Cold brew coffee is coming into its own
At first a bit of a non-sequitur, the cold brew method of making coffee or, more accurately, coffee concentrate, is starting to come into its own, and for good reason — it makes a great tasting cup of coffee. The up sides of the cold filter method (dominated by manufacturer Toddy but a similar system is available from Filtron) are many: 2/3 less acid, 2/3 less caffeine, no oils, a concentrate that can last for a week, an individual strength cup, reusable filters (without the paper taste), wonderful flavour, hot or cold. The down sides of the cold filter method: less acid, less caffeine, no oils, no brewing aroma, and a 12 hour process taking up space in the refrigerator. Let’s examine this method in more detail.
The method of brewing cold coffee is not new. In fact, very little pertaining to coffee is new. In the March 13th, 1847, issue of Scientific American (Vol. 2, No. 25), the following appears: “Essence of Coffee. Among all the new inventions and discoveries that are astonishing the world, and the universal Yankee nation in particular, we have heard of none which promises to be more useful and acceptable, at least to ladies than ‘The Essence of Coffee,’ which is now offered to the lovers of that beverage. It is the genuine stuff, and you have only to put a tea-spoon full into a cup of water containing the usual complement of sugar and milk, and you have a cup of superior coffee without further trouble … The article is put up in bottles, at a low price.”
While the roots of the cold brewing may go back to the Dutch traders or the ancient ancestors of modern Peruvians, the method has only recently begun to be embraced in the specialty coffee culture of today, although it’s been known to the coffee elite for some time. In fact, MSNBC reported in August of 2004 that Seattle’s Best had for years been using the Toddy system in their back rooms to produce, not only a smooth and flavourful coffee, but something novel as well.
Because the coffee grounds (of medium to coarse grind) are steeped in cold water, the oils and acidity are never released (since heat is necessary for that process). Similarly, less caffeine results in the finished product as well. While many fans of the cold brew technique count these as pros, especially coffee drinkers who have enough stomach acid already, the lack of acid produces a coffee with less bite on the tongue, less brightness, in terms of coffee tasting. And while the oils contribute to the overall flavour of hot brewed coffee, they have also been shown to create higher levels of bad cholesterol. Similarly, for people who don’t need a morning jolt but could do with a smaller pick-me-up, the lower caffeine is a blessing.
The lack of instant gratification, due to the 12 hour steep time, means some extra planning but it pays out over time. The concentrate that is created can be stored very well for a week in the refrigerator and makes several cups of coffee, at a moment’s notice, iced or hot (add water in a ratio of three parts water to one part concentrate as a start), and its strength is infinitely customizable. Plus, if you don’t have a grinder, you can rush home from your local roaster with freshly ground and freshly roasted coffee and use an entire one pound bag. Add to that the portability and price (around $35) of a cold brewing unit and it’s easy to see why the popularity of this method of brewing coffee is on the rise.