| Cold-brewed ice coffee is a drink I first encountered in Madison, WI. I had gone vegan that year, and I was struggling to find a way to drink coffee without milk. I didn't like it black or with soy milk or with rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk, etc etc. What to do?
One day, my friend Jonny and I visited my favorite coffee shop on Willy St, Mother Fools. I'm pretty sure he asked what they recommended, since that's not something I would have done. I always get lattes. I was surprised when the answer was "ice coffee."
Who makes spectacular ice coffee? That's like saying your best ice cream flavor is vanilla. I understand when the most amazing drink is something really special like the mocha-frappa-whatever with the caramel and whipped cream all over it. But ice coffee??
So he tried it. I tasted it. And... wow!! This ice coffee was so good that it tasted like coffee smells. I could drink it black. In fact, I couldn't STOP drinking it black. My vegan coffee dilemma was solved!
Cold brewed ice coffee is what it sounds like. You don't add hot water. You steep grounds in cold water for a long period of time before serving it.
Fast forward many years, and I'm now happily settled in San Diego, no longer vegan, and drinking hot coffee with milk. I used to ask if places in San Diego had cold brewed ice coffee, but they never understood what I was asking for. And since I gave up veganism shortly after arriving here, I sort of forgot about cold brewed ice coffee altogether.
Then about a week ago, I received a newsletter from my favorite coffee roaster, Just Coffee, which is based in Madison. It included an article on cold brewing. Read on for more...
|The article on cold brewing contained a recipe and the tidbit "Just Coffee's Cold Brew Blend was designed specifically for the cold-brewing process." It also describes some of the reasons why cold-brewed tastes different from normally brewed coffee:
There are trade-offs. Cold-brewed coffee offers lower acidity, lower caffeine content (depending on the amount of time ground coffee is left in contact with water & of course to what extent it's diluted), & natural sweetness. The flavor profile of cold-brewed coffee is more straightforward, which is a tactful way of saying less nuanced. Hot water produces a different chemical reaction in brewing, forcing out a different range of flavors, far more aromatics, & a natural bitterness.
OK, they got me. A special blend made just for cold brewing? Time for me to order some coffee from Just Coffee. I almost never buy from them because it's expensive - particularly after you factor in shipping. I started shopping their website to see what I wanted and I found 3 different varieties of coffee I wanted in addition to the Cold Brew Blend. Only, I didn't find the Cold Brew Blend.
The newsletter article ended "For more information on how to make the cold-brewing process much more complicated, as well as the science behind it, email Scott." So I did. Give me the information, please... and also can you tell me how to buy that Cold Brew Blend?
Scott, it turned out, didn't expect anyone to take him up on his offer. He first told me they discontinued the Cold Brew Blend but "In the meantime, our Early Bird Summer Blend makes excellent cold-brewed coffee. I personally favor African coffees for cold-brewed applications because of the berry tones. Early Bird is also comprised of one of our Colombian coffees, which offers a straightforward bittersweet chocolate canvas for those berry tones when brewed cold." Yum.
Then he made good on the extra info that was promised:
Obviously, changing the temperature at which coffee is brewed has an effect on its aroma/flavor characteristics & caffeine content, as well as the content of the more than one thousand other chemical compounds in roasted coffee. One trade-off between hot & cold brewing temperatures that we touched on in the newsletter was time. As you increase the temperature at which coffee is brewed, extraction becomes more & more efficient. However, as we mentioned, different compounds are extracted to different extents at different ends of the temperature spectrum. "Cold-brewing" at room temperature will take less time than "cold-brewing" in the refrigerator. Put simply, a decrease temperature will work against the extraction while an increase will work for it. Extended brew times can increase body, sweetness & intensity of the flavors, though cold brewing coffee in the refrigerator can produce a sour, tinny taste.
The problem with extended brew times at room temperature - for most of us, in the 70's - is that coffee can start to spoil. Changes in room temperature or humidity that occur with time of day can also accelerate spoilage. When coffee is hydrated, it becomes susceptible to yeast, bacteria, & molds, just like any other perishable product. Extended brew times at room temperature can result in a coffee that tastes musty. Extended brew times at a cellar temperature of around 55 degrees produce very clean tasting & full-flavored cold-brewed coffee. If you have a wine refrigerator or a real wine cellar, this is an excellent secondary use for it. I personally use a brew time of 72 hours & then strain the concentrate through a chinoise (though the finest mesh strainer you have will do.) Just don't use a paper filter to strain the coffee; you negate one of the benefits of cold-brewing, which is that all of the oils that make up the coffee's flavor profile are left behind.
Through our email chain, I told Scott that I had ordered the Ethiopian Unwashed Sidamo. He replied that he actually cold brews that to sell in his own cafe. He asked me if I'd tried cold brewing it myself yet.
Well, I had to admit, I just couldn't do it. Here I had just ordered and received 12 oz of the most amazing smelling coffee I'd ever encountered and it cost me $15 plus shipping. Cold brewing requires an awful lot of beans compared to hot. I planned to ration out my precious coffee.
Scott wrote me back with unexpected and amazing kindness. He would send me an entire pound of the unwashed sidamo beans, roasted a special way, the way he preferred for his own cafe. Then I could use that to make ice coffee.
The beans arrived a few days ago. They. Smell. Amazing. And since cold-brewed ice coffee tastes like it smells... WOW! I couldn't wait. I used proportions I found online instead of what Scott recommended. He says to mix a pound of ground beans with 10 cups water. I ground 4.5 oz beans and mixed it with 3.5 cups water. This produces a very concentrated coffee, which must be diluted with water and/or milk before drinking.
I mixed the ground coffee and the water before bed and left it on the counter so I could wake up to delicious ice coffee. And I did. I strained it using a French press and then - per Scott's recommendations - let it sit a minute to let the solid particles that made it through the French press settle to the bottom. It made a little less than 3 cups, since I couldn't get 100% of the water separated from the coffee.
I'm not sure I diluted it to the proper ratios, but it tasted so amazing - and it tasted even better with milk than it did black - that I drank an awful lot of it.
So much, in fact, that I was not even tired at 2am that night. (Or, technically speaking, the next morning.) Coffee this delicious is a major caffeine hazard. I finished off the last of the ice coffee this morning. All in all, more than 1/4 lb of coffee lasted a little longer than two days. A very enjoyable, caffeinated two days, but it makes me sad to drink an entire pound of the best coffee I've ever had that quickly. I think I'll probably go back to normal brewing with my French press for the most part, and save cold brewing for very special occasions.