To keep it short and sweet: no, cold brew coffee beans are not different. If you have a favorite blend you use to brew espresso, you can likely use it to make a cold brew as well.
That said, there are several key factors to keep in mind that play a part in setting the coffee flavor during the cold brewing process. Choosing the right coffee blend can go a long way to making a good cup of cold brew.
Choosing The Right Roast
Most coffee roasts from medium to dark work well with a cold brew – the darker the roast, the less acidic its flavor profile, but the coffee that has the most caffeine is the lighter roast.
This acidity is attractive to those who love hot espresso and espresso-based drinks (acidic flavors tend to bloom differently from more bitter darker roasts in milk or cream).
The process of making a cold brew, on the other hand, tends to mute that acidity, and thus lighter (blonde) roasts tend to lose the complexity that makes them appealing to coffee lovers in the first place.
If you want to try working with coffee with a higher acidity level, try medium roasts instead of dark, but we wouldn’t advise going lighter. Medium roasts have more well-rounded flavor profiles with well-expressed bitter notes, which will stop from cold brew flavor going flat, for the lack of a better world.
Choosing The Right Grind
Another critical aspect of choosing the proper coffee for your cold brew is selecting the right grind.
If you’re the type of person who buys their coffee for espresso already ground, then it’s time to either switch it up and start grinding the beans yourself or ask a barista at your favorite coffee shop to do it for you.
Coffee ground for espresso is usually a very fine grind. To make a good cup of cold brew coffee, you need at the very least a medium grind, but it works best with coarsely ground coffee.
A coarse grind allows water to easily penetrate the grounds and fully steep the coffee, but do so without over extracting them.
Keep in mind that making cold brew coffee is a long process. It can last between 18 and 24 hours. During that time, finely ground coffee can easily be over-steeped. These will then pose two problems for your cold brew:
- The lesser flavor profile. Over extracting finely ground dark coffee will create the same problem as making the cold brew with blonde roasts. It will lose flavor complexity. The brew you’ll end up with will likely be exceedingly bitter, so much so that you’ll have trouble tasting any of the undertones.
- The lesser texture. The finer the grind used for cold brew, the higher the likelihood you’ll end up with dry clumps.
Can You Adjust For the Grind and the Roast?
If pre-ground coffee is all you have on hand, you can still make cold brew. Just be prepared that it won’t be as good as with the proper roast and grind.
The finer and lighter the grind, the less time you should spend on brewing. If coarsely ground dark roast can brew for over 12 hours, finely ground medium roast shouldn’t spend more than 6 to 8 hours brewing (25% to 50% less time than you’d usually use).
This will prevent over-extraction and create a cold brew that has a more complex flavor profile, neither too bitter nor too acidic. The one exception is if your beans have gone stale, in which case it’ll take more time to extract the flavor.
Also, remember that the finer the grind, the less coffee you should use for the brew. Decrease the amount of coffee your recipe calls for by about 15-20%.
And last but not least, strain the cold brew through fine line filters (cloth or paper work best) to ensure none of the grounds remain in your drink.