How to Make Good Cold Brew Without Using a Scale

How to make good cold brew header image

We all know that measuring is the key to good results but hey, who’s got time for that. So how can you quickly throw together your cold brew without a scale? I did some digging and here’s what you want to know.

The most important for getting good cold brew is to get the ratio right. The ratio you want to use tells you the amount of coffee grounds for every amount of water. Cold brew ratios range from 1:3 (coffee grounds:water) to 1:8. Using the same cup, put one cup of grounds in a container and then add three to eight cups of water.  

Want to know which ratio you should use and how to fix your cold brew if you get it wrong? That’s what I’ll get in to below.

What makes good cold brew coffee?

Getting your cold brew right is mostly about getting the right coffee grounds to water ratio.

Around the internet you can find different ratios but most of them will be about 1:3 to 1:8.

A 1:3 ratio means one part of coffee for 3 parts of water. If you’re confused which number is water and which is coffee, just remember that the final beverage is 99% water so the larger number is always going to be water.

So, cold brew using a 1:3 ratio is much stronger than using a 1:8 ratio.

A ratio of 1:8 means 1 oz. of coffee per cup of water. Or about 29 grams of coffee grounds per 235 ml of water.

A ratio of 1:3 is ‘a bit’ more coffee with 78 grams of coffee grounds per 235 milliliter of water.

A ratio of 1:3 to 1:5 is for brewing concentrate. This will create a very strong cold brew which has to be diluted quite a bit before drinking. This is good for brewing big batches.

A ratio of 1:6 to 1:8 is less strong and more suitable to drink straight. Keep in mind, even those ratios are meant to be served over ice. The ice will melt quickly and dilute the brew.

Personally I think a ratio of 1:7 is good. It strikes the right balance of caffeine and taste for me while also being able to finish the batch before it starts going off. You just pour a cup over ice and it has the right balance.

Can you brew coffee the night before that tastes good?

However, if you’re not sure about which strength you like, it’s better to start somewhere in the middle (1:6). This will be pretty strong but it’s better to start on the stronger side than the weak side. That’s because it’s easier to dilute coffee that’s too strong with ice and even water than it is to make weak coffee stronger.

So getting the amount of coffee for the amount of liquid right is important. But how can we do that?

How to get the right amounts for cold brew?

So, it’s not only important to get the right amount of coffee but, the right amount of coffee for the amount of water you put in the container.

So it’s not as simple as just getting the right amount of coffee because it’s just one variable of the problem. But, luckily it’s not that difficult to solve.

Does cold brew coffee break a fast?

Let’s say we don’t have a scale and nothing to measure liquids. How are we going to solve that problem?

Well, as frustrating as ‘cups’ are in recipes for someone not from the US, they are the solution to the problem here. Just translate the ratio to cups. So if you want a ratio of 1:6, use one cup of coffee grounds for six cups of water. It doesn’t even matter which cup you use as long as you use the same cup to measure the coffee grounds and water.

You can also just get a cheap scale. I’ve got this one (Amazon link). It’s cheap and effective. For the price this is a good place to start.

Fraction cups

It gets a bit more difficult if you want to use an amount of water where you don’t end up with a whole cup of grounds. For example; you want to make cold brew with a ratio of 1:5 but, you want to use 8 cups of water.

To calculate how many cups of grounds you need, you simply calculate 8/5=1.6.

This is the amount of water you’re going to use divided by the larger number (water part) of the ratio you want to use. In this case you’d need 1.6 cups of grounds to get to the right mix.

Measuring whole cups is easy. Measuring fractions of cups by eye is not going to be very accurate. Here’s how you can come close;

  • Take an ‘even’ glass. Just a straight glass without any shape to it. A long drink glass is perfect. This way 1 inch in the glass is always the same amount and, in a glass it’s much easier to see.
  • You can eyeball it from here. It’s not too difficult to see what’s half a glass. Want 0.6 cups? Just add a little after the halfway point. It’s not going to be 100% accurate but come quite close.
  • If you want to be precise, measure the height of the glass (on the inside). If the glass is 4 inches high, every inch is 0.25 cup. You can even put stripes on the glass with a dry erase marker for precise measurements.

The last part is quite a bit of effort and it’s probably easier to just take out your scale. It’s the best option for being precise if you don’t have a scale though.

Use a ‘straight’ glass for better results.

Some things to remember

  • Make sure your container is big enough to contain all the liquid and coffee grounds before you start.
  • Measure out the coffee grounds first. This way the cup isn’t wet because you measured the water first.
  • Keep in mind that you’ll still serve it over ice and dilute it a little bit. So six cups of water doesn’t really translate into six cups of coffee. On the one hand some liquid will stay in the coffee grounds you take out. But on the other hand, your cup will probably be at least 1/3rd ice so you’ll get a bit more than 6 servings out of a batch with 6 cups of water.
  • Make enough to have enough for a few days so you don’t have to make a batch every day. But also don’t make so much you can’t finish it within a week. After 4 or 5 days the taste will start degrading.

What happens if you have the wrong ratio?

What happens if you got it wrong and you end up with the wrong ratio of coffee to water? Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal and pretty easy to fix.

Too much coffee

Using too much coffee for the amount of water is pretty difficult in cold brew. That’s because it’s pretty difficult to get too much coffee grounds in cold brew in the first place. Some people make cold brew concentrate with a ratio as low as 1:3.

That’s a lot of coffee for the amount of water and it’s actually pretty hard to get there by accident, especially if you’re shooting for 1:6 or similar.

Suggested post: Can you make Decaf cold brew?

But let’s say you drop a bag of coffee grounds in your cold brew container. Well, what happens is that you just end up with cold brew concentrate.  And that’s easy to solve. Just add water and/or ice. Cold brew is pretty much always diluted even in higher ratios. So adding some extra to get it to your preferred taste is not a big deal.

If you think the taste is too strong, you can also try adding some of the popular add-in tastes. Cold brew is often mixed with other things than water and ice which changes the taste. Click here to find 12 of the most popular add-ins.

My cold brew is too weak!

If your cold brew is too strong, the solution is very simple. Just add more water or ice. That will fix that problem really easy.

But what about when it’s too weak? Well, don’t be so stingy with the coffee but that’s for next time. What can you do now?

Should you keep cold brew in the fridge?

You can’t just take water away, right? Well technically you could through evaporation. There are some problems with evaporation though. You can do it in two ways that both don’t really work;

  • At room temperature. This takes too long. The coffee would probably go bad before enough water evaporated to make a significant difference.
  • Heat. Heat does make the process faster but you have to heat it for an extended period of time. Probably an hour or so. This will make the cold brew much more acidic and less pleasant tasting.

Suggested post: Can you warm up cold brew coffee?

Both those ways will highly likely result in cold brew that doesn’t taste as good as you’d like it to. So what are some other options?

  • Mix. Make another batch that’s stronger and mix them together. Only do this if you drink a lot of cold brew though. Otherwise you won’t be able to finish it before it goes bad. You can also just buy a bottle of cold brew concentrate from the shop and mix with that but, that kind of defeats the purpose of making your own.  
  • Add tastes. If you want to get some extra taste, you can add in some taste like orange juice, tonic or vanilla. Sure it won’t taste more like coffee but it will create a drink that isn’t so watery. This is not going to add any caffeine of course. Find popular cold brew mixers here.
  • Don’t dilute. Cold brew is usually served over ice. But that does dilute the taste of the coffee. The total caffeine in the cup stays the same but the taste becomes weaker. So by taking out the ice, you’ll end up with a stronger cup of cold brew. To get it as cold as possible, put your cup in the freezer for 30 minutes before pouring coffee in it.
Don’t let your coffee get this weak…

Favorite cold brew tools

With these items, you will brew better cold brew

  • Grinder: Fresh beans have to be ground. A hand grinder like the Hario Slim (Amazon) is affordable yet effective hand grinder that will improve your cold brew.
  • Scale: The amount of grounds you use makes a big impact on what your cold brew tastes like. A simple set of scales will makes your brews more consistent. I’ve been using this one (Amazon) for over a year wit h great success. Not the most aesthetic but effective.

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