Reviews you can trust.See why.
The Best Bottled Cold-Brew Coffee
Once available only in high-end coffee shops, cold-brew coffees now fill supermarket shelves. We sampled both concentrates and ready-to-drink versions to find the best.
Published Jan. 15, 2021. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 23: Breakfast of Champions
Grady's Cold Brew New Orleans–Style Coffee Concentrate
What You Need To Know
Once upon a time, cold-brew coffee could be found only at the trendiest coffee shops and in the home kitchens of the most devoted coffee drinkers. Now it’s increasingly available and appears to be here to stay; many grocery stores stock dozens of different cold brews, and even more are available for purchase online. DIY cold brew generally requires 12 to 24 hours of steeping time, so these premade options are tempting timesavers.
Some store-bought cold brews are available as concentrates, ultraintense brews that are intended to be diluted with water or milk to make individual cups of coffee. Others are sold as ready-to-drink products that don’t require dilution. We purchased eight kinds of packaged unsweetened cold-brew coffee: four concentrates and four ready-to-drink brews. They were priced from about $0.05 to about $0.40 per fluid ounce. Three of the products we sampled were brewed with chicory root, an ingredient commonly found in New Orleans–style coffee. We sampled all the products plain and with milk, taking note of each coffee’s flavor, body, and acidity.
How Cold-Brew Coffee Is Made
Many factors affect coffee's flavor, and one of them is brewing time. Hot water (from 195 to 205 degrees) pulls flavorful compounds out of ground coffee quickly, so hot coffee typically brews for a relatively short period of time—less than 8 minutes. Cold-brew coffee takes much longer to brew because the water is cooler (typically 40 to 80 degrees) and pulls the flavorful molecules out of the ground coffee more slowly. For cold brew, commercial manufacturers often let their coffee and water steep in large tanks for 10 hours or more, and our at-home DIY method takes 24 hours. Cold water also doesn't extract as many harsh acids from coffee as hot water does, which is why cold-brew coffee is known for being smoother and less acidic than hot brewed coffee.
Concentrating on Concentrates
Whether done on an industrial scale or in your own kitchen, the cold-brewing process traditionally yields a concentrate that is later diluted to the strength of a standard cup of coffee. Of the products in our lineup, we were able to confirm that four are brewed as concentrates and one is brewed at regular strength. The other three companies declined to share information about their methods. Regardless of the strength to which it is brewed, there are advantages to making and selling cold-brew concentrate. Concentrates are easier and cheaper to produce, package, store, and distribute on an industrial scale, since using less water saves space throughout the process, and the finished product weighs less. These storage and price advantages a...
Everything We Tested
Ready to drink
“Smooth and not too acidic,” with a “subtle nutty and chocolaty flavor,” this ready-to-drink brew went over well with many tasters, especially when sampled without milk. Tasters praised its body, calling it “velvety.”
This “nutty and bold” cold brew held up well to milk, with one taster noting, “the coffee flavor and intensity come through in a nice way, and it doesn't feel overwhelmed by dairy richness.” Other tasters enjoyed its “smooth and drinkable” body and noticed notes of vanilla, chocolate, and smoke.
When tasting this coffee both with and without milk, many tasters enjoyed its intense flavor, noting its “dimension and complexity” and calling it “smoky” and “earthy.” It was too acidic for others, who called its acidity “overwhelming.” Some were put off by its “dark,” “strong” flavors, noting there was “nothing to smooth out the bitterness.”
Some tasters praised this coffee’s flavor and body both with and without milk, calling it “very drinkable with a nice, balanced flavor” and noticing notes of “maple syrup and brown sugar.” Others found it “weak” and “thin,” with one taster commenting, “I need more coffee in my coffee.”
Available for purchase at these stores: www.stokbrew.com/where-to-buy/#48oz-black-unsweet
This cold brew was praised by a few tasters, who called it “fruity and bright” and said they “liked that [they] could drink it straight up.” Some tasters found it too acidic but noted that milk improved it, calling it a “full-flavored, bright cup of iced coffee that's mellowed slightly (in a good way).”
Tasters picked up on a bouquet of flavors in this chicory-infused brew, including lemon, cinnamon, chocolate, and orange. If you like the unique complexity of coffee with chicory root added, this is our top New Orleans–style cold brew.
Available for purchase at these stores: www.gradyscoldbrew.com/pages/store-locator
A few tasters praised this coffee’s “balance of acidity,” deeming it “very bright” and noting that it “will wake you right up.” Others were turned off by the acidity, calling it “sour and unripe.” Though we diluted it according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, many found it too watery both with and without milk.
Available for purchase at these stores: www.bizzycoffee.com/pages/store-locator
Some tasters noted that this “smooth” brew wasn’t “too acidic or bitter” and that it was “nonoffensive,” reminding them “of iced tea.” However, many tasters said that this coffee was “weak” when diluted according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Available for purchase at these stores: www.coolbrew.com/coolbrew-partners/
Reviews you can trust
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Chase is an associate editor for ATK Reviews. He's an epidemiologist-turned-equipment tester and biscuit enthusiast.