I have an addiction to Starbucks cold brew iced coffee. If you’re not familiar with cold brew, it’s prepared through a slow extraction process that’s kept cool or room temperature from start to finish — the coffee never gets heated up. This results in a smoother, less acidic drink. And the Starbucks variety has a very unique, strong dark chocolate flavor that I can’t seem to find anywhere else.
My addiction has been problematic for two reasons. The first one is pretty obvious: Buying coffee at Starbucks is unnecessarily expensive. Spending $5 per day on coffee instead of investing that money in a stock market index fund will cost somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000 over a 30-year period, which certainly won’t help with early retirement.
I never came close to buying Starbucks every day, but spending $4-5 on a drink felt kinda dumb no matter how frequently I was doing it. So Lauren and I came up with a hack to get BOGO Starbucks cold brew every time we went. Unfortunately, even at 50% off, the cost still felt unjustifiable.
Aside from the price, my other problem was the coffee itself: Starbucks makes their cold brew in a delicious, strong, concentrated form, which they then dilute with a lot of water before serving (i.e. they ruin it). I like soymilk in my cold brew, but I don’t want that extra water. In the past, it was easy to order this way, but the vast majority of Starbucks stores can’t or won’t do a “no water” cold brew concentrate any more.
Since literally all other coffee tasted terrible to me once I had experienced the glory that is Starbucks cold brew concentrate, I had no choice: I needed to figure out how to make Starbucks cold brew at home. After about 3 months of trial and error with different coffee beans, brew methods, and equipment, I finally perfected the exact Starbucks cold brew concentrate recipe, and I’ve broken up with my barista.
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Cheapest Supplies for Making Cold Brew at Home
Half of the reason for developing this cold brew recipe in the first place was to save money. So I tried to figure out how to get every supply and ingredient for the lowest price possible. Here’s what I came up with:
Coffee beans — Making cold brew concentrate uses an absolutely ridiculous amount of coffee, and if you want yours to taste exactly like Starbucks, you need to buy the expensive Starbucks Espresso Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee (trust me, I’ve tried substitutes, and they suck in comparison). But the secret money hack is to buy recently expired coffee beans on eBay. They work just as well, and I’ve been getting them for as much as 75% off retail price! For this recipe, you need 3.3 lb (1.5 kg) of coffee beans.
Update, November 2022: I recently learned that the exact Cold Brew coffee beans used in Starbucks stores are available for sale too, but I can only seem to find them on eBay. Feel free to use these or the Espresso Dark Roast beans mentioned earlier; they’re very similar.
Brew bags — To make cold brew at home using my immersion method, you’ll need some sort of porous teabag or filter. And to keep long-term costs down, I recommend buying reusable brew bags. The best ones I’ve tried are the Doppelgänger Goods 12” x 12” Reusable Coffee Filters. For my cold brew recipe, you’ll need two of them.
Coffee grinder — If you already have a coffee grinder, you probably don’t need a new or special one. Just make sure yours has a “coarse grind” setting, and you should be good to go. If you don’t have one, feel free to buy the grinder I use. You can sometimes find them brand new on eBay for less money.
Brewing pitcher — Since cold brew takes ~24 hours to make and keeps in the fridge for a month, tiny batches are a huge waste of time. Get yourself a large brewing pitcher that holds at least 2.6 gallons (9.8 L) for this recipe. I like rectangular pitchers because they use refrigerator space more efficiently, and you’ll definitely want one with a lid. I settled on a cheap plastic pitcher from Walmart myself.
Starbucks Cold Brew Concentrate Recipe
Alright, here it is — the perfect step-by-step Starbucks cold brew concentrate copycat recipe:
- Coarsely grind 3.3 lb (1.5 kg) of Starbucks Espresso Dark Roast coffee beans into your brew bags. This should equate to roughly 20 cups (4.7 L) of loose coffee grounds.
- Tie your brew bags tightly at the top so that coffee grounds cannot escape, but make sure the grounds remain loose inside the bag so they can move around freely.
- Place the brew bags in your pitcher, and fully immerse them in 32 cups (7.6 L) of room-temperature or cool, filtered water.
- Gently massage your brew bags under the water to ensure that all grounds get wet and stay submerged.
- Cover your pitcher, and place it in the refrigerator for 21-26 hours. Rotate or gently agitate the bags one time during this brewing period to make sure all grounds are getting wet. Do not agitate vigorously.
- Open the pitcher, and drain all liquid out of your brew bags by hanging them over the pitcher. Let gravity do all of the work slowly. Do not squeeze liquid out of the coffee grounds. After draining is complete, you should be left with approximately 21 cups (5 L) of super strong cold brew coffee concentrate!
- For better taste, let the finished product “breathe” in the refrigerator (don’t seal the lid) for an additional 24 hours before storing in an air-tight container.
- Enjoy your coffee. You can keep the concentrate covered and refrigerated for up to one month.
Remember, if you want to make more or less cold brew, you can always multiply the entire coffee recipe by an arbitrary constant. For example, you could double the entire recipe, or cut it in half if you prefer.
Mixing the Perfect Cup of Cold Brew at Home
For most people, cold brew concentrate isn’t really a drinkable product on its own — you probably won’t like it “straight.” Try mixing it with any variety of creamers and sweeteners to craft a cup of coffee that suits your tastes. I’ll give you two suggestions.
If you want cold brew that tastes exactly like what you would get at a Starbucks coffee shop, the key is to add more filtered water before drinking it. Somewhere between a 2:1 and a 1:1 concentrate-to-water ratio should taste like what they serve at the store. Add whatever milk or sweetener you like (or none at all), and serve over ice.
Personally, I think diluting strong cold brew with water is absolutely criminal. My preferred cup is 2 parts cold brew concentrate, plus 1 part vanilla soymilk or vanilla oatmilk. I add sucralose (aka Splenda) to taste and serve over ice. Try it!
If you like sucralose instead of sugar like me, you can save a ton of money (and space in your cabinet) by buying liquid sucralose concentrate instead of Splenda packets. Just a couple of droplets pack a punch, so use this stuff conservatively.
Vanilla soymilk is consistently pretty good no matter which kind you buy. A lot of times, I just get the Great Value brand from Walmart to save money. But if you like almond milk, that’s a very different story. Regular, store-bought almond milk is too thin and watery for coffee. Try out a barista blend almond milk — it’s much better, but beware that it’s more expensive. If you prefer oatmilk, I strongly recommend Chobani vanilla oatmilk.
Because I drink my cold brew without any water dilution, it contains a potentially unhealthy amount of caffeine. To solve that problem, I’ve actually modified the recipe above by using 50% decaf and 50% regular coffee beans. You can get the Starbucks Espresso Dark Roast decaf beans on eBay super cheap, too. If you prefer zero caffeine, you can use these alone to make decaf cold brew — something you can’t buy in Starbucks stores at all!
No matter how you mix yours, I can guarantee it will taste better without the guilt of paying $4-6 for a single cup. There’s something really satisfying about making cold brew coffee at home and breaking free from Starbucks altogether.
Cutting back on small expenses one by one can add up to a life-changing effect. Check out Step 2 of our Financial Roadmap for more money-saving tips.