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Fire and Ice: Cold Brew Coffee

December 28, 2010

Cold brew coffee is an icy devil. It’s a multi-hued, indigo sensation in a glass.

Unlike regular iced coffee, which is regular coffee brewed double-strength, cooled, then poured over ice, the cold brewing process, which takes at least 12 hours, eliminates the acidity and extracts maximum caffeine.

My first introduction to cold brew, or at least when I realized what I was drinking was cold brew (apparently Intelligentsia does it), was at Stumptown. It took me slightly aback, its mellow sweetness almost melancholy. After that, I was prepared. I tried the cold brew at Ninth Street Espresso and had a nearly psychedelic experience. Colors exploded in my head while bittersweet cocoa flavors played out on my tongue. This was not coffee, I decided. This was crack.

A couple Coffee Thursdays ago, Neo brought some cold brewed Café Grumpy Heartbreaker Blend to share. We had just tried the same blend as a pourover—it was a nice, comforting, morning cup. Iced, however, the sweetness came out even more. I wanted to carry a vial of it with me at all times for a frigid blue rush.

“Take all of it,” Neo said. “I have more than enough.”

And so it came to be that I drank nearly an entire Evian of cold brew coffee, only to find out that I was supposed to dilute it first. Upon realizing this (in an extremely caffeinated state), I let out a maniacal laugh. And finished the espresso drink I was holding.

The next day, Neo wrote on my Facebook wall. “I think you need help,” he said.

Addiction be damned. Since then, I’ve been on a quest for cold brew. Unfortunately, Chicago cafes have proven disappointing: Swim Café’s was way too diluted. Wormhole’s (post on this café soon, because everything else is awesome) was slightly better, but still too mild—the chocolatey notes were there, but not jarring enough.

A trek to Blue Bottle Coffee in Williamsburg this New York trip made up for everything. The fact that it was blizzarding outside didn’t stop this lunatic from ordering their Kyoto-style iced coffee, which is prepared in mad-scientist test tubes that run from floor to ceiling.

The glass was deceptively small. Shivering and soaked to the skin with sleet, I took a sip. It was so fiercely strong as to be almost alcoholic, like chocolate bourbon cherries. My head was spinning, the psychological effects of the caffeine starting to kick in. Phenomenal as it was, this was not an every day drink. Boozy and rich, fire and ice.

Blue Bottle Kyoto-style is also served at Caffetteria, as is New Orleans-style with chicory, milk and a bit of sugar. The barista was nice enough to give me a taste of the New Orleans—a true indulgence, it was like a non-cloying version of Thai iced coffee, the chicory adding a nice peppery bite. They make it on a Toddy, but he explained that you can easily make it with a bucket and a sieve, like so:

Use a ratio of 1 lb coffee for every 2 liters of water and about 3 oz of chicory (available at Sweet Marias). Grind the coffee as coarsely as possible and let the grinds sit in the water for 12 hours, then strain and sweeten to taste.

As for the Kyoto, it was less intense than the Brooklyn version, but still incredible.

This is coffee to cleanse your palette and mind. This is coffee to chill out.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Catriona permalink
    December 29, 2010 12:12 am

    This sounds incredible, I’m in awe of the amount of different coffees you’re trying. How the hell do you do it?

    • octopuscarwash permalink*
      December 29, 2010 4:31 am

      Ha… um… willing to suffer the symptoms of dependence and occasional anxiety/headaches/stomach pains associated with too much coffee?
      update me on your coffee place! what was it called again?

  2. December 29, 2010 6:23 pm

    Nice post Lida. I’m not a coffee fiend or anything, but I do use caffeine at times for homework and the like. Admittedly, I go for the trashy fix of those 5hour energy drinks and red bull. I’ve never really appreciated the boldness of coffee, and have preferred it in liquid candy form.
    Recently(over break), however, I can say that thanks to my Mom who makes me a cup of her coffee that can also be likened to crack, I have started to grow a fondness of black coffee. No cream, no sugar.

    It’s an amazing change. Perhaps its the sheer amount of caffeine in one cup that allows me to ignore what usually throws me off of coffee. Normally, I hate the watery bitterness that lingers and taints the mouth like a cigarette. But the coffee my mom makes is sooo good. It seems antithetical to say the it has a smooth and savory bitterness, but it does.

    I asked her how she makes it. In case you wanted to try and tell me what you think.
    Its extremely simple. It makes one cup of coffee
    1. Measure two cups of water in one of those large glass measuring cups
    2. Microwave it for 4:30 (it should be close to boiling)
    4. Then put in no less than 4tblsp of coffee stuff, (any type will do)
    5. Stir and let sit for 2 minutes
    6. Strain with a fine strainer into your mug
    7. Enjoy, and watch out for the sediment once you get to the bottom 🙂

    This may seem dumb, but I think it produced great results.

    • octopuscarwash permalink*
      December 30, 2010 1:19 am

      damn, noah! way to write a post! you should get a blog of your own (in a good way).
      your mom’s coffee sounds interesting. where did you say she was from? north carolina or something?

  3. Hillary permalink
    December 30, 2010 2:24 am

    Mmm I love coffee posts! Istria started making cold press coffee last summer and, in my opinion, it’s quite excellent. In addition to Intelligentsia, at least there’s one more place in Chicago you can get your cold press fix!

    Also, I started brewing cold press coffee with my french press last semester because the iced coffee options on campus are truly disappointing. It was so easy too- I would prepare the concentrate the night before (I had to fiddle around a little to find the right ratio of grounds to water), let it sit and then add ice, water and cream to taste in the morning before heading out of my dorm room for the day. It was delicious and I highly recommend this process!

    • octopuscarwash permalink*
      December 30, 2010 2:57 am

      good to know! too bad istria doesn’t brew it in the winter 😦
      are you gonna be working there again? i was looking but they said they’re not hiring

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