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The Truth About Cold-Brew Coffee: Much Abrew About Nothing?

As a coffee roaster and owner of two cafes, we’ve been hit by the same cold-brew coffee wave that’s been cooling off the rest of the nation this summer. Before we started serving the stuff, we did a lot of homework to determine if cold brew is a fad worth passing on or a cupful of coffee genius.

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Lisa Landry

There's a difference between "regular" iced coffee and cold brew

Traditional iced coffee is coffee that's been brewed hot, cooled down, and then served over ice. Brewing coffee in hot water causes the grounds to release oils that give coffee its bitterness and also its acidity. In hot coffee these oils can enhance the flavor profile, but when cooled down, "off" flavors are accentuated.

 

Cold brew, on the other hand, is brewed in cold or room temperature water for 14-18 hours. It not only produces a different taste, but it's chemically distinct, too. The profile of the coffee is not changed through chemical reactions, but is rather infused over a long period of time. While about 90% of the flavor elements and caffeine come through in this infusion, only about 15% of the oils and acids do. And in case that all sounds very complicated, it’s actually quite easy to make cold-brew coffee at home.

 

The hot new cold drink is…not so new

Cold-brew coffee is believed to have originated in Japan, when it was supposedly introduced by Dutch Traders from Indonesia around the year 1600.

 

Coffee beans matter

There are a spectrum of cold brews out there and many, honestly, aren't worth the grind. Some roasters like to use what I refer to as high-note roasts (my husband, the roaster, is a musician, so many of our descriptions tend toward the musical). These roasts can create a sour, fermented taste. The flavor we're after in our cold-brew coffee has a rich, coco nib, chocolate-y almost cognac quality; we even created a blend specifically for cold brew using low-acidity beans like high-grown Brazil Oberon and Monsooned Malabar which bring out more of the rich mid and bass notes with no high-note acidity.

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Lisa Landry

Taste test

Cold brewing does change the taste of your coffee. It concentrates those most volatile flavor elements (yes, that's a good thing), resulting in a stronger, richer, smoother, big-bodied brew—yet with far less bitterness and acidity. What's more, cold brew will keep its flavor up to two weeks stored in your refrigerator. When you want a cold brew, just add water and pour over ice.

 

In most all cafes cold brew is going to run you a couple more dollars than iced coffee. Is it justified? As roasters and café owners, we think yes. Not only does it require more coffee and more time to make the same cup, it simply tastes better. In fact, we feel that iced coffee and cold brew have very little to do with one other.

 

In past years, we made it a point to try cold brew everywhere, with the results falling somewhere between swoon-worthy and sour. We experimented exhaustively ourselves to find the brewing methods and beans that would bring out only the best qualities in a cold brew and concluded that, when done right, this trendy coffee is indeed worth the buzz.

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About the Author

Lisa Landry

Lisa Landry and her husband, Flavio Lichtenthal, own and run No. Six Depot Roastery and Café, a small-batch coffee roastery located in the oldest train station in the Berkshires village of West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The roastery is located right in the café where friends, neighbors and tourists come to enjoy coffee, art, house-made food, and each other. They chose to have the...

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