If a breakfast or lunch with my grandmother would slowly drag on (as was sometimes the case in her dotage and our relaxed times together), she would often say “kalter Kaffee macht schön.” A rough translation might be “Drink coffee cold and never look old,” and while I don’t think either of us thought it was true, we’d finish our coffee anyway and move on to the next thing.
Plain cold coffee does not have much appeal—cold when it was once hot—but intentionally cold coffee certainly can be delicious, and one look at the prices for an “iced” coffee from Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or other chains will tell you it’s clearly a money-maker. I prefer (when possible) to make it myself—and have spent time this summer playing with variations on the theme.
Strictly speaking, this experimentation started in 2007, when a friend sent me an article from the New York Times about cold brewing coffee. I tried that method a few times, and found it less than satisfying; it made for cold coffee, but not really very good cold coffee. I tried again in 2009, after reading Jerry Baldwin’s posts (first and second) on The Atlantic‘s food blog; Baldwin, who was involved with both Peet’s and Starbucks, certainly knows about coffee. Professional advice notwithstanding, I discovered two things: he’s right that there is a flavor difference to be had by brewing hot coffee and cooling it, yet I also found it did get bitter, sometimes unpredictably. I wanted more reliability than this.
This summer, I believe I found the answer, and it rests (not surprisingly) in blending different ideas and approaches together, without much more complexity to the process. The first change I made is to the type of coffee. For normal, hot brewed coffee, I use a dark French roast, and I wondered if this was the source of the bitter taste. In playing around with the process for cold coffee, I decided to try a lighter bean, and switched to a Mocha Java bean mix (specifically, Zabar’s Mocha Style). When brewed, it forms a lovely, cappuccino-like head on top, and has an aroma slightly reminiscent of chocolate.
Then I decided—no doubt to Baldwin’s horror—to do both hot and cold brewing. I use a press pot, with the appropriate amount of coffee for the total I expect to make, but only 25% of the total volume of water. I heat the water to near-boiling, pour it in, and let it steep for five or six minutes. Then I add the remainder of the water—yes, with the coffee still in the pot—and cover it, and put it in the refrigerator overnight. I press the pot in the morning (or whenever I’m ready to drink it). This seems to have the desired effect, perhaps by cooling down the brewing process for some semblance of the “cold brewing” desired, but with enough initial heat to open up the full flavor of the coffee.
Give it a try! It’s certainly cheaper than the store-made version, and you have greater control over how you sweeten or lighten it. My grandmother was never much for the American fetish for cold beverages, but I suspect she would have approved nonetheless.