Cold Brew Coffee

I’ve heard about cold brew coffee for a long time and heard how great it was but I was also given the impression that making it was a long, painful and difficult process so I never was terribly interested.coffee cold brew

Last week I was reading Cory Doctorow’s HOMELAND, the sequel to his novel LITTLE BROTHER, and in it the lead character/narrator goes on for about two pages about cold brew coffee and how to make it. It was simple and easy sounding so I did a few searches online and decided to try it.

For those of you that have never heard of cold brew coffee the idea is that brewing coffee in cold water rather then boiling or near boiling water releases all the good flavors and caffeine from the coffee without many of the acids that are released in the hot brewing. The result is a condensed, strong but much more flavorful and delicious version of coffee.

There are numerous devices out there, most of the ones I ever saw were quite expenseive, to cold brew but Cory told me it was easy.

Here’s an excerpt from the book (if you haven’t read LITTLE BROTHER and HOMELAND and you live online… you need to. ( http://craphound.com/littlebrother/buy/ ) After you’re done give it to a teenager and tell them to do the same! This is the section where the lead, Marcus, talks about it from the plains of Burning Man:

You’ve had hot coffee before, and in the hands of a skilled maker, coffee can be amazing. But the fact is that coffee is one of the hardest things to get right in the world. Even with great beans and a great roast and great equipment, a little too much heat, the wrong grind, or letting things go on too long will produce a cup of bitterness. Coffee’s full of different acids, and depending on the grind, temperature, roast, and method, you can “overextract” the acids from the beans, or overheat them and oxidize them, producing that awful taste you get at donut shops and Starbucks.

But there is Another Way. If you make coffee in cold water, you only extract the sweetest acids, the highly volatile flavors that hint at chocolate and caramel, the ones that boil away or turn to sourness under imperfect circumstances. Brewing coffee in cold water sounds weird, but in fact, it’s just about the easiest way to make a cup (or a jar) of coffee.

Just grind coffee—keep it coarse, with grains about the size of sea salt—and combine it with twice as much water in an airtight jar. Give it a hard shake and stick it somewhere cool overnight (I used a cooler bag loaded with ice from ice camp and wrapped the whole thing in bubble wrap for insulation). In the morning, strain it through a colander and a paper coffee filter. What you’ve got now is coffee concentrate, which you can dilute with cold water to taste—I go about half and half. If you’re feeling fancy, serve it over ice.

Here’s the thing: cold-brew coffee tastes amazing, and it’s practically impossible to screw it up. Unlike espresso, where all the grounds have to be about the same size so that the high-pressure water doesn’t cause fracture lines in the “puck” of coffee that leave some of the coffee unextracted and the rest overextracted, cold-brew grounds can be just about any size. Seriously, you could grind it with a stone axe. Unlike drip coffee, which goes sour and bitter if you leave the grounds in contact with the water for too long, cold brew just gets yummier and yummier (and more and more caffeinated!) the longer the grounds sit in the water. Cold brewing in a jar is pretty much the easiest way to make coffee in the known universe—if you don’t mind waiting overnight for the brew—and it produces the best-tasting, most potent coffee you’ve ever drunk. The only downside is that it’s kind of a pain in the ass to clean up, but if you want to spend some more money, you can invest in various gadgets to make it easier to filter the grounds, from cheap little Toddy machines all the way up to hand-blown glass Kyoto drippers that look like something from a mad scientist’s lab. But all you need to make a perfectly astounding cup of coldbrewed jet fuel is a mason jar, coffee, water, and something to strain it through. They’ve been making iced coffee this way in New Orleans for centuries, but for some unknown reason, it never seems to have caught on big-time.

So away I go—- I didn’t have any larger Mason Jars around the house so I bought the bottle in the photo and decided to use it. Not the best choice because of it’s narrow neck. It makes it very difficult to stir the coffee slurry and you end up having to spin the bottle to keep everything circulating. A mason jar is a much better choice with a wide mouth and an easy to deal with lid. But still, I think any glass container will work.

I took Cory’s suggestion after reading through a few websites and finding most of them recommending a 1 to 1 or 1 to 1.5 ratio of coffee and water. I had a bag of beans and for the first batch I ground them up and did a 1 to 1 ratio and let it sit for about 11-12 hours.

Once you’ve got the cold brew most people suggest mixing it with hot water to create a great cup of coffee (the ratios are all over the place on this suggestion) but I tried it straight and with water and it was okay but didn’t blow me away. It sure was easy and it sure was coffee but didn’t knock my socks off— which makes me think I did something wrong. Maybe not long enough soaking? Ratio?

Last night I started my next batch. This time I did a 1 to 2 ratio of coffee/water and will let it ‘brew’ for 24-36 hours and see how it works out.

Cold brew is a damn simple and easy way to make coffee. I could see taking this method camping or into places with no or bad coffee making reputations. I can also see the appeal of this for making iced coffee: make the brew and throw some ice in and you’re ready to go without the watered down coffee we usually get.

Have you ever made cold brewed coffee? What’s your formula / recipe / best method? I’d love to hear from anyone and everyone on this.