As much as I love a steaming hot latte or just a cozy cuppa in the morning, once temps start to rise I start to switch from hot coffee mode to cold brew. This extra smooth, extra caffeinated morning pick-me-up is the perfect way to start a slow spring morning.
However, I don't always have the patience to brew my own batch of cold brew. That's where bottled cold brews come to play! Pre-made, these coffees are just the thing to pop into a cup of ice with a dash of cream on a busy morning. Of course, there's always a quandary of what brand to buy. With the help of expert taste testers from RD's sister site, Taste of Home, we rounded up eight brands of cold brew to compare them side by side. Here's what was tested: Archer Farms (a Target brand), Califia Farms, Chameleon Cold-Brew, Simple Truth (a Kroeger brand), Starbucks, STōK, Stumptown, and Trader Joe's. These products were all cold brew and not just iced coffee. Confused? Here's what the difference between iced coffee and cold brew actually is.
Best buy: Simple Truth Organic Kona Blend
When it comes to pre-brewed coffee, there are two options out there: single-serve beverages, or bigger bottles, perfect for stashing in the fridge for a week of caffeinated goodness. This cold brew falls into the latter category, making it a great choice for folks looking to caffeinate on demand. However, more isn't always more. Be sure you don't buy these 9 products in bulk.
Besides the convenient packaging, testers loved the taste of this well-rounded coffee. It got big points for its bold flavor—one tester summed this coffee up well: "it definitely has an edge." And if you ask me, a cold brew with a little edge is exactly what I look for when I wake up in the morning.
If you're a fan of robust coffee that will still go down smoothly, you might want to give Simple Truth a try.
$4.99 for a 32-oz. bottle; available at Kroger and Pick 'n' Save stores.
Best for espresso-lovers: Trader Joe's
Up next was Trader Joe's organic cold brew option. This single-serve bottle is a great option to keep on hand for when you're running out the door and don't have the time to even find your travel mug. At $1.99, it probably costs about the same (or even less) than your average coffee shop drink.
Now, when it comes to the most important part—flavor, obviously!—testers immediately noticed this coffee's dark, bold flavor. In fact, several testers commented that this cold brew had some definite espresso qualities to it, which made it a big hit among the folks that prefer to wake up to an espresso shot (or Americano) versus a regular cup of joe. Also worth mentioning is that this option is infused with nitrogen that's thought to give the coffee a smoother finish—a few testers with more nuanced palates definitely made notes of a long finish with absolutely zero bitter aftertaste. Perfect to pair with these indulgent mocha desserts!
If you prefer darker brews or espresso, this cold brew is definitely one to pick up.
$1.99 for a 10.5-oz. bottle; available at Trader Joe's.
Best in show: Stumptown
Taking the top spot was Stumptown: a Seattle-based roaster known for their exceptional cold brew coffee. This bottled version gave us the most authentic, freshly brewed flavor out of the batch—exactly what we were searching for.
Testers loved the fresh roasted smell of this coffee and all appreciated the strong, balanced flavor. This coffee was wonderfully smooth, in fact, we'd say it was downright silky. This, along with the low acidity made us feel like we could drink Stumptown all day long—though this is the best time to enjoy your coffee, according to scientists. When it came to the flavor, testers did pick up a few subtle chocolate notes with some fruity flavors, but for the casual coffee drinker, I think that one tester summed this one up best: "This tastes like an authentic cold brew."
$3.99 for a 10.5-oz. bottle; available at select stores, including, Target and Whole Foods, nationwide.
Niche brands definitely deliver
Testers definitely noticed an overall trend once the coffee brands were revealed: smaller or more niche brands just did better. Overall, testers found these coffees to be smoother, more robust and just the kind of coffee you'd want to wake up to. The big names just didn't stack up—a few testers said that those cold brews tasted like office coffee left to get cold. Yikes!
Nothing replaces fresh
As much as we enjoyed some of these brands, we know that none of these pre-brewed coffees can replace a freshly made pot. In fact, one of our testers brought in some fresh made cold brew courtesy of Pilcrow Coffee, a coffee shop just a few blocks away from Taste of Home HQ. Unbeknownst to our other testers, we slipped this coffee into the running and every single tester ranked this freshly brewed coffee over the rest. Just a fun experiment that really highlights the importance of fresh (and local!) when you have the time to do it up right. Make sure you're brewing right and avoid these coffee mistakes!