Cold Brew: The Art of Slow Steeping

September 2, 2021
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As we reach the late-summer months, some truly wonderful experiences begin to manifest, and we’re reminded why summertime is associated with life, fun, and happiness. The fireflies come out, succulent berries are in season, and in some places around the world it’s the perfect temperature to go outside and enjoy the weather. Unfortunately, it’s unbearably hot in a lot of other places. There are many time-tested traditions for beating the heat though: going out for a swim, finding a nice spot under a shady tree, or grabbing yourself something nice and cold to drink.

These all evoke strong images of summertime, but when you think of a cool summer drink, your first thought probably isn’t coffee. Coffee tends to be a hot beverage, not very appealing when the weather follows suit. You can, of course, have your coffee iced, which is many peoples’ favorite way to drink coffee. Iced coffee can sometimes be a bit of a hassle to make at home, though— pour freshly brewed coffee in with a cup of ice, and you’ve made a big cup of watered-down disappointment.

There exists another kind of coffee that doesn’t need to cool, however, because it was never hot. Of course, we mean cold brew. Cold brewing is a subject we’ve touched on in previous blog posts, and as promised, we’re going more in depth on this cooler riff of a classically hot drink. Even if this chilled version of a classic doesn’t sound like your beverage of choice this summer, you may be surprised at how light and easy this drink can be!

How do you Cold Brew?

Cold brewing is one of the easiest and yet fickle brewing methods for coffee. This is because the brew technique is as simple as it gets: you take your coffee, your water, put both in a jar and let rest in your fridge overnight. Strain in the morning, and you’ve got cold brew! Only, if you couldn’t guess, there’s a lot more to it than that. The tricky part is getting the grind right. No, you don’t want to use a pre-ground coffee, that would likely produce a very harsh tasting cup. If you haven’t read our last blog post, Extracting the Coffee, then we highly recommend you do. For clarity though, we’ll reiterate a couple of points made previously. 

Coffee brewing is as much an art as it is a science, and that science comes in the form of the extraction rate. Depending on your grind coarseness, water temperature, and brew time, you could turn specialty coffee-worthy beans into an unworthy mess. This is because all of these factors directly correlate with how quickly your coffee essence is being extracted from the beans and into the water. Higher temperature, finer grind, longer brew equals more dissolved compounds in the final product, which isn’t always desirable. In fact, most professional baristas try to balance their coffee by reducing one or more of these elements. Lower temperature, coarser grind, shorter brew equals less dissolved compounds, which when done correctly, can produce wonderful coffee. The bitterest, most astringent notes of the coffee beans are left out this way.

When making cold brew, we’re cranking one of these factors way down: the temperature. Typical coffee extraction takes place between 190° and 205°, a far cry from the internals of your average refrigerator. If you let coffee sit at fridge temperature for the same amount of time as a hot brewing method, then you would have a cup of water with less than the ghost of flavor inside. In order for this to become remotely palatable, we’re going to have to compensate by letting it extract overnight. This way, the water has plenty of time to extract. However, if you stuck to the same grind coarseness as you did with hot coffee, then you probably didn’t make a very good cup of cold brew. A coarse grind is the way to go here, with each grain about the size of a peppercorn.

There’s not really a specific formula to cold brew (just like with regular coffee), but here are some suggestions to brew on:

· Let it extract for no longer than 18 but no less than 8 hours.

· Make your grind as uniform as possible to eliminate any harsh notes in the cup.

· Even though your grind is coarse, use a fine strainer or filter paper.

Why Cold Brew?

There are tons of reasons to prefer cold brew over typical coffee. Firstly, there’s a great deal more control involved. Rather than having a two-to-three-minute window between over and under-extracted, you have a whole ten hours. This also leaves a lot of room for experimentation; maybe 15-hour cold brew is just right for you! Even if you’ve only tried iced coffee, and you didn’t think it was that good, don’t assume you won’t like cold brew. Another hidden layer to cold brew coffee comes from how long it takes to make: the compounds within go through some level of oxidization as it extracts. Oxidization, in reference to coffee beans and grounds, is usually bad. It makes the coffee taste duller and robs the consumer of flavors they could have experienced. The oxidization that happens to coffee beans usually takes place over a very large amount of time though, days if not months before it’s actually used. Cold brew, however, is made in a matter of hours, and the subtle differences gained from the oxidized oils make cold brew almost a different experience entirely. It really is something you just have to try for yourself.

Does your favorite supermarket coffee brand only come in pre-ground varieties? Why not take this chance to try your hand at and let your tastebuds experience the art of cold brew with any of Minas Espresso’s whole coffee beans? From our conscientious Decaf to our bold Benedito Roast, our coffee is sure to shine no matter how you brew it! Although, we really must recommend the Honey Bee Specialty if you’re itching to make cold brew— the light floral notes express wonderfully due to the oxidized oils. Regardless, you can’t go wrong with any of our specialty-grade coffees!

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