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How Long to Steep Cold Brew (Expert Tips & FAQs)

Cold brew

Making cold brew is a pretty hands-off process: just mix coarsely ground coffee beans and cold water and wait a while. But how long is a while, and how does the steeping time affect the finished cold brew?

We’re taking a closer look at how long to steep cold brew, including what to expect from different steeping times, how the time affects the flavor, and what time of day you should start brewing. Keep reading to find our best cold brew steeping tips!

The Short Answer
Depending on the temperature and how strong you like your coffee, steep cold brew for between 12 and 18 hours.

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What happens if you don’t steep cold brew long enough?

Cold brew steeping is a long process because you’re using cold water. Without the heat used in most coffee brewing methods, the water needs a lot of time to pull flavor and caffeine out of the beans. So if you filter out the grounds too early (after less than 12 hours of steeping), you’ll get a weak, watery cold brew — nothing like the concentrated cold brew you’re expecting.

Coffee Bros. cold brew

And what if you steep it too long?

On the other end of the spectrum, if you leave the coffee grounds in the water for too long (over 24 hours), you’ll get over-extracted coffee. You can expect a bitter, unpleasant flavor from an over-extracted cold brew.

How does grind size affect cold brew steeping time?

It stands to reason that if you grind your coffee beans more finely, you can cut down the cold brew steep time. The more finely ground the beans are, the faster the extraction becomes. But there’s a good reason you don’t want to do this: it will destroy the flavor. If you grind your beans too finely and leave them steeping for many hours, you will end up with bitter, over-extracted beans. Be patient and let the cold brew steeping happen at its own pace!

SEE ALSO: Driftaway’s Fool-Proof Cold Brew Kits (Worth Trying?)

Driftaway cold brew brewing
Want to skip the mess? We liked Driftaway’s cold brew subscription — the beans come in handy pouches!

Do you need to steep cold brew in the refrigerator?

You don’t have to refrigerate cold brew while it’s steeping, but you do need to store cold brew in the refrigerator after it’s brewed. Steeping cold brew in the refrigerator will lengthen the amount of time needed, whereas steeping it at room temperature on the counter will shorten the steep time.

So why would you want to use the refrigerator? When you are ready to drink cold brew, you’ll probably want it to be cold. If you brew it in the refrigerator, it will be ice-cold and ready to drink the moment you filter out the beans. If you brew at room temperature, you’ll need to put it in an ice bath or let it cool in the refrigerator for a few hours before drinking it — which essentially lengthens that steeping time.

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How Long to Steep Cold Brew:

So what’s the best range to steep cold brew? We recommend staying within a range of 12 to 18 hours. We usually steep our cold brew in the refrigerator for 16 hours, which is right in the coffee extraction sweet spot. Never bitter, never weak: this is cold brew as it’s meant to taste.

If you’re steeping at room temperature, you may only need about 12 hours. At that point, you can filter out the grounds and put your cold brew in the refrigerator to chill.

Lifeboost Cold Brew

Does the exact amount of time matter?

We’ve made cold brew many, many times, and we are happy to report that as long as you stay within that 12 to 18-hour range, your cold brew will come out delicious. There’s no need to sweat the exact amount of time — an 18.5-hour steep time will likely taste just fine — but you’ll want to set up a reminder. Don’t let those tasty coffee beans go to waste!

What’s the best time of day to start steeping cold brew?

Unless you want to wake up at 3 am, you’ll probably want to consider the steep time when you start brewing. If you start your cold brew at noon, it’ll be ready between midnight (12 hours) and 6 am (18 hours). So if you’re not a night owl or an early riser, we recommend starting the brew in the evening.

Want your cold brew ready at 9 am? Start steeping at 5 pm the night before. Prefer an afternoon brew? If you start at 9 pm, your cold brew will finish steeping at 1 pm.

French Press Cold Brew
You don't need fancy equipment to make cold brew! Try this easy French press cold brew recipe to see what we mean. The built-in filter works perfectly and the coffee comes out smooth and bold.
Try this delicious recipe!
French Press Cold Brew

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Steeping Cold Brew: Final Thoughts

So how long should you steep cold brew? You can’t go wrong with a cold brew steep time between 12 and 18 hours! If you’re steeping your cold brew on the counter, stick to the lower end, at around 12 to 14 hours. And if you’re brewing in the refrigerator, aim for 16 to 18. It’s not an exact science, and you can always experiment to find your ideal brew time.

We hope this guide helps learn how long to steep cold brew for the best flavor. You’ll never have to worry about weak or bitter cold brew again! Enjoy that sweet, strong coffee.


Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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