The history of cold brew coffee (and how to brew it at home)

The history of cold brew coffee (and how to brew it at home)

The origin of coffee dates back to 575 AD in Yemen. It dates back to a goatherder called Kaldi. It dates back to a monastery in Abyssinia in the highlands of the country. And it dates back to a time of pilgrimages, religious excursions and elated goats. Cold-brew coffee, however, has another story entirely. But, if you’re a coffee fanatic like us, it’s equally as fascinating.

Here’s the history of cold-brew coffee (and how to make it at home).

The 1600s, Kyoto, and Dutch traders

Kyoto-style coffee is the earliest recorded cold-brew coffee, and it dates back to the 1600s. As the story goes, Dutch traders used to make cold-brew coffee concentrate to take on long voyages so they could have coffee aboard their ship. It’s argued that they’d brew up hot water and use this concentrate to make hot coffee.

When Dutch traders reached Japan – who had a long tradition of brewing up cold tea – a new method of producing cold coffee came with it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But history doesn’t stop there…

Because of its concentration levels, cold-brew coffee became an efficient way of producing hot coffee across the continents, and by the 1800s, cold-brew coffee had spread to much of Europe, America and Asia. Households could stock up on cold coffee concentrate and cut it with boiling water whenever they needed an afternoon pick-me-up. (Fun fact: because of its concentration levels, cold-brew coffee played a vital role in military provisioning.)

By the 1960’s, Ueshima Coffee Co released a spin on the country’s popular flavored milk drinks by offering a coffee-forward drink with added milk and sugar. And shortly afterwards, Todd Simpson travelled to Peru to source coffee plants and discovered Peruvian cold-brew coffee. It wasn’t long before he returned with an idea for a cold-brew coffee machine: The Toddy Cold Brewing System.

Modern cold brews

Today’s cold-brew coffees come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and different brewing methods are applied to produce a variety of refreshing beverages. The commercial chains like Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks have bottled frappuccinos filled with all sorts of syrups, sugars and milks.

More specialty coffee shops, however, are selling Nitro cold brew. Poured like a beer from a tap, Nitro cold brew was first introduced in 2012 and, quite simply, it’s cold-brew coffee in a keg, which is infused with nitrogen to produce a beer-like cup of refreshing coffee.

Cold-brew coffee is not as complex as it looks

Kyoto-style cold-brew coffee might look intimidating, but it isn’t as complex as it looks. In short, this method of brewing cold coffee involves dripping water into coffee drop by drop for an extended period of time. Because it’s a bead-by-bead method of filtering water through coffee, you’re left with a highly concentrated cold coffee that is rich in unique flavours, without the spoil of heat.

How to make your own cold brew

First things first: iced coffee is not cold brew. If you want to make iced coffee, it’s a simple process. Pour some cold water or milk into your espresso and add some ice cubes. It really is that simple.

Cold-brew, however, is a little like baking – it requires you to follow a recipe, and then wait a while so that it can do its thing.

Here’s a simple recipe to follow from our friends at Home Grounds.

Simple Cold Brew Coffee Recipe

Here’s how to make cold brew at home, right now.

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Steep time: 15 hours

Total Time: 5 minutes

Serving: 2 cups


  • 1 cup coffee beans (coarse ground)
  • 5 cups water (filtered water)

Materials you’ll need

  • 1 mason jar / cold brew coffee maker
  • 1 Cheesecloth or paper coffee filter or a fine-mesh sieve (if using a mason jar)


  1. Measure 1:5 coffee to water.
  2. Coarse ground your beans.
  3. Add ground coffee and water to your mason jar or brewer and give a good stir.
  4. Steep for 15 hours. If possible, steep in your fridge. If your jar does not fit in your fridge, it’s okay. Steep at room temperature.
  5. Strain into a clean vessel or jar. If you’re using a big batch brewer, it will already have a filtration process. If you’re using a mason jar; strain your brew through a cheesecloth or use a coffee filter and filter it like you would with drip coffee.
  6. Mix and enjoy: add milk, or water at a ratio of 1:1 and pour over some ice cubes. Or see our recipe list below.

While Kyoto-style cold brew might be a little more complex, brewing your own cold brew at home doesn’t have to be. To produce great results, it really is this simple.

Just make sure you use fresh beans, okay?

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