The biggest mistake you're making with cold brew coffee

When it's hot outside and your day is dragging extra hard, cold brew coffee can be a refreshing pick-me-up. We're not talking about regular old hot coffee poured over a cup of ice, either. We're talking coffee beans that have been steeped for hours upon hours until they're transformed into a highly caffeinated beverage with an ultra-smooth coffee flavor that you just can't beat.

Making your own cold brew coffee can save you precious pennies. When Starbucks launched its cold brew in 2015, a grande the grande would set you back by an average of $3.25, 60 cents more than the cost of its ice coffee (via Chicago Tribune). Thankfully, the drink is pretty simple to do at home. But if you're not paying attention to a few key parts of the brewing process, your cold brew might end up tasting not-so-smooth, but rather unpleasantly bitter. All the caffeine in the world can't cover up an undesirable flavor. So, read on and avoid making these mistakes with cold brew coffee.

Coarsely ground beans are the key to good cold brew coffee

In order to turn coffee beans into cold brew coffee, you need to grind and steep them. If your instinct is to grind your beans into a fine powder, pump the brakes. Michael Phillips, the director of training at California-based coffee company Blue Bottle, explained to Bon Appetit beans that are ground too finely and then steeped for 12 hours or more can "over-extract" and turn your brew bitter. So, stick to a coarse grind and shoot for something that resembles coarse sugar (via The Kitchn). 

As for what beans to choose, it turns out the quality of the beans doesn't matter all that much and you shouldn't be wasting your high-end stuff on cold brew. According to Baked, Brewed, Beautiful, dark beans lend a smoother, less acidic flavor than lightly roasted beans. And you can even use beans that are a few months old if you have some sitting around.

Steep and strain your cold brew coffee slowly

Patience is a virtue, even when you're fiending for caffeine. If you rush the soaking time of your coffee, it can lead to disappointing results. The Kitchn recommends letting your coarsely ground coffee beans steep in the refrigerator for 18 to 24 hours. Any less time than that will yield a weak brew. On the other hand, more than 24 hours will turn your brew bitter, according to Cold Brew Hub. So, watch the clock and when your beans have been sufficiently steeped, it's time to strain them. And yes, this is something you want to do slowly as well.

The Kitchn warns that squeezing and pressing your cold brew through cheesecloth and a strainer makes it – you guessed it – bitter. Let your cold brew strain at its own pace without forcing it and you'll have a smooth, sweet cold brew when you're done. When you're ready to serve, don't forget your cold brew is concentrated so you'll want to combine a 50/50 ratio of coffee and water in your glass (via Bon Appetit). Cream, milk, or milk alternatives will reduce the intensity as well. The concentrate will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator but the flavor will be best if you use it within a week. Cheers to your perfectly smooth, less bitter cold brew!