Grabbing a bottle of cold brew at the grocery store is like giving a gift to your future self. One day you’re going to wake up hungover (from alcohol or just being alive) and be so grateful to your past self for that refreshing bottled caffeine right there in the fridge, saving you a walk to the coffee shop. You’ll love yourself even more if you bought a good one.
For this taste test, the Sporked team was joined by Mythical executive assistant Nicole Bade, who says she drinks cold brew every day. “I really love cold brew,” she told us. “I live off of cold brew.” Personally, I think coffee tastes better hot than cold (like, way better), but I set my misgivings aside to try some of the most popular brands out there. Since it’s not brewed with scalding water, which brings out the bitterness in coffee beans, cold brew is supposed to be smooth and mellow with a touch of tangy acidity. Here are the six that perked up our taste buds.
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- STōK Un-Sweet Black Cold Brew
Cold brew coffee isn’t supposed to be bitter. That’s the point of brewing with cold water instead of brewing regular coffee and sticking it in the fridge to cool, or shocking it by immediately pouring it over ice. Does that mean that all cold brew isn’t bitter? No. A lot of it is bitter as hell, if you ask me. But not this brew from STōK. Despite being unsweetened, it has a nice, sweet coffee smell and a mellow flavor that reminded me of a good chocolate stout. Even with the low-key taste, you get the feeling it’s packing a punch. “You do get that kick when you first drink it,” Nicole said. “You’re gonna get energized.” (Seriously, my hands were shaky by the time we wrapped up this taste test.)
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart
- Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Coffee Smooth & Bold
Arabica coffee beans tend to have a sweet, chocolatey flavor, and that comes through in this convenient, 32-ounce bottle of cold brew from Trader Joe’s. Nicole loved the super-fresh taste, and Sporked editor-in-chief Justine Sterling liked how gentle this one was compared to some of the more acidic brews we tried. “If you like iced coffee rather than cold brew, this is for you,” she said, praising its “nice, mild” scent. This bottle doesn’t have milk in the mix (we tried several pre-made latte-type drinks), but it straight-up tasted like chocolate milk to me. Delicious, refreshing, and nostalgic, but with a grown-up kick of caffeine.
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Sporked
- Stumptown Original Cold Brew Coffee
God only knows when pre-bottled coffee was actually brewed, but if it tastes fresh, you’re not going to dwell on the fact that the beans may have begun their lives as coffee literally months ago. If you poured me a cup of this Stumptown and told me it was brewed the day before, I’d totally believe you. Maybe it’s the glass bottle (which is cool and makes you feel like you’re drinking a beer). Maybe it’s the high-quality beans. Either way, we really loved the way this one managed to preserve its fresh flavor and intensity. “It’s a real sipper,” Justine said of its nice, bold flavor. We also tried Stumptown’s collab with Oatly, but real cold brew heads probably won’t love the sheer amount of milk in this little single-serving carton.
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart
- Chobani Cold Brew Pure Black
I’ve been a Chobani fan since back in 2016, when founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya gave all of his 2,000 employees an ownership stake in the company. In addition to being a nice, pro-employee business with a fun name, Chobani makes good stuff! Great yogurt. Amazing coffee creamer (I’m partial to the sweet cream). And now a really smooth, pleasant, chocolatey cold brew in a convenient, low-waste carton. Our cold brew expert Nicole was a big fan of this one. “It’s not bitter at all,” she said. “It’s very light and sits on the tip of your tongue.” It might not be the choice for people looking for a more aggressive cold brew experience, but it’s as nice to your mouth as Ulukaya is to his crew.
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde/ Amazon
- Califia Farms Cold Brew Black Coffee Medium Roast
When I think of perceived sweetness or the suggestion of sweetness, I usually think of flavored sparkling waters. They have zero sugar, no alternative sweeteners, but still communicate to your brain that you’re drinking something that could or should have a natural fruitiness or sugaryness. That’s what we got from the unsweetened cold brew from Califia Farms. “There’s a little bit of tannic fruitiness up front, but it settles down, it doesn’t taste old,” Justine said, comparing the brew’s fruity flavor to cacao nibs. As a Califia naysayer (there’s something about their big, bulky plastic bottles that irks me), I was pleasantly surprised by the nice, complex flavor of this coffee. “It almost tastes a little woody,” Nicole said. “Even if that’s a weird way to describe something you like.”
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Target
- Rise Oat Milk Mocha Nitro Cold Brew Coffee
As I mentioned, we tried a few cold brews that came pre-mixed with a milk (usually oatmilk), and mostly felt like they didn’t belong on this list because they strayed too far from what you’re looking for when you’re choosing a bottled cold brew. I had to make an exception for this canned concoction from Rise. “Ooh, that’s a sweet treat,” Justine said when she took a sip. With its creamy consistency, rich chocolate flavor, and undertones of roasty coffee, this is straight-up dessert in a can, the perfect thing to crack open when you need a mood boost to get you through the last couple of hours of the work day. “This is mocha iced coffee more than a cold brew,” Nicole observed, adding, “I think that’s a good thing.” I have to agree.
Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon
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