What Is Cold Brew Espresso and How Can you Brew It?

Cold brew espresso is a method of brewing coffee that uses cold water to steep coffee grounds for an extended period of time. Coffee prepared this way is a strong, concentrated beverage, with a high caffeine concentration.

This coffee can be consumed as is, in small servings, much like espresso, but is served cold. This brewing method produces a coffee that is less acidic and less bitter than regular espresso. It is often served as a base for iced coffee drinks, such as iced lattes, cold brew Americano, or Frappuccino.

coffee ice cubes reverse iced coffee recipe
Reverse Iced Coffee – Cold Brew Espresso

Even though the name suggests a resemblance with the traditional espresso, the two names are quite different. The flavor profiles of the two beverages appeal to different types of coffee lovers. People who love espresso, don’t enjoy as much cold brew, and vice versa. I will explain in a bit why.

Traditional Espresso vs Cold Brew Espresso

As I already mentioned cold brew espresso is different from real genuine espresso, but let’s dive in and see what that means, and why the two drinks are so different.

cold brew espresso reverse iced coffee recipe
Iced Latte – Cold Brew Espresso

Espresso, or caffè crema how was also named for a long time by the Italians, is a method of brewing coffee that uses hot water and pressure to extract the soluble solids from the coffee beans.

Hot water is forced under high pressure through a finely ground coffee bed. The pressure and the water temperature are combined in a unique extraction method, that produces a concentrated and flavorful coffee. This coffee is served in small portions, called shots. The standard espresso shot is 1 ounce. Espresso is prepared with special equipment called an espresso machine.

Espresso, as a brewing method, is known for its ability to extract certain subtleties and nuances from the coffee beans that other brewing methods cannot. Because the method doesn’t use a paper filter, coffee microparticles, (called fines), are passed in the final cup, giving the cup a rich, and bold flavor, and a certain thickness that no other brewing method can replicate.

For cold brew espresso the coffee grounds are steeped in cold water for an extended period of time. The resulting brew is then served concentrated, rather than diluted. The drink is served in demitasses, as shots, or used as the bas for cold, or iced coffee drinks.

Because cold brew espresso is made with cold water, it has a different flavor profile than traditional, hot espresso. It is less acidic and less bitter than hot brewed espresso, and it has a smoother, and sweeter taste. The cold brew concentrate has a different profile from traditional espresso, though.

Cold brew espresso can be prepared with an immersion cold brew coffee maker, such as the Toddy, or Filtron, or using a simpler method, such as the cold brew coffee bag, and a mason jar. There are also cold brew coffee machines, that can make cold brew faster, in mere minutes, using vacuum, or other methods to speed up the cold extraction. We have an article where we show how to make cold brew fast.

Chilled Espresso

espresso with ice cubes

Chilled espresso, is another popular form of concentrated coffee. Chilled espresso is hot espresso that has been cooled down before being served. This can be done by refrigerating the shots or by running them through a cold water bath. Chilled espresso retains the same flavor profile as genuine espresso, but it is served cold.

Chilled espresso is mainly used to make iced coffee. Because of its concentration, an espresso can be a great alternative to filter coffee, for preparing iced coffee. The challenge is to chill the espresso as fast as possible, in order to avoid oxidation.

Flavor and Taste Differences between Cold Brew and Espresso

I showed you how the two methods are comparing from a preparation perspective, but let’s see how that translates in flavor, and what would your cup of coffee taste like.

When brewing using hot water and pressure, we will extract a variety of flavors and compounds from the coffee beans. In fact, espresso has the most number of compounds out of all brewing methods.

Some of the espresso flavors include:

  • Acidity: Espresso can retain acidic flavors, and they are often a great complement to other flavors an notes. A tangy, fruity flavor to the coffee. offers balance to the shot.
  • Bitterness: The high temperature and pressure will cause some bitter compounds to be extracted, which gives espresso its characteristic bitter taste. Caffeine is the most famous bitter compound, but chlorogenic acids, (the antioxidant in coffee), is the major source of bitterness in hot coffee. Chlorogenic acid needs a high temperature for a proper extraction, and it’s lacking in cold brew.
  • Caramel motes: The high heat during the roasting, causes the coffee’s sugars to caramelize, adding a sweet, nutty flavor to the coffee. This implies you are using a dark roast, or at least medium roast.
  • Aromatics: The high temperature and pressure cause the coffee’s volatile compounds, such as aromatic oils and flavors, to be released, which gives espresso its complex aroma and taste. Some of these compounds can be only extracted under pressure.

On the other hand, when brewing coffee using the cold brew method, the low temperature and long steeping time extract a different set of flavors and compounds from the roasted coffee beans. Some of these flavors are:

  • Smoothness: Cold brew coffee is known for its smooth, clean taste. This is because the cold water does not extract the bitter compounds from the coffee beans, resulting in a less bitter and less acidic coffee. We mentioned before, chlorogenic acid doesn’t get extracted, but don’t worry, there are other antioxidants and polyphenols that get extracted in cold water, and they are destroyed by heat. So it’s all balanced.
  • Chocolaty and nutty notes: The low temperature and long steeping time allow coffee to extract flavors from the beans that can come across as chocolate or nutty notes.
  • Fruity and floral notes: Cold brew coffee is also known for its fruity and floral flavors. This is because the cold water does not extract the acidic compounds from the coffee beans, resulting in a sweeter and more nuanced coffee.
  • Aromatics: Many of the compounds in coffee are very volatile. With minimal heat, they get evaporated and we lose them. Cold brewing preserves these compounds, and this result of a complex coffee, with delicate notes and flavors, specific to cold brew only. Espresso lovers will find these delicate flavors faint, in comparison with the sharp, bold taste of espresso.

It’s worth noting that depending on the coffee beans used, origin, roast, and the brewing method, the flavor profile can vary. The flavors mentioned above are general tendencies.

The Espresso and Coffee Confusion

It’s important to note that many people use the term “espresso” to describe a strong, or concentrated, coffee drink, but this is not correct. Espresso is term to designate the beverage brewed in a certain way, and not to describe how a coffee tastes. Espresso is indeed concentrated, but it is more than that.

To add to the confusion, in Italy, when you ask for a coffee in a coffee shop, you are served an espresso. Italians call “caffè” and espresso shot.

In North America, if you get a small concentrated coffee, you call it espresso. Regardless if the coffee was prepared with an AeroPress, or a pump espresso machine. Which would be incorrect, if we wanted to be pedantic.

Cold brew espresso different from both espresso and drip coffee. If you ask coffee aficionados, they’ll tell it doesn’t exist. It is just a label to designate a cold brew concentrate that wasn’t diluted.

If you read our article on how to make cold brew coffee at home, you’ll see that we recommend you brew your batches concentrated, and dilute them with water at the serving time. This is more for convenience, than anything else, since cold brew takes a long time to brew, due to the fact that it uses cold water for the extraction. The brew time can vary quite wildly, anything from 12-24 hours, (most often), up to 72 hours for more concentrated brews. So it makes sense to brew it concentrated, in batches that go into the fridge, because the process is tedious.

The term cold brew espresso was born when people started to realize that strong coffee is actually great, when it’s brewed properly. Don’t generalize that, though. Besides espresso and cold brew, there aren’t any other methods that taste good when brewed concentrated.

How to Make Cold Brew Espresso?

Semantics aside, let’s see how you can make a cold brew espresso at home, and start whipping up your cold brew Frappuccino.

We have a comprehensive cold brew tutorial, if it’s your first time making cold brew, or to improve your skills. However, this recipe is more than adequate, if you know how to brew cold brew coffee. Here is the short version of the cold brew espresso.

You will need cold water and medium dark roasted coffee beans. Most recipe you find on the Internet recommend you to use a coarse grind, however, for an espresso experience you’d like to use a medium grind. I’ll explain that in a bit.

If you don’t own a cold brew coffee maker, the cold brew coffee bag filter is the best method. It’s clean, convenient, and easy to work with.

The recipe is simple:

  • Measure 1 cup of medium, or dark roast coffee beans, freshly ground to a medium grind size.
  • Place the coffee grounds in your filter bag, or in a large mason jar, your favorite cold brew coffee maker, or cold brew pitcher.
  • Add 3 cups of cold water, and make sure all the coffee grounds are covered by water, so they can fully saturate with water as soon as possible.
  • Seal the mason jar, so air doesn’t get in or out during brewing, to prevent spoilage.
  • Place the jar, or the coffee maker in the fridge and let it steep.
  • Brew for a minimum of 24 hours, I recommend 72 hours in the fridge. This will ensure you extract all of the good stuff from the beans. Don’t believe those who say cold brew can over extract, that is not true, we explain in a different article why.
  • Filter the coffee out, and transfer it in a decanter. Let it decant for another 12 hours.
  • When the fines are fully settled, they will stay at the bottom of the decanter if you don’t shake the container. Carefully transfer the brewed coffee, making sure you leave the muddy stuff out. A little bit of the muddy stuff is good, because it gives your coffee the espresso mouthfeel.
  • Add milk or water to tone it down to your preferred strength. You might need to add water, even if you like strong coffee.

Now I owe you a bit of explanation right? Let’s get to it, then.

Why Medium Grind?

With anything finer than coarse grind, you get a better extraction. The finer you grind, the faster and more complete the extraction is. The challenge with finer grind size is that cold brew coffee filters are not that great, because they are meant to filter a lot at once.

Filtering the whole thing through a paper filter would take too long, and it’s messy and inconvenient. So we are stuck with the standard cold brew filter that is going to allow a lot of fines to pass through.

You will find “cold brew experts” that will claim that finer grinds over extract coffee and make coffee bitter, that is not true. Cold brewing avoids extracting bitter compounds. Bitter compounds need a higher temperature to get dissolved in the slurry.

If coffee is too strong, after brewing it longer, just add a bit of water to tone it down. As you would do with any compound that has an overwhelming taste, because it’s concentrated. Would you make lemonade without adding water? The same goes with the cold brew concentrate.

Why medium roast?

Darker roasts are more soluble than lighter ones, and very light roasts are difficult to extract at low brewing temperatures. The flavor profile of a darker roast, is closer to the espresso feel. SO if you use any medium to dark roast beans, or some espresso beans from your local roaster, you would get some of the nutty, chocolate flavors associated with the espresso beans.

Very dark roasts are also good, but there is a risk you’d get too much roast flavor with those. The long steeping times will extract more of the ashy and smoke flavors. So much that it could be the only flavor that you can taste.

For some more ideas on how to choose coffee beans for cold brew coffee, follow the link.

Final Word

In conclusion, cold brew espresso is a great option to make iced lattes and iced cappuccinos, or Americanos.

For those looking for taste similarities with traditional espresso, there might be too little resemblance between the two drinks. The strength and concentration of the drink might be the only resemblance.

Cold brew espresso is a smooth and sweet coffee, that can be consumed without any sugar, and it is easier on those with sensitive stomach.

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