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Best Whole Bean Coffee for Cold Brew


Brandon Pierce
September 10, 2022

The coffee world confuses many. So many variables to pay attention to, and the coffee market becomes more significant by the day. Coffee stores draw in customers with exotic blends and fancy brewing. 

Specialty retailers sprout everywhere. Roasters boast a greater choice than ever before, in micro-lots and single origin. 

Even the equipment for the home coffee enthusiast is sometimes too complicated.

So, now we are going the other way instead. We're going to see how cold brewing works, one of the easiest methods for a good ole cup of joe— though it is relatively new on the coffee scene.

At least compared to others.

Let's get through the basics. You'll learn:

  • What whole bean coffee is.
  • What types of coffee beans should you use for cold brew coffee.
  • How to turn the best coffee beans into coffee grounds.
  • All about the equipment you'll need to brew your very own cold brew coffee.

By the end, if you chose to make cold brew coffee, it's going to be a breeze. Shall we?

What is Whole Bean Coffee?

Whole bean coffee is what's left after the coffee cherries undergo processing. Coffee cherries are the red (or yellow) berries of the coffee tree. They're about the size of a grape— way bigger than the coffee bean we all know and love.

And yes, you can eat them fresh. Think about that. Much like a grape, you can try them on the spot— and they taste somewhat like honeydew melon.

Take it into consideration if you're ever lucky enough to visit a coffee farm.

The Coffee bean harvest happens when they turn red and ripe, and when that time comes, farmers need to collect them quickly. If the coffee bean overripens, it imparts unpleasant flavors to the brewed coffee.

After harvest, the coffee bean can go through three processes.

Any of them gives different characteristics to your cold brew coffee beans:

processing of whole bean coffee

 Washed process: This produces high acidity and bright flavors. It's also a favorite because the outcome is consistent.

  • Natural process: This gives full-bodied, sweet coffees with fruity flavors. But, it's easier for coffee defects to appear;
  • Honey process: This is halfway through washed and natural. It mellows acidity without taking it away. It enhances the coffee sweetness and leaves a full-bodied coffee, too.

Any of these methods endgame is the same. They remove the skin and pulp from the coffee bean.

This way, producers get a ready-to-dry product, and shipping coffee becomes way more manageable. Plus, once dried to 12% moisture content, the coffee loses no flavor.

After that is time to ship it; at this stage, what you have is still whole bean green coffee.

At the destination, where roasting happens, the beans darken to the color we associate with commercial coffee beans.

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brewing is a method for making coffee. It involves cold water, coffee beans, and a lot of patience. Both cold drip coffee and Nitro are cold brew coffees.

But, people talking about cold brewing usually think about immersion cold brewing. That indicates coffee grounds left in direct contact with water, with no filters.

Immersion cold brew might take up hours to make a coffee cup, but it got some advantages. For one, you can have the cold brew coffee steep while you sleep.

Cold-brew takes up to 36 hours and no less than 12 to extract all the ground coffee flavors. How long you leave it affects how strong will be the final cold brew.

Though we generally store cold brew coffee in the fridge, you don't have to drink cold coffee.

By playing with immersion time and the number of coffee grounds, you can have cold brew coffee concentrate.

cold brew coffee

You can use that to dilute cold brew coffee by adding hot water to it. And here's how you make a nice cup of hot coffee.

Why Make Cold Brew Coffee?

It takes much longer to cold brew coffee than preparing an espresso. Or even a French press brew. But you shouldn't' underestimate the advantages of making cold brew coffee.

The best cold brew coffee enhances the body like little else. It guarantees a smooth cup even with a problematic dark roast.

Drip coffee preserves more of the high aromatics, but cold brew is ideal for those who love decadent flavors.

As a matter of personal taste, I can say I'm among them. Sometimes a strong cup of joe just hits the spot.

Cold brewing makes for a more straightforward method and needs less fancy equipment, too. So it's easy to start your cold brew hobby cheaply.

Making Cold Brew and Making Iced Coffee: What's the Difference?

We make cold brew by steeping coffee grounds in water over time, whereas iced coffee is a whole other thing. It isn't even a brewing method.

Iced coffee is a hot coffee drink that you add syrup and milk to; that you cool down with ice cubes. It's delicious, but it's more of a café drink than a coffee brewing method.

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee

You can prepare your first coffee, cold brew by following these steps:

  1. Get some bottled water with low mineral content or keep ready a jug of filtered water.
  2. Time to prepare the coffee beans for a cold brew. Take out your burr grinder and crush the beans to extra coarse coffee grounds. If you got a coffee store to make pre-ground coffee for you, ignore this step.
  3. An optional step: if you want to try to use bright and acidic coffee beans for a cold brew, you can try with blooming. Blooming means you dampen the coffee grounds with warm water. This step unlocks some of the nuances muted by the cold brew method. Give it a try and see if you notice any difference.
  4. Coffee grounds and water hop in the jar together. Don't shake it, even if you're tempted to (I know I am). Just let it rest, and the extraction process will do the magic.
  5. Let it rest for at least 12 hours in a nice, dark, and cool place.

Coffee cold brew makes should taste, smooth, creamy, and chocolate. If yours does, congratulations. Cold brewing success. Your cold brew coffee is ready!

[Coffee for cold brew shouldn't be x and y. ]

Differences between Whole Bean and Pre Ground Coffee

Whole bean coffee carried by specialty roasters sells as either green or roasted. Roasteries grind coffee right before selling, on request.

If you have doubts about the correct grind size, the first few times, ask them to give you pre-ground coffee for cold brew. It'll give you an idea of how it looks.

A few less specialized retailers and stores carry whole beans too, nowadays. The quality depends on luck and what stores they are.

Supermarkets sell pre-ground coffee anywhere you can think of, either in bags or as coffee capsules.

You've already seen it: pre-ground beans from stores are cheap, convenient, and unremarkable. So make sure to avoid them.

Of course, the differences don't stop here. Whether coffee comes as a whole bean or as pre-ground coffee affects the quality of your cold brew— of any brew, really. One issue showed by pre-ground coffee is staling.

If you're unlucky and buy by the wrong retailers, it can come with a lack of traceability and unclear labels.

The best-by date might be missing too, and you'll know you're dealing with old coffee beans.

Another one: it might be unclear what percentages of Robusta vs. Arabica are the ground beans.

Plus, most of the pre-ground coffee is too fine and made with drip, French press, or Moka in mind. That means it's ground too fine for immersion cold brew.

If you want cold brew coffee, it's best if you go to a roaster. The best cold brew coffee beans keep longer. Roasters wrap them correctly to avoid exposure to air and light.

And since the beans are intact, that creates one more barrier between the oils and the outside.

Do not underestimate how much of a significant difference freshness is.

Why Choose Whole Bean Coffee?

There are at least three reasons to choose whole bean coffee over ground beans for your cold brew. 

  1. As said above, is that you will get the best coffee beans, fragrant and tasty. 
  2. If you buy whole bean coffee and learn about it, you will better judge the coffee bean quality. And if you know what you're doing, you'll enjoy high-quality coffee so much more. 
  3. All the best coffee beans are single-origin and sold as whole beans. You will access a broader market than commercial brands that too often care more about quantity rather than quality. Mostly they sell pre-ground coffees. Their products end up with no particular taste.

The best coffee beans with single-origin coffees are full of variety and flavor.

Flavor Profiles of Whole Bean Coffee: What Are They?

You cannot just go to a roastery and buy with no rhyme or reason to make the best cold brew coffee.

You need to learn what's the best fit for this brewing process, and the way to start with that is to get an idea about the flavor notes in coffee beans.

In what type of beans are they, and where they grow such beans. You might also have to ask how dark the roast is.

Why is a particular blend marked for cold brew coffee? What's the aftertaste, and is it a sweet coffee?

It sounds like a lot, but be aware of these things, and you will be making the best cold brew coffee in no time.

If you want to speed things along, you could also ask to taste a single origin or two at your favorite roaster.

flavours of whole bean coffee

Make sure you ask the barista to brew them with different methods. Comparison helps and is an excellent way to begin. You can recognize a coffee:

  • By sweetness: Coffee with marked sweetness is excellent for a beginner. It doesn't need any sugar or milk.
  • By acidity: Acidic coffees tend to have bright flavors.
  • By mouthfeel: Coffees can be thin in your mouth or thick as syrup. Mouthfeel affects aftertaste.
  • By flavor: You'll taste notes, such as fruitiness, nuttiness, florals, citruses, and come to recognize them by experience.

You should know that the best coffee beans for cold brew don't always equal the bunch's most aromatic.

Cold brews favor chocolates, malts, and liquor notes in coffee; they work exceptionally well with a dark roast, offering a dulled bitterness and a smooth cup.

Without heat, they cannot capture high-end aromatics and the tartness of prized coffees.

Arabica and Robusta Coffee Beans

These are the two main varieties of coffee trees.

Arabica: Arabica beans are most widely available at roasteries. It's the most well-known coffee parent tree, and farmers have been making hybrids and raising heirloom Arabicas for a long while.

It's a favorite for how many flavors this varietal produces and how well tested it is. Bourbon, for example, is an Arabica coffee.

Robusta: Specialists consider Robusta coffee beans inferior because of their flatter flavor profile. It's all chocolate notes and nuts. Robusta, however, improves the mouthfeel of some coffee blends.

For example, in espresso, the syrupy mouthfeel is often given by Robusta beans. Plus, Robusta actually makes pretty good cold brew coffee. Both with cream and without.

The harsh and bitter flavors dull to nothing through the cold brewing method. And the cold brew retains all of the Robusta full-body and nuttiness.

Single Origin Coffee and Cold Brew

  • Africa and the Middle East: Coffees with florals and fruit notes, high acidity, and a decent body.
  • India: Indian is home to coffees with medium body, fruity and mellow tartness. A few good Robusta coffees come from here, too.
  • South-East Asia: South-East Asia produces coffees with honey sweetness, smooth and fruity.
  • Central America: Coffees with mild acidity and strong fruit and chocolate notes.
  • South America: Full-bodied, sweet, spice, and chocolate notes. Some fruit. Very much like Central America.

Coffee beans for cold brew come from all over the world. The great variety of flavors reflect how many different growing conditions there are. And how many coffee tree varieties.

But for the best coffee for cold brew, it's better to keep to full-bodied coffee beans with mellow acidity. Fruit flavors are popular, too, for this method.

Single Origin and Coffee Blends

Nowadays, single origins coffees are the default for a coffee company to sell. They refer to the country of origin of a particular coffee harvest and are useful to a point.

A single origin might highlight the best beans a bit more than a blend. But to appreciate a coffee uniqueness, one should look at micro-lots or single coffee estates.

Even within a single farm, altitude can make a big difference in quality and taste.

Blends, like the name suggests, are blends between different single-origin coffees. Or between Arabica and other varietals. Many retailers market them to sell average coffee beans at a premium price.

Other artisan blends are a way to improve on a defective lot. Or to enhance particular aspects of coffee, like Robusta and mouthfeel.

In any case, some of them work well for cold brew. One example is by stone Street Coffee Company. Their Stone Street Coffee Cold Brew Reserve is a high quality 100% Arabica blend.

And if you look around, you'll find decent blends at reasonable prices that are excellent for everyday use.

The Best Coffee Beans for Cold Brew: A Couple of Tips and 5 Brands

I styled a small list below for anyone who doesn't know where to look for the best coffee for cold brew. This year, these are the coffees that made it again and again on top of 2020 lists.

Let me know how you enjoyed them if you happen to try them out.

But first, I'm going to share a couple more things to look out for when you go on to experiment with other coffee beans.

The best coffee for cold brew (and, well, in general) always comes with a best by date. Do not trust any label that forgets this little detail.

When the date is there, only buy if the coffee roast date is within two weeks of purchase.

Any longer than that is stale coffee— and coffee begins to lose flavor already minutes after roasting. Check that your coffee's origin is evident on the label.

Low acidity, 100% Arabica is excellent, the best beans for cold brew coffee. But for this method, also try out Robusta. And, last, never buy too much at once.

Check out this list. All of these coffees are favorites, and the Stone Street Cold Brew and Tiny Footprint especially deserve a shoutout:

  • Tiny Footprint Coffee Organic Cold Press Elixir by Tiny Footprint Coffee
  • Stone Street Coffee Cold Brew Reserve by the Stone Coffee Street Company;
  • Bizzy Organic Cold Brew by Bizzy Coffee
  • Cold Buzz Hazelnut Coffee by Cold Buzz Coffee
  • Koffee Kult Dark Roast by Koffee Cult

How to Store Whole Bean Coffee

The best way to prevent coffee from staling is to buy just enough coffee for a couple of weeks. And, of course, to consume it within that timeframe.

Yet, you can do a bit more to slow down the process if you want to enjoy your cold brew coffee beans at a slower pace.

Just don't expect them to be as fresh as the first few days after roasting.

  1. Get a sealable container for your coffee—exposure to air oxidates the beans.
  2. Keep your coffee in a cupboard, or make your sealable container dark glass. Light also accelerates staling, and sunlight might even cause some fermentation.
  3. DO NOT PUT YOUR COFFEE IN THE FRIDGE. Fridges are a hotbed of contaminants and have far too high moisture for coffee storage.
  4. You need to put your coffee somewhere dry and cool.

Choosing Your Cold Brew Coffee Equipment

So, there are some things you'll need if you want your cold brew to be top-notch. Making cold brew coffee doesn't require expensive, state of the art equipment, though. What you need is:

  1. glass container: yes, really. You can make coffee in a simple mason jar if you're just starting out. If you end up liking it, upgrade to a glass pitcher with steel mesh. But no reason you should spend much before that.
  2. grinder: I recommend you get a burr grinder, as it makes even-sized coffee grounds. Nowadays, you can find many of these anywhere, and manuals models even come pretty cheaply. If you don't want to invest in one right away, ask your favorite coffee store to grind the whole bean coffee for you. Make sure you mention the coffee is specifically for cold brew, though.
  3. gram scale: Try to find one with precision to two decimal points. If you cannot find it, that's okay. We all start somewhere.

Coffee Grinders: Grind your Own Coffee Grounds

Let's say you bit the bullet and ended up investing in a grinder. If you're starting out, try getting one for small servings since you don't know how much you will make in a week.

Bigger models might better only if you know you're grinding a lot of coffee for many people.

Blade grinders: You should avoid these. Electric blade grinders are convenient, cheap, while professional burr grinders expensive. But they make for subpar coffee.

Coffee ground with blades creates too much powder and variable grind size. Even with the best 100% Arabica beans that you can afford, if you use these grinders, likely as not, you'll get bitter coffee.

It's hard for coffee grounds to come out even in size.

Burr grinders: Burr grinders crush coffee to a consistent size. That's because you can adjust the distance between burrs to your preference, and it just takes a bit more work.

You can have your beans coarsely ground or fine, and even mix them if you're in the mood to experiment.

Professional grinders can be expensive, but manual, stainless steel grinders come cheap. Just remember to swap the burrs when they get dull!

Grind size is essential. Different flavors seep through with different sizes: as more coffee ground reacts with water, the more the oils are released.

How to Grind Your Cold Brew Coffee at Home and Why

You should grind only so much coffee as you're using for the brew you're making at first.

Weight your beans in on your gram scale (around 60g/l is the default to play around with). A jar of cold brew can last you the whole week.

Ground coffee comes in different sizes, each good for a different brew:

  • Extra coarse
  • Coarse grind
  • Medium grind
  • Fine grind
  • Turkish grind

The one you should care about is an extra coarse grind. If you want to make the best cold brew coffee you can, you need to counter the long extraction times.

Less surface in contact with water dampens the coffee beans' strength. Extra coarse, pebble-like grounds are the way to go.

 Try to get a side to side comparison with a coarse grind if you're trying it out for the first time.

grind coffee beans

Dark Roast, Medium Roast, Light Roast. What are they?

Light, medium, or dark roast are the roasts you can make with coffee beans. The process makes up a big part of what turns good quality coffee into the best coffee for cold brew.

Contrary to roasted beans you buy online, whole beans, while still green, have a far greater shelf life.

But it's advisable to always buy in small batches. With so many variables changing the coffee flavor and quality and how it reacts to roasting, it's better to be cautious.

You might find that the lot shows defects, and you plain don't like it, regardless of the roast. Remember, even with high-quality beans, how you find a particular coffee is a matter of personal taste.

Just like grind size, any of these roasts highlight different flavors in your cold brew:

  • Dark roast: A dark roast pulls out chocolate notes and nuttiness.
  • Medium roast: A medium roast rounds the taste in coffee—a balance between tartness, high notes, and body.
  • Light roast: A light roast preserves acidity and flavor notes more compared to the others. This doesn't make it necessarily the best coffee for cold brew.

Medium or dark roast makes the best coffee for cold brew. If you want intense chocolate and malt, dark roast is the one—medium roast rounds out these notes with hints of fruit were present in the beans.

roasted coffee beans picture

A word of caution, though. A dark roast brought too far will make your cold brew flat and bitter. If you're doing it yourself, try keeping at a medium roast when starting out.

Most beans do well with it. Thankfully, the cold brewing process is very forgiving, especially on the coffee's body.

Light-medium and light roast can still make an excellent cold brew coffee, but it is hard for an immersion cold brew to highlight all the taste nuances. If you go with a light roast, it should have strong fruit notes.

It's also good if you like citruses since those come through the most in this case.

Even like this, the coffee cold brew makes will always be lower in acidity compared to a standard pour-over drip machine.

The cold brewing process loses to a drip brew when using light to medium roasts.

I hope all this turned out useful, folks. Enjoy your delicious cold brew coffee!

Brandon Pierce

About the author

My name is Brandon and I love cold-brew coffee. If you're a fan of everything homebrew, then we'll get along just fine. I also enjoy riding my Onewheel around town, and going on adventures with my future wife! As an online work-from-home advocate, it's important that I stay connected to the world while being able to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

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