cold-brewed coffee

I got an email from a friend this morning and just decided to turn it into a blog post.

On 6/28/07, E------ Mc----- <---------@starpower.net> wrote:

Is this right? How would it taste after the overnight counter setting?

June 27, 2007

Iced Coffee? No Sweat


BEFORE I go telling everybody that the secret to great iced coffee is already in the kitchen, my friend Keller wants me to confess: I didn’t know from iced coffee until he showed me the light.

It’s important to cop to this now, because not a summer goes by that he does not painstakingly remind me, a rabid iced-coffee drinker, that he’s the one who introduced me to the wonders of cold-brewed iced coffee. The funny thing is, when the subject came up we were holed up in a summer rental with three friends off the coast of Puerto Rico, on a tiny island not exactly swimming in upmarket coffee houses.

Our first morning there I brewed a blend from the local grocery in the coffeepot, laced it with a little half-and-half and sugar, then let it cool. Classy, I thought, carrying the pitcher to the table. “I’ll just take it hot,” he mumbled, while I blinked in disbelief.

Clearly, this boy didn’t know any better. A drink has a time and place. Surely he didn’t subscribe to drinking hot coffee in summer?

“No, I only drink iced coffee if it’s cold-brewed,” he said.

For five days we watched him sullenly sip his hot coffee on a broiling Caribbean island in the dead of summer. We chided him for his pretensions, ridiculed him, tried valiantly to break him, but he patiently waited us out. Once we tried it we would understand, he explained. Like friends disputing a baseball stat in a bar with no access to Google, we had no way to settle the argument.

Two weeks later, back in Brooklyn, I saw a sign: “Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee Served Here.” Fine, then. I threw down two bucks and took a sip. Though it pains me to admit, the difference was considerable. Without the bitterness produced by hot water, the cold-brewed coffee had hints of chocolate, even caramel. I dropped my sugar packet — no need for it. The best brews hardly need cream. It really is the kind of thing a gentleman might spend five days in hot-coffee solitary confinement for.

Most days I’m too lazy to hunt down the elusive cold-brewed cup. But recently I discovered an interesting little fact. Cold-brewed coffee is actually dirt simple to make at home. Online, you’ll find a wealth of forums arguing for this bean or that, bottled water over tap, the 24-hour versus the 12-hour soak. You can even buy the Toddy cold-brew coffee system for about $30.

But you can also bang it out with a Mason jar and a sieve. You just add water to coffee, stir, cover it and leave it out on the counter overnight. A quick two-step filtering the next day (strain the grounds through a sieve, and use a coffee filter to pick up silt), a dilution of the brew one-to-one with water, and you’re done. Except for the time it sits on the kitchen counter, the whole process takes about five minutes.

I was curious to see how it would taste without all the trappings. The answer is, Fantastic. My friend Carter, something of a cold-brewing savant, turned me onto another homegrown trick: freeze some of the concentrate into cubes. Matched with regular ice cubes, they melt into the same ratio as the final blend.

Very fancy. Can’t wait to tell Keller.

At 8 am, i wrote back:

"Like friends disputing a baseball stat in a bar with no access to Google," she writes. That sentence would have made sense in 1923, even, and she simply updated by slapping the Google on the end.

Anyway: Yes, it's right. It would be very difficult to mess up cold-brewed coffee. Personally, i'd just say buy the kit and follow those instructions--and i'll tell you why in a second--but if you wanna go it alone follow these rules:

1: grind your coffee coarse. like one setting coarser than bistro pot. (is that how one spells "coarse"?)
2: A rough ratio is a gallon of water for a pound of beans. Regardless, it should be "sludgy." It would be hard to mess up as long as you use a lot of coffee.
3: Start with a 12 hour, countertop soak with room temperature, good quality water and then wait longer if you want to. I've let it sit for 24 hours before. It almost never gets bitter.

et. al.: Start with good, fresh beans. Then, if you really wanna get nasty, use MAxwell House or something like that and the caffeine content will be out the roof. It'll still taste good, though.

Now, here's the rub: The biggest problem--nay, the ONLY problem--with cold-brewing coffee is straining it. Even with the Toddy kit, if you don't pour the water in correctly, or if you move the bucket around too much, then the sucker gets stopped up and takes forever to drain. In the case of home made, you drain, but you just end up with silty coffee and that's not a good thing. Silt equals not-as-tasty and a shortened shelf life (as the coffee with eventually get bitter.) oh, and it'll store for 2-3 weeks [in the fridge]. I don't know if it'll keep longer than that as i've never been able to keep a batch this long.

One final note: If you do indeed decide to try the maxwell house route, for God's sake, don't drink it straight up. Your eyeballs will fall out from all the caffeine.

Alrighty. I think i'm gonna make this into a blog post. Talk to you later.



Bookninja said...

If your grinder has a "French Press" setting, that would be the one to use. Coffee gets bitter as it oxidizes (that's fancypants talk for "rusts"). Exposure to hear, light and air causes the yummy chemicals in the coffee to oxidize, making it more acidic. Turning off the heat right after you brew a pot (as opposed to letting it simmer) is a good way to prolong the shelf life of hot coffee. But cold filtering would be a very gentle way to extract the savory oils from coffee. You could conceivably heat up the cold brewed coffee in a microwave to get a superior hot cup. But that's just theory.

mary said...

ohhhhhh i miss my cold strong toddy. i have no excuse for being without the glory that is cold-brewed coffee. we have a toddy maker and freshed roasted beans...now i am motivated to go buy a filter...thanks.