Paleo Retiree writes:
Cold-brewed coffee — often referred to by fans, stores and baristas simply as “cold brew” — seems to be everywhere these days. It’s certainly gaining rapidly in popularity. It’s featured at most upscale coffee bars and cafes, at least here in NYC, and bottles of prepared cold brew are available at many grocery-type stores. (Standard supermarkets often don’t carry it, but TJ’s does, and most health-food stores and Whole Foods-style stores do too.) The guy behind the counter at a nearby Stumptown told me that he’s serving five times as much cold brew as he was just last year, and the people behind counters at other coffee places have confirmed that rough figure to me.
I’ve been drinking cold brew — sometimes making it myself, sometimes treating myself to prepared or cafe stuff — for a few years now. I like it a lot. If you haven’t had any cold brew (and if you’re a coffee drinker, of course), that’s too bad, and I urge you to give it a try.
A quick primer for those who aren’t yet up to speed: cold-brewed coffee isn’t the same as iced coffee, though in practical fact (and especially during the summer) cold brew is often served over ice. Instead, cold brew is coffee that has been brewed in room temperature water instead of the usual hot water. (The “cold” in the name has to do with the brewing process, not the serving style.) Once brewed — a process that usually takes 12-24 hours — cold brew can be enjoyed however you prefer your coffee. You can heat it up or pour it over ice; you can dilute it, or drink it as a concentrate, or add as much milk or cream into it as you want. Iced cold brew with a lot of milk in it on ice — the way most coffee places are serving cold brew right now — is a delightfully refreshing summer drink.
There are a few striking benefits to cold-brewed coffee. For one: where traditionally-brewed coffee turns stale in a matter of hours, cold-brewed coffee, if refrigerated, stays fresh for four or five days. Make a container of the stuff, or bring home a big bottle of it from TJ’s or Stumptown, and it’ll taste just as good in a few days as it does now.
Another major benefit has to do with the fact that the cold-brewing process takes most of the acid out of coffee. That makes cold brew much easier on the tummy than coffee usually is. Many coffee fans who find that traditionally-brewed coffee makes their stomach go off can drink cold-brewed coffee with impunity.
A small personal note: I used to be wary of coffee. Though I enjoy a caffeine boost as much as the next person, a single cup of coffee in the morning would turn me into a sweaty, twitchy bundle of nerves, and would keep me awake until three or four a.m. — fun for deadline days but not for much else, and sad because I love the flavor of coffee. So for decades I was a tea drinker. Tea gave me a decent-enough boost; the world of tea was fun to explore; tea didn’t keep me up late; and thanks to the L-theanine in it I was also able to enjoy tea’s legendary calming effect. Energized but calm is a seriously nice state to spend the day in. But still I missed the flavor of coffee.
Given all the above, my assumption for years was that I was simply super-reactive to caffeine. A cup of coffee has three or four times the caffeine as a cup of tea, hence the trouble I had with it — or so I thought. Cold-brewed coffee has made me reconsider that assumption, because — even though cold brew has as much caffeine per cup as traditional coffee — I’ve found that when I drink cold brew I don’t get the jitters or the sweats, and I’m able at the end of the day to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. So my new theory is that all along it was the acid in traditionally-prepared coffee, and not the high levels of caffeine, that gave me the jitters. I miss the L-theanine of tea, but thanks to cold brew I now get to enjoy the rich flavor of coffee without being driven out of my mind by substanceless anxiety.
Flavor-wise, cold-brewed coffee tends to be mellower and richer than traditional coffee. I’ve had many hundreds of cups of cold brew, and I haven’t had one yet that had a sharp, a bitter or a ragged edge to it. In fact, I haven’t yet had a bad or boring cup or glass of cold-brewed coffee. They’ve all been good, and they’ve all had their own fun characteristics. The three constants are richness, lack of edge, and roastiness. It’s such a smooth yet luxuriously full-bodied experience that, even though I never use sugar, when I drink cold brew I’m often reminded more of coffee ice cream than of the usual hot cup of joe.
I’ve tried all the commercially-available (as in “buy a bottle of it at the store and bring it home”) brands that I’ve run across. They range from good to fabulous. TJ’s cold brew is the lowest-priced but also the blandest of the bunch; of the rest, Stumptown and Chameleon have been my favorites; Grady’s and Groundwork are also great. But they’ve all been at the very least extremely tasty, and all deliver a substantial blast of coffee satisfaction. Some are a little winey; others a little more floral; still others more cocoa-ish. Sophisticated food-critic advice: Buy and enjoy, you can’t go wrong.
Here’s a novelty product from Stumptown that’s worth keeping an eye open for: cold brew that has been injected with nitrogen.
The nitrogen gives the coffee some added richness and smoothness. Somehow — even drunk black, without any added milk or cream — the coffee tastes and feels creamy. It’s certainly worth trying once.
Given how good the commercial cold brews are, why go to the bother of making your own at home? One reason is to save some money; another is that it isn’t all that much trouble; a third is that to my knowledge no one sells prepared decaf cold brew, and I sometimes like drinking decaf. When I do make my own, I use this rig. The routine takes a couple of minutes of work and then the patience to wait overnight for results. Dump coffee grounds in the filter-cup; fill the vessel half full of water; put the filter-cup in place and pour water thru it to the top; let everything sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours; remove filter-cup and dispose of grounds. Then enjoy your cold brew; refrigerate what you don’t consume on the spot. You’ll have coffee enough for two or three days.
Enjoying cold brew is so easy and tasty that even my wife — a much bigger (and more discerning) java junkie than I’ll ever be — has embraced it. Our nice Mr. Coffee coffeemaker hasn’t been touched in months.
I can come up with two downsides to cold brew. For one: there’s no coffee aroma in the early morning. I do miss waking up to the smell of coffee. The other: who knows, maybe you really like the acidic kick of conventionally-brewed coffee. Some people do.
- Cold brew and tonic water? That’s a combo I haven’t tried yet.
- A dissenting view: One coffee sophisticate finds that cold brewing produces “dead” coffee.
- Eater online compares and contrasts eleven different commercial cold brews, including a couple that I’ve never run across.
- Why not go high-end?
- The science and chemistry of cold brew.
- If you like your coffee hot and intense yet still wish it were less hard on your stomach, why not try using an Aeropress? The Aeropress wins awards for the delicious coffee it makes, it’s cheap, it’s fun to use, and like cold-brewing the Aeropress process removes much of the acid from the coffee it brews.
- Fun to see that, what with cold brew’s current popularity, new make-it-at-home rigs have become available: here and here. Back in the day, this one used to be the only game in town.