I feel like cold brew makes me extra jittery. Am I imagining things?
Cold brew coffee has risen to prominence in the last decade. With that popularity comes the common belief that cold brew coffee — either through having a higher caffeine content than the average brewed coffee or some other magical property — makes you extra jittery. Truth? Imagination? Let’s explore.
Does cold brew have more caffeine?
To start, we can say with a good amount of certainty that the method of making cold brewing in itself — making coffee with cold water instead of hot — does nothing to extract extra caffeine from the coffee beans. Does that mean the extra jitter when you switch from hot to cold brew coffee when the mercury hits 65 is all in your imagination? Nope! As with any coffee brewing process, we have some more variables to think about.
One of the first variables you have to consider in any coffee brewing process is the amount of cold brew coffee beans and water you’re using. You can definitely start with the same ratio of coffee grinds and water and, through adjusting grind-size, temperature, brew time, and a bunch of other variables, get noticeably different results in flavor. But for the most part, the majority of brewing recipes are aiming to get just about the same percentage of stuff out of the coffee grounds. The ratio of coffee to water, then, is the main factor in determining how strong a coffee is. So if you cold brew a coffee and hot brew a coffee at the same ratio, they’ll have about the same amount of caffeine.
However, most cold brews are in fact brewed stronger than hot coffees. Our cold brew recipe uses an 8:1 ratio of water to coffee grounds, making it twice as strong as the common hot brew ratio of 16:1. Remember though, that you’re usually watering down cold brew with ice, water, or the milk or creamer of your choice. Many coffee shops will fill half of a cold brew cup with ice, so if you’re seasonally (or just because you feel like it!) switching from a 16 fluid ounce cup of drip coffee to a 16 fluid ounce cup of cold brew, you’re just getting 8 fluid ounces of cold brew concentrate. Brewed twice as strong, that brings us right back to basically the same amount of total caffeine as your typical coffee.
So then how can we account for those jitters besides the placebo effect? Two ways. First of all, because you are taking in that caffeine through a more concentrated liquid, the body might be absorbing it faster, even if it’s the same caffeine content. Second, people tend to drink cold brew faster than standard brewed coffee, and not just because there’s less of it. Think of a cool glass of water or a cold beer and now think of a hot tea or a hot toddy. Which one are you more likely to chug? Even if they are both the same strength, if you get that drink in your face faster, that caffeine rush will hit faster.
So, if you need that summer caffeine, but worry about the jitters, is there any way to avoid them? We have a few ideas:
Drink it slower. Resist that urge to chug, take smaller sips, and try to extend that cup of coffee a little longer to make your caffeine experience a little less intense.
Water it down a little. If you can add a little more water to your (or your local coffee shop’s) cold brew coffee concentrate and it still tastes good to you, go for it! You’ll still get the same caffeine content, but it won’t hit you as hard.
Just drink less cold brew. But what’s the fun in that?