Cold brew coffee is a great beverage choice if you’re looking for a caffeine boost but don’t prefer hot drinks. You can use a pitcher and a filter, a French press, or a special cold brew coffee maker when brewing cold brew coffee. But does cold brew need to be refrigerated?
After brewing, it’s best to store the coffee inside the refrigerator, though it’s not mandatory.
Does cold brew coffee need refrigeration during and after brewing?
You can brew cold brew coffee at room temperature or in the refrigerator, depending on your preferences. The same goes for storage after brewing. For a strong flavor within the shortest time possible, you should steep cold brew coffee at room temperature for 12 hours. However, refrigeration is the best option to extend the brew’s lifespan after brewing.
To get the same intense flavor profile while brewing inside the refrigerator, allow a 24-hour steeping time. Caffeine and the flavor compounds in coffee grounds dissolve slower in cold water, hence the longer brew time while steeping cold brew coffee in the refrigerator.
If you wish to brew cold brew coffee quicker, let it steep at room temperature. The caffeine will extract in 4-6 hours, while the compounds in the coffee grounds that determine the flavor will take about twice as long. Therefore, in 12 hours, you should have coffee with a fully developed taste.
Meanwhile, if you’re done brewing cold brew coffee but don’t intend to drink it immediately, you should store it in the refrigerator to keep it fresher for longer. Inside the fridge, cold brew coffee will stay fresh for up to 7 days. This makes refrigeration a great storage option for those who prefer to brew large batches of coffee at once and pour a cup whenever needed.
Storing in the fridge also means that the cold brew coffee is always chilled and ready to serve. You don’t have to add ice cubes which dilute the beverage and affect its taste.
You can also store cold brew coffee outside the fridge at room temperature, though it’s not recommended. Brewed coffee stored at room temperature has a short lifespan of 24-48 hours. After that, your cold brew coffee will go rancid and have a flat smell and taste due to the oil going bad.
Moreover, while cold brew coffee stored at room temperature stays reasonably cool, most coffee drinkers prefer chilled cold brew coffee. You may, therefore, have to add ice cubes to cool the beverage further, thus diluting it and diminishing the taste in the process.
How long can cold brew go unrefrigerated?
Cold brew coffee lasts for 16-20 hours outside the refrigerator. After 24 hours, the coffee will develop a bitter flavor profile with a woody taste. And after 3-4 days, it would be best not to drink it. If you want cold brew coffee to last longer unrefrigerated, dilute the coffee with a little less water.
By contrast, a cold brew stored in the refrigerator can last for 7-10 days before going rancid. The main difference here is heat. At room temperature, the higher temperature levels speed up the oxidation extraction of flavors and oils from the coffee. As such, the coffee becomes stale more quickly.
The shelf life is even shorter for specialty cold brew coffee drinks that contain milk additives. For example, cold brew coffee containing milk stored at room temperature should be consumed within 1-2 hours. Meanwhile, cold brew coffee with milk and then stored in the refrigerator has a 1-2 day shelf life.
Note: To confirm whether your cold brew coffee has gone stale or not, watch out for bad smells or mold growth.
Does bottled cold brew need to be refrigerated?
If you’ve bought bottled iced coffee, you don’t have to store it inside the refrigerator. You can keep it at room temperature under cold and dry conditions so long as you plan to consume it within the expiry timeline on the packaging. The sealed container keeps the cold brew coffee fresher for longer by preventing the exposure of the coffee to the air. Oxidation occurs when cold brew coffee is exposed to air, stripping away the coffee flavors.
Take note, though, that only cold brew that’s 100% coffee can be kept unrefrigerated. Bottled specialty coffee drinks containing dairy products and other additives may not last as long if stored at room temperature.
That being said, refrigeration extends the shelf life of pretty much anything. Therefore, if you want to extend the freshness of your bottled cold brew coffee beyond the expiry date inscribed on the packaging, keep it inside the fridge.
Does Starbucks cold brew need to be refrigerated?
Starbucks bottled iced coffee doesn’t have to be refrigerated. You can store it at room temperature for up to a week, so long as it stays unopened. However, keeping the drink in the fridge keeps it cold, as the drink is meant to be enjoyed chilled.
Meanwhile, if you’ve already opened your Starbucks bottled cold brew coffee bottle, it’s best to store it in the fridge to extend its shelf life. It can last for 8-12 hours under refrigeration before going stale and losing flavor. By contrast, a Starbucks cold brew bottle that’s been opened only lasts for 30-60 minutes under room temperature before the changes in flavor start becoming noticeable.
i. The National Coffee Association (NCA): How to brew coffee