brew is rather easily produced at home. Just combine coffee grounds, water, and time and you have your very own cold brew supply.

The cost and quality of your DIY cold brew coffee however comes down to the coffee grounds to water ratio you select.

The Golden Ratio

Most coffee enthusiasts recommend mixing ¾ cup of beans for every four cups of cold water as we discussed above already.

However, if this recipe produces results that you are not exactly satisfied with, of course you can change your recipe accordingly.

The Starbuck’s Ratio

Since Starbucks is the most common coffee name in any conversation, it is important we look at their own cold brew ratio.

Starbucks uses a ratio of eight ounce of coffee per eight ounce of water. This translates to one ounce of coffee per one ounce of water.

How To Change The Ratio To Suit Your Preferences

If you are looking for a cold brew mixture that will be stronger than the mixture created when using the ¾ cup of beans to four cups of water or the starbucks ratio (a true concentrate) then increase the amount of coffee in your current ratio. This change will result in a stronger cup of cold brew because the coffee’s nutrients, caffeine, and flavor profile is less diluted.

If you are looking for a cold brew mixture that will be weaker than the mixture created when using the ¾ cup of beans to four cups of water or the starbucks ratio then increase the amount of water in your current ratio. This change will result in a weaker cup of cold brew, for the coffee’s nutrients, caffeine, and flavor profile is more diluted.

Overall, your specific cold brew preferences can be achieved at home through the manipulation of three variables: amount of coffee, amount of water, and time.

Cold Brew is an Art Form More Than a Commodity

Over the course of making cold brew coffee, there are many things that could go wrong. Once a mistake is made in the middle of the process, it cannot be easily remedied, and an entire new batch must be made.

The preparer does not even know of a mistake until tasting the end product, and this then starts the 12 to 18 hour timeline all over again.

The extra cost for the brew is not only paying for the labor of the preparer, but also the talent.

Producing an amazing cup of cold brew takes trial & error along with patience, and that experience takes time. Much as cooking or baking, creating a perfect cold brew is considered by some to be an art form.

That’s not to say you can’t do the job yourself in your own home – it’s not that complicated but it does require more care than a basic drip coffee maker does so the price has to be higher.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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