What Happens If You Leave Cold Brew Steeping Too Long?

We often yearn for a brilliant cup of jo on hot summer days to help keep our energy levels high. But when the temperature gets too hot, we can’t imagine enjoying an even hotter cup of coffee, so what’s the solution? Cold-brew coffee gets you the caffeine kick you want without the heat.

Steeping your cold brew coffee too long will cause the coffee to become bitter, leaving you with an unpleasant experience and a great sense of disappointment after waiting 24 hours. You waste your time and money when you leave cold brew coffee steeping too long.

Is it possible to leave cold brew coffee steeping too long? What is the optimal time to steep cold brew coffee? What are the most critical factors in cold brewing coffee? All these questions and more will be discussed in today’s post.

What Happens If You Leave Cold Brew Steeping Too Long?

With steeping times easily exceeding 12 hours on some methods, brewers have a long window to adjust their brew. The challenge is that one could steep their cold brew for too long and thus end up spoiling the whole batch. Finding out your brew is no good after 24 hours of careful steeping can be demoralizing for even the most seasoned brewer.

In a study published in 2007, researchers found that several specific molecules alter a coffee’s bitterness. These molecules are called catechol oligomers, specifically bitter compounds found in coffee’s acid levels are generated by oligomerization of 4-vinylcatechol that are released during the roasting and steeping process.

All that to say that when you leave your cold brew steeping for more than 24 hours, your coffee becomes bitter. Your coffee becomes bitter after 24 hours of continuous steeping because the bitter compounds throw the balance of acids off, resulting in an almost “dusty” taste.

Can A Cold Brew Go Bad Sitting In The Fridge After It’s Been Steeped?

You should consume your batch of cold brew coffee within 7-10 days once you’ve put it in the fridge. Although the steeping step has been completed, the coffee will continue to alter its acid compounds after brewing. Leaving your cold brew in the refrigerator too long will cause it to go bitter.

Can You Fix A Cold Brew That Was Steeped Too Long?

If your coffee has an immensely bitter taste after steeping and you believe that you’ve steeped your brew too long, don’t fear. There are ways to fix your cold brew. These suggestions might not make your cold brew perfect, but they will alleviate some of your disappointment.

Dilute Your Brew

Our first suggestion is to reduce your brew’s concentration levels by adding water to dilute it. Using a three-to-one ratio, add water and stir continuously to reduce the brew’s intensity. If it is still too bitter, add some ice and let it slowly melt until it tastes right.

Add Some Flavor

Unless you are a coffee purist and cringe at the thought of adding anything to your brew, we suggest adding some flavor to help drive away the bitterness. Adding milk, cream, or syrup can quickly reduce the harsh, bitter taste of an over-steeped cold brew. We don’t recommend adding natural or artificial sugar, as adding sugar will fundamentally alter the coffee’s base attributes.

What Should You Keep In Mind When Cold Brewing Coffee?

Now that we’ve established why it’s a bad idea to steep your cold brew too long and we’ve considered ways to fix a botched batch, what are some of the things you should be mindful of when attempting your own cold brew coffee? Let’s discuss three key things that make the perfect cold brew.

Perfect Grind Size

Because of steeping times, medium coarse grinds are considered the best for cold brews. Finely ground coffee tends to clog up filters resulting in a heavier body and a higher concentration of acids. Because nuanced flavors are more prominent in cold brews, medium coarse grinds offer better saturation than fine or lightly ground coffee beans.

Perfect Coffee To Water Ratio

To achieve the perfect coffee-to-water ratio, we recommend adding 120 grams of coffee to every 1 liter of water. Take note that coffee grounds, even when ground to a medium consistency, will always absorb about a quarter of the water.

Using this ratio, you will end up with a double concentrate of coffee that allows the flexibility to dilute your coffee after it’s been steeped. This ratio retains the natural flavors of your coffee without sacrificing steeping time.

Perfect Steeping Duration

There are several methods for cold brewing coffee. A quicker method could take anywhere between eight to twelve hours using a drip that slowly drips cold water over the coffee grounds before being collected at the bottom, versus a longer method that submerges coffee grounds in cold water for up to 24 hours.

The optimal steeping duration is eighteen hours and is considered by many coffee connoisseurs to be the duration that releases the most flavors and balances the coffee’s natural sweetness and bitterness perfectly.

What Should You Experiment With When Cold Brewing Coffee?

Cold-brewing coffee has gained a lot of interest over the last few years. Many people are thinking of cold brewing their coffee at home because purchasing specialty cold brew coffees could be expensive in the long run. So what are some of the things to avoid when cold brewing coffee at home?

Experiment With Durations

If you have never cold brewed coffee before, consider creating two or three batches of cold brews that you can leave between twelve, eighteen, and twenty-four hours respectively. After this experiment, you’ll know which duration suits you best.

Experiment With Environment

Similarly, try experimenting with steeping your coffee at room temperature and inside your refrigerator. Different environments with different temperatures affect the coffee’s taste. You might prefer room-temperature brews over refrigerated brews. The only way to tell is through trial and error.

Experiment With Different Coffee Beans

You don’t need to purchase the most expensive coffee beans for your first brew. Start with cheap beans and work up to the more costly options. You will make mistakes with your first few batches, and you don’t want to bankrupt yourself before you understand the process.


Cold brewing coffee is as much a discipline as it is an art. Taking the time and documenting your experience will help you detect where you went wrong and what you can improve in your next batch. Cold brewing takes time, but in the end, if done correctly, it yields excellent cups of coffee.


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