Cold brew coffee photo by Joe St Pierre

Cold Brew Coffee. Is it coming? Or just a passing fad?

Cold brew coffee (or cold water extract) has been around for a while now. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore what doesn’t interest us directly. Sometimes change takes root underneath our noses without us really paying much attention to what’s going on.  Sometimes, fads flourish briefly and fade away, forgotten by all except the most ardent aficionados. Which is cold brew coffee? Is it a fad? Is it a movement? Is it here to stay? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. There are now enough people taking cold brew seriously enough to give it some legs. It is becoming a sub-culture of the growing culture of speciality coffee and it’s worth knowing a little more about it.

What is cold brew coffee?

Cold brew is very different from iced coffee, which is regular coffee poured over ice or with ice added. Cold brew coffee coffee grounds that have been soaked or steeped in cold (or ambient temperature) water for several hours or even days, and then strained or filtered to remove the solids.  Most cold brews are for longer than twelve hours. The resulting coffee is served cold, and these days it is more often served in glasses than in cups. Cold brew generally has a smoother, mellower taste with less bite than hot brew or espresso. It’s also much lower in caffeine. Its flavour is subtle and sweeter than hot coffee but it loses the more complex floral and fruity notes that conventional coffee aficionados seek out. It also loses the delicious fragrance that we associate with hot coffee as the cold water doesn’t volatilise the aromatic compounds in the coffee.

Low tech, low energy

Cold brew’s advocates cite it’s low tech, low energy production (if you’re prepared to grind the beans by hand you don’t even need electricity or power) and one brew will last for several weeks if you keep it in the fridge, unlike hot coffee which gets bitter and goes off quickly when it cools down. Yesterday’s hot coffee reheated always tastes terrible, whereas yesterday’s cold brew will taste just the same.

It’s easy enough to see how different taste profiles will shine through the different processes. The taste of all coffee comes from the soluble elements and different compounds dissolve more readily at different temperatures. Hot brew coffee will emphasise the acidity, the caffeine and the coffee oils, as these aren’t as soluble at lower temperatures. Typically, a cold brew uses twice the volume of coffee grounds to create a brew.

A coffee sub-culture

There are enough serious people taking cold brew seriously enough to merit a close look at it. I honestly can’t see coffee becoming a drink that’s more often drunk cold than hot but it might find a place in the coffee repertoire. It’s certainly very different from iced coffee and it’s a very refreshing idea for a hot summer’s day. If you’re interested in different coffee experiences, it’s worth trying. If you serve coffee to customers, it’s certainly worth making a pot or two and seeing if any of your customers like it. Let me know how you get on. I’m interested to hear.