What Is The Best Temperature For Brewing Coffee?

Published on 03/11/2024 · 9 min readDive into the science of coffee temperatures with our guide, from hot brew sweet spots at 195-205°F to cold brew techniques. Perfect your cup today!
Ethan Hauck, Coffee Expert
By Coffee Expert Ethan Hauck

Photo by BK Graphic

TL;DR: When hot brewing, the ideal temperature to use is just below boiling — roughly 195-205°F. If cold brewing, you want room-temperature water (roughly 68-72°F). Cold brewing allows you to leave it at room temperature briefly (~6 hours) or to leave it in the fridge for 24-48 hours.

I’ve been known to say that coffee is a simple thing that marries four components: heat, water, beans, and (in the case of espresso machines) pressure. Now that we’ve covered water and beans, it’s time to address temperature.

There are a lot of differing opinions on this topic — extra hot, extra cold, somewhere in between — but the reality is that there is a scientific answer to this. And if there’s one thing Curated Coffee and Espresso Experts are here for, it’s to hammer home the important information. On that note, if you find yourself still asking questions, reach out! We’re here for a reason.

Now, what is the best temperature for coffee brewing?

The Basics of Temperature

Now, most of you know how temperatures work. The higher the heat, the more likely you are to burn things. That’s common sense, but it also plays a key role in most cooking. Without heat, you’re unable to (easily) activate and release flavors and, in the case of coffee, oil.

See, the natural oils of coffee are what provide most of its natural flavor and texture (especially in espresso). This is what’s led to one of the larger debates in the world of coffee as of late: Why hot brew when you can cold brew? Let’s take a look at the basics:

Hot Brewing

  • Ideally when hot brewing coffee, you want water that’s just below boiling, or 212°F (100°C).
  • The high temperature (ideally 195-205°F, or 90-96°C) allows your coffee beans to quickly release their oils and other compounds. This is what leads to that magical smell, but it’s also why your coffee tends to taste less full-bodied, if not outright acidic, once it’s cooled.

Side note: This goes for all hot beverages, such as tea!

Cold Brewing

  • Cold brewing uses room temperature water 68–72°F (20–22°C) for an extended period to slowly extract your coffee’s oils. You can “cold” brew at room temperature or do it in the fridge overnight, though the fridge tends to run a few risks that we’ll cover below.
  • The low temperature of cold brewing means that the beans’ oils don’t release as quickly. This means that, while you won’t have that incredible smell, you will find that its flavor sustains far better over time than hot coffee.
  • Improperly cold brewing can lead to under-extraction and, ultimately, a lower coffee-to-water ratio that leads to a weaker final product.

With that said, some people are paid good money to research this for a living. The Specialty Coffee Association.) (SCA) states that the Golden Cup Standard requires water that’s (give or take ~3 degrees) 200°F. While cold brewing isn’t accounted for in this standard, as it’s a relatively new concept, it does have its benefits.

What to Consider: Hot vs. Cold Brew

Photo by Matt Hoffman

Take a peek below for answers to some of the more common questions about coffee water temperature.

Is 150-Degree Coffee Good to Drink?

This question has two answers. First off, 150°F coffee is absolutely safe to drink; however, there is the factor of personal preference here.

Many professionals, such as James Hoffman, actually recommend brewing your coffee at the boiling point (212°F) when using French press, pour-over, or Aeropress methods.

This is for two reasons:

  1. The way heat transfer works means that your coffee will never really reach boiling. As you pour your boiled water, the air surrounding it causes it to cool (slightly) almost immediately. Once it hits your room-temperature coffee grounds, this effect is amplified, usually resulting in a cup of coffee that (when finished) is brewed around 194°F, which is right in the “golden zone.”
  2. The more your coffee cools, the more the oils in the coffee will evaporate. If you prefer a slightly more bitter, less flavorful cup (this isn’t a dig, I promise — preferences are preferences) similar to diner coffee, you will likely prefer slightly cooler coffee that’s closer to 150°F.

What Is the Hottest You Can Serve Coffee?

We all know the legend of the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit. This is the lawsuit that forced commercial retailers to serve their coffee in a specific temperature range in the U.S. — specifically, somewhere between 160-185°F.

Any hotter and you risk burns, though those who make coffee at home are more free to do as they wish. Just note that, even if you love scalding-hot coffee, burns are never fun, so exercise caution.

What Temperature Does Starbucks Brew Their Coffee?

Many commercial coffee shops, including Starbucks, tend to stick a little below the temperature listed above, somewhere between 150-170°F. This is because:

  1. They don’t want to risk burning customers.
  2. They want to serve coffee that’s drinkable immediately, as that’s part of the chain’s appeal. Serving coffee that’s too hot to drink is both dangerous and inconvenient, and they’ve figured this out.

What Temperature Is Cold Coffee? What About Cold Brew?

This question has two answers. Cold brew is generally served between room temperature (68°F) and refrigerator temperature (34-40°F) because of its very nature. Because it’s brewed at a lower temperature, cold brew tends to remain at a stable temperature.

In contrast, iced coffee is a different story. The standard iced coffee brewing method involves pulling hot espresso shots and pouring them over a large amount of ice — usually 6-8oz of ice per double (4oz) espresso shot. This means that your coffee cools quite quickly, but depending on whether it’s shaken, mixed, or just left to cool naturally, iced coffee can come anywhere between 40-50°F and will cool more over time.

Does Coffee Taste Different in Different Temperatures?

Yes, coffee will taste very different at varied temperatures. Cold brew tends to make coffee less acidic (which some love and some don’t), leading to more delicate, floral flavors to shine. You’ll also notice that there’s a surprising amount of sweetness in cold brew.

In contrast, hot coffee can get burnt, releasing more bitter, tannic flavors. This is exacerbated when hot coffee cools, as its oils evaporate, leading to a slightly less full, more bitter flavor. While its aroma can accentuate the best parts of hot coffee’s flavor, it’s best to exercise caution to avoid going too hot.

What Equipment Do I Need to Control the Temperature?

Truthfully, you really only need two tools to properly control your water temperature — a good thermometer, and a kettle (preferably electric).

Kettles

Photo by Cookie Studio

Kettles are commonly used to boil water for coffee, making them vital to the process of controlling and tweaking its temperature. I recommend an electric kettle, as you’re often able to set a specific goal for temperature, rather than eyeballing the water with a traditional kettle.

If you’re in the market, the following kettles are excellent for brewing coffee:

  • The Fellow Corvo EKG Electric Kettle
    • This kettle allows a massive degree of control over temperature because of its variable temp control feature, and its hold-temp feature means you don’t have to worry about forgetting the kettle and having to restart.
  • The Bodum Ottoni Electric Kettle
    • This kettle doesn’t offer as much control over temperature, but it’s ideally suited to those who live in areas with hard water. Its built-in, removable filter and anti-limescale features (including a removable spout for cleaning) ensure your water is clean and tasty.

Thermometers

Photo by Microgen

Thermometers are an absolute must in any kitchen. Knowing what temperature your food and drinks are cooking at allows so much control that, realistically, is worth every penny. And best of all, even really nice thermometers are usually pretty affordable.

In this case, the Subminimal Contactless Thermometer is built for coffee and steamed milk. It uses laser detection to ensure contactless temperature control in seconds, meaning you don’t need to worry about cleaning it nearly as much as you would a traditional probe thermometer.

Features to Look Out for When Experimenting With Coffee Temperature

Photo by An Nguyen

Generally, there are a few things to keep in mind when trying to control your water temperature for coffee.

If you’re attempting iced coffee, you need to use a high-quality container. Glass is extremely susceptible to thermal shock, as it’s super heat conductive. Because we’re putting hot coffee in a room-temp container, you need to have some safety steps in place. When looking for a container, try to find thick, multilayered glass that’s rated for heat — preferably shock-proof, like Pyrex or a mason jar.

Items like a good travel tumbler make for an excellent grab-and-go solution to cold brew, as you can brew it with a cheesecloth sachet and simply toss it on your way out the door.

If you’re looking for a more “fire-and-forget” method, KitchenAid makes a tailor-made tool for just that. It comes with a removable filter, so you can pack coffee in and then easily toss them and clean it for use again. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s built to make coffee concentrate, meaning you can brew ~28 ounces of concentrate, which equals roughly 6 times that amount of cold brew once watered down.

Find the Best Gear for You

Ultimately, coffee is incredibly personal. This means that, despite science’s best attempts, there isn’t one certain answer for what you will prefer for your coffee’s temperature. While we have a few guidelines, experimentation is the best way to find what you want.

As a general rule, try to keep your water just barely below boiling for hot coffee, and when cold brewing, try to keep it at fridge temperature for roughly 48 hours. If you’re pursuing the perfect coffee, it’s also worth noting that your coffee roast matters a lot. A darker roast will mellow a bit in cold brew, and light roasts will allow their more delicate flavors to shine far more in a cold brew. However, the same goes for hot brewing — varied temperatures and roasts can prove mind-blowing.

There are also so many gadgets out there that are designed to make this process easier and more controllable — so ask a Curated Coffee Expert for advice if you want to take your coffee brewing to the next level.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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