Many people think about cold brew as iced coffee’s much cooler older brother. Cold brew coffee (which often goes by the name “cold press” when brewed using a French press) is slowly taking over iced coffee culture as an improved version of “old school” iced coffee. Here’s look at the history, chemistry and other subtleties that make this new beverage so delicious.
Cold Brew: A Brief History
The history of cold brew coffee in America may be brief, but for the rest of the world, it’s quite long: known as Kyoto coffee, people in Japan have been drinking it for centuries. Some theorize that it was developed by Dutch traders from Indonesia as a way to transport large quantities of coffee successfully from one continent to another.
It was an astute Japanese businessman named Ueshima Tadao in the 1960s who decided to explore variations on the flavored milks (including a milk-coffee concoction) popular in Japan at the time. He turned the ratio on its head, producing a can of mostly coffee with small amounts of milk and sugar, and cold coffee as an RTD (ready-to-drink) product was born.
In any case, cold brew didn’t catch on in the United States for a few more decades, which isn’t exactly surprising, in fact a 2013 study found that Asia consumes 86% of all iced coffee beverages, whereas America accounts for only 10%. Like many other new coffee discoveries, however, cold press is becoming wildly popular very quickly.
Why Cold Brew?
Cold brew “is iced coffee taken seriously, rather than iced coffee as an afterthought,” said Peter Giuliano, senior director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. While many don’t taste a difference, there is one—chemically speaking, at least. Coffee grounds infused with hot water produce a bitterer, sourer liquid, due to the oils full of acidic compounds that give coffee its famous bitterness. But these oils won’t dissolve at lower temperatures; ergo, brewing with cold water, while a much longer process (between 8-24 hours, depending on the desired strength), allows the taster to perceive the subtle nuances in coffee’s flavor. While acid may be nice in a hot cup of coffee, it’s something of a killjoy in iced coffee, in which drinkers want all the possible flavor notes possible—citrus, chocolate, nuts, spices, wood, herbs, even floral.
Cold brew has 67% less acid than regular brewed coffee; thus, it doesn’t anesthetize the tongue, allowing for a full flavor experience.
For once, we have a new coffee product that’s easier to make than all the others. All that’s required is a mason jar or pitcher with a lid (or a French press), and something to strain out the grounds.
One final note: unlike hot coffee, refrigerated cold press will stay good for ten days! So don’t wait any longer—grab your beans and go see what you’re missing.