For years, the majority of American coffee was essentially with or without creamer. Over the past twenty years, the rise of any number of coffeehouses, most notably the larger conglomerates, have changed that. While some may wonder how a place can charge three dollars for a cup of coffee, the fact is that American coffee palates have become much more refined.
As a result, those palates (and their owners) are always in search of something new. Enter Cold Brew coffee and the rise to the top. Cold Brew coffee has been around for centuries, first as an import from overseas and then as a Southern oddity, but it has left an incredible mark on American brewing in the past few years.
History of Cold Brew
A drink as ubiquitous as coffee is often surrounded by plenty of legend when it comes to origin, and cold brews are no exception. Portuguese explorers wrote back detailing the beverage, which they knew from ties to Turkish merchants, being served in a way that they had not yet encountered.
Cold brew became popular elsewhere in Asia as well; Thailand, Vietnam, and India all have their own versions. However, these are often prepared from a coffee that is brewed in a traditional, hot water method. Until the last two hundred years or so, it was only Japan that created what we think of as cold brewed coffee.
One region that changed that reality was the American South. Linked by trade routes to the rest of the world, Southerners had a taste for imported beverages. However, the realities of humidity and heat in the American South created an appeal for cold-brewed beverages (after all, this was the region that created Sweet Tea, and produced a cold brewed tea known as Sun Tea).
This was especially true in New Orleans, where cold brewed coffee was flavored with chicory. However, it has only been in the last ten years that the drink gained attention beyond the South.
Recipes for making the best cup of cold brew coffee vary depending on whom one speaks to. In reality, the only constants are that it takes significant amounts of time, somewhat more coffee than other methods, and that the water must be cooler than what is usually encountered.
As a general rule, the longer the coffee brews, the cooler the water can be, though truthfully the water is rarely ever really “cold.” Some long-brewing recipes call for water that is around room temperature, while some accelerated processes use water that is around 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or about as hot as a very hot water tap.
Because of this long period required for brewing, cold brew coffees are often made in relatively small batches throughout the day.
Ironically, the freshness that one normally would see diminished over 20 minutes of warm brewed coffee does not dissipate with cold brews. As a result, many coffeehouses and manufacturers are using cold brew processes to make a more stable canned iced coffee beverage.
Comparison with Iced Coffee
While the two are often served similarly, it is worth drawing a distinction now between cold brewed coffee and iced coffee. Cold brew is coffee that has been brewed long and cool, while iced coffee is simply normal coffee that has been chilled then poured over ice. While the two look remarkably similar, there are some important differences. Iced coffee retains more of the acidic bite of warm coffee, while cold brews have much less of this. Additionally, the aromatics that make coffee so unique are more easily found in cold brews, while they can be lacking in iced coffees.
Comparison with Hot Brewed Coffee
Likewise, there are considerable differences between hot brewed and cold brewed coffees beyond simply the brewing temperature. Hot brewed coffees are much more volatile in their aromatic compounds. Because of this, a hot brew may smell and taste stronger in the moment, but it will lose much of that over time. Additionally, hot brews take significantly less coffee per cup to produce.
Beyond the Mug
Finally, cold brew coffee gets customers excited about drinking coffee during a time of the year when many would rather opt for something more refreshing. Some coffee makers report that their sales of cold brew coffee triples during the summer months. At the same time, sales of hot coffee decreases as people look for a cooler way to get their caffeine fix. Cold brewed coffee lets shops not only keep selling to their customers, but do so at a higher rate.
Cold Brew Coffee Going Forward
While its popularity has exploded over the past four years or so, do not expect to see cold brew coffee disappear like another fad. Instead, due to its different taste and versatility with coffeehouses, look for cold brew coffee to become a fixture in cafes around the country and the world.