How to Make Cold Brew Less Bitter: 8 Easy Fixes


Cold brew coffee has increased in popularity among coffee lovers over the past several years. You’ve likely seen it pop up on the menu of your favorite local coffee shop. This iced coffee beverage does not require hot water or special coffee maker to brew. This makes it a very easy drink to make with little equipment. One of the most common pitfalls when making cold brew is that it can become bitter if it is not prepared correctly. The good news is that there are many ways to fix bitter cold brew. Here you will learn why your cup of cold brew tastes bad and how to make cold brew less bitter.

8 Ways to Make Cold Brew Less Bitter:

  1. Strain coffee through a paper filter
  2. Dilute the cold brew with water, ice, or milk
  3. Add sweeteners
  4. Use coarse ground coffee beans
  5. Shorten the brew time
  6. Brew at a lower temperature
  7. Use a medium or light roast of coffee bean
  8. Purchase fresh coffee beans

We discuss each of these fixes in detail (and more), below.

How is Cold Brew Made?

To understand how to make cold brew less bitter, it’s important to understand how it is made. Unlike hot brewed coffee, cold brew coffee is made by combining coarse ground coffee beans and either cold or lukewarm water. This mixture is then left to sit in the fridge for 6-24 hours, allow the coffee to slowly be extracted in the cold water. This method of preparation results in cold coffee that has a smooth taste and less acidity compared to regular hot-brewed coffee.  

Because no heat is used to make cold brew, it can be made in any large jar. Cold brew is often made in a French press because the coffee grinds can easily be filtered out through the mesh filter of the French press. If you don’t have a French press, you can also use a regular mason jar and filter the coffee through a paper filter bag or fine mesh sieve. 

There is a silver and black French press in the center of the image. In the background, there is a white mug with a blue rim at the top of the mug. There is also a glass jar containing coffee beans. There are several coffee beans scattered over the marble counter surface.
French Press

Factors that Affect Bitterness of Cold Brew

Although relatively simple to prepare in terms of the equipment needed, cold brew coffee has several key factors that can affect the flavor. The cold brewing technique requires careful preparation to avoid a bad cup of coffee with a bitter taste. 

Bean Freshness

First and foremost, it is important to use fresh beans when making coffee. This is true for pretty much any method of coffee brewing. Old beans taste stale, and have increased bitterness, while fresh beans are aromatic and flavorful, without being excessively bitter. 

Variety of Coffee Bean

Robusta coffee beans taste more bitter compared to Arabica coffee beans. They also tend to develop more of a bitter flavor as they age and lose their freshness. If you find that you are unhappy with how bitter your cold brew is, try going for an Arabica coffee bean variety, which is less bitter. 

there is a small glass jar in the upper right corner that is tipped on its side, spilling out the coffee beans it contains onto a white marble counter.

Coffee Roast

As the coffee roasts, the beans become increasingly bitter. Lighter roasts of coffee taste smoother and have less bitterness compared to medium and dark roasts. Try using a lighter roast such as a blonde roast of coffee for a smoother tasting cold brew. 

Grind Size

Coarse ground coffee beans work best for brewing cold brew. Coarse grinds prevent the coffee from becoming gritty and over-extracted. 

Although you can use regular ground coffee to make a cold brew, the fine grind creates a larger surface area, which causes the coffee to be extracted much faster. Over-extracted coffee results in bitter coffee. This is because the bitter flavors are extracted towards the end of the brewing process, whereas sour flavors are extracted toward the beginning of the brewing process. When the water remains in contact with the coffee for too long, the bitter flavors will continue to steep into the water and the finished product will be unpleasantly bitter tasting.

Amount of Coffee

For a great cold brew that does not taste bitter, you need to use the proper amount of coffee grounds. If you use too much coffee for the amount of water in your recipe, your coffee will be too strong and will taste bitter. 

Brew Time

One of the main reasons cold brew easily becomes bitter is that it is brewed over an extended period of time. This makes it easy to brew it for too long. Although cold brew recipes usually requires 12-24 hours of brew time, the ideal brew time varies based on several factors. These include the grind size of the coffee, the amount of coffee used, and temperature at which you brew your coffee. 

Water Temperature

Cold temperatures slow down the extraction rate and require a longer brewing time. On the other hand, cold brew steeped in room temperature water requires less time to reach peak extraction. 

Amount of Water

If you use a cold brew concentrate, you need to add filtered water, milk or ice to dilute the coffee. Most cold brew concentrates that are sold in grocery stores have instructions on the label for how much to dilute them. If you still find the coffee is too bitter for your taste buds, try adding a little extra water or milk. 

If you are home brewing your coffee, you want to make sure that you are preparing your cold brew with the correct proportion of coffee to water. There is a commonly referred to term in the coffee world called the “golden ratio.” This ratio states that the coffee to water ratio should be 1 part coffee for every 15-18 parts of water. This ratio is a great tool to use when making your cold brew. It usually hits the sweet spot for the strength of the coffee and will result in a balanced final product. 

How To Make Cold Brew Less Bitter:

Strain coffee through a paper filter:

If you use regular pre-ground coffee for your cold brew, you may end up with some coffee grinds in your cold brew. This can cause the cold brew to continue to extract the coffee from these grinds, resulting in more bitterness. To prevent this, simply strain your cold brew through a paper coffee filter once you have completed the brewing process. 

Dilute the cold brew with water, ice, or milk:

Many cold brew recipes produce cold brew concentrate. Concentrates have the benefit of allowing you to dilute your coffee to the strength you like. If you want strong coffee, add less water or milk. If you want to decrease the strength or bitterness of your coffee, add a little water, milk or a few more ice cubes. 

There is a glass in the center of the image that contains cold brew coffee that contains milk that is not fully mixed in. There are also ice cubes in the glass that are round. In the background, there is a small succulent in a cream colored vase, as well as a glass jar containing coffee beans. There are coffee beans that are scattered on the ground around the glass.
Cold Brew with Milk and Ice

Add Sweeteners:

All coffee has some bitter notes but it should not be excessively bitter. If you find that your coffee is too bitter for your personal preference, you can offset it by adding a sweetener. Regular sugar does not dissolve well in cold coffee so it is best to use a sugar syrup. These syrups are made by dissolving sugar in water over heat. Sometimes a flavoring is also added to these syrups. Because the sugar is already dissolved in water, sugar will mix well into the cold coffee. Some examples include a plain simple syrup, maple syrup, or a flavored syrup such as caramel, lavender or vanilla syrup. You can also add a spoonful of ice cream to your cold brew for an affogato variation of cold brew. 

Use Coarse Ground Coffee Beans:

Swap out your regular ground coffee for a coarser grind. Finer grinds become over-extracted very easily and should be avoided for this brewing method. If you do not have your own coffee grinder at home, check to see if you can grind your beans at the grocery store. Many grocery stores have a coffee grinder available for customers. These grinders allow your to purchase your favorite whole beans and then run them through the coffee grinder right there in the store. Most of these grinders have different settings so you can select a coarse grind for your coffee beans. 

Shorten the brew time:

Try cutting down your brew time by one to two hours to prevent over-extraction. Most cold brews will not benefit from brewing beyond a 12-15 hour brew time. As you get more experienced with making cold brew, you should spend some time figuring out the exact brew time you prefer based on your taste preferences. 

Brew at a Lower Temperature:

Using cold water slows down the coffee extraction and prevents your cold brew from being over-extracted. 

Use a Medium or Light Roast of Coffee Bean:

Lighter roasts of coffee taste less bitter than dark roasts. Go for a blonde roast or medium roast to avoid the burnt, bitter flavor that is common to darker roasts. 

Purchase Fresh Coffee Beans:

Don’t use old stale beans for your cold brew. For the best coffee you want to make sure you use fresh beans.

Why Does My Cold Brew Taste Sour?

Your cold-brew coffee should not have a sour taste. Sour coffee is usually a result of under-extracting your coffee beans. This is because the acids in coffee are extracted earlier in the brewing process and are balances by the aromatic and bitter flavors that come out later in the process. If you find that your cold brew tastes sour, try extending your brew time by 1-2 hours. 

What Dairy Allergy-Friendly Milk is Best for Cold Brew?

If you do not consume dairy, you can try using an alternative vegan milk. Some non-dairy milks that work well in cold brew include:

  • Almond milk
  • Oat milk
  • Coconut
  • Macadamia milk


Several factors affect the taste of cold brew coffee. The best way to correct bitter cold crew is to make adjustments to your brewing technique until you find that perfect recipe for your taste preferences. With a little practice, you are sure to make a cup of cold brew that is as good as the ones sold from coffee shops. 

If you want a delicious snack to eat with your cold brew, you might enjoy this post:

Healthy Snacks to Eat with Coffee

Double Chocolate Banana Muffins (They’re vegan!)

Ultimate Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

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