By Jeremy Martin
As the month of June falls away, and we officially enter 2014’s summer season, everyone, suddenly, is drinking cold coffee.
For those in the café industry, or customers of said operations, this is the time of year when we can evaluate our hot weather food and drink options without feeling like we’re jinxing ourselves and subliminally calling for a freak late season blizzard.
With that in mind, I’d like to welcome you to Barista Magazine’s blog series on cold-brewed coffee. We’ll discuss the origins of the drink, the various ways in which it is packaged and served, and explore creative and innovate options for consume=ing it.
The first installment will begin at the beginning: Where did it come from? When was it was popularized? What’s the allure?
“It’s refreshing and kind of sweet—it doesn’t really taste like hot coffee but it still has all of the caffeine,” says Allison Deschaine of Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Black Owl Café and a former barista at Caffé Ladro in West Seattle about cold brew.
She’s right. This is something parched and sweaty coffee lovers figure out very early on—like, really early. In the 17th century, legend has it that Dutch traders working in the South Pacific needed something to quell both the heat and the exhaustion that came with navigating old wooden boats near the equator. The sailors supposedly brought Indonesian coffee with them to Japan, where the idea to slowly brew a concentrate using room temperature water took root.
There’s no concrete evidence whether or not that was really how cold-brewed coffee began its journey around the world, but there is some documentation regarding how it first entered into mainstream American café culture.
In 1964, a recent graduate of Cornell University was in Peru with his wife, and was served a cup of coffee which was prepared with a liquid concentrate as its base. Enjoying this cup and realizing that his wife, too, was able to drink it, despite her having a severe acid sensitivity, he brought the idea back to the States and founded Toddy, the country’s first cold brewing system.
The reason for this is good old fashioned science and the way in which certain compounds found in roasted coffee reacts to certain temperatures.
“When you’re brewing with hot water, you’re pulling out all the compounds that are heat soluble, as well as the water soluble ones,” says Julia Leach, the current owner of Toddy, based in Colorado. “When you chill hot coffee, a lot of things happen. A lot of the heat soluble compounds in coffee are very delicate and they decay rapidly. A lot of the flavors change, the aromas change; what was once a great cup of coffee quickly becomes something that is not enjoyable at all.”
The ‘pulling out’ of certain compounds is what gives cold-brewed coffee its creamy mouthfeel and subtle molasses-like sweetness. It’s what also highlights other flavors notes in beans that would not be traceable in hot brewed coffee.
“With cold brewing, we’re pulling out the compounds that are not heat soluble. The heat soluble compounds often lead to bitterness in coffee and you’re not pulling those out at all when you’re doing cold brew. It allows roasters to prepare their beans in a way that really shows off [the] characteristics,” Leach said.
Leach said that Toddy was popular right away following its mid 1960’s launch, but it hasn’t been until the past decade or so that the concept has taken off not only as way to drink cold coffee, but as a way to consume coffee, in general.
“People love it in the summer,” says barista Deschaine. “When we make it, we can’t keep it in stock. And it’s easy to make.”
Cold brew is the result of steeping grounds in cold or room temperature water for up to 24 hours, extracting the water soluble compounds, creating a concentrate, that, if steeped long enough, has a nearly syrup-like consistency. The concentrate is cut with water or milk, and ready to serve either over ice or heated.
“The concept of cold brew itself is something consumers have started asking for instead of iced coffee,” says Leach. “They are starting to ask for it by name.”
And as we’ll learn in the next installment of this series, consumers are ordering their cold coffee with a growing understanding of what it will taste like. Whether it’s served in bottles, pulled from a nitrogenated keg or blended with herbs and other flavors, the idea of what cold brew is and can be is expanding rapidly.
Part two of our series “Completely Cold Brew” will appear right here on Barista Magazine’s blog on Saturday, July 5.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeremy Martin is a freelance writer and photographer who has reported on coffee, craft beer, college sports, and business for a variety of publications over the past six years. A veteran of the café industry and graduate of Western Michigan University, Jeremy lives in Seattle where can often be found making sandwiches from whatever is left in the fridge and cracking wise for the amusement of his adoring wife Amanda.