by Oliver Strand New York Times Blog June 10, 2011, 4:15 pm
I became hooked on cold-brew coffee after working a construction job in New Orleans more than 10 years ago. It was strictly a regional thing then, everywhere in the Big Easy and nearly impossible to find elsewhere — you could find cold-brew concentrate in the supermarket, but most of the people I knew were given mayo jars full of the dark, dense liquid by an aunt or a grandmother. In the following years, I became a proselytizer for cold-brew coffee, gaining converts for a steep-and-strain method that seemed counterintuitive until you tried it.
The coffee started to catch on in New York in 2007; by last summer, it had become regular fare at almost all of the coffee shops I frequent — it seemed everybody had fallen for the clean, clear flavors of iced coffee that wasn’t traumatized by hot water. But in coffee circles, no conversation is closed. When I mentioned cold brew to Counter Culture Coffee’s Peter Giuliano, he told me that he only used the “Japanese iced method,” in which you brew hot coffee directly onto ice. With characteristic diplomacy, Giuliano told me I had it all wrong.
George Howell, of George Howell Coffee, was more direct. Brewing onto ice is “the only way to do it,” he said. “It’s fresh! There’s none of that oxidized flavor [of cold brew]. You want to know what [cold brew] is like? Open up a bottle and pour a glass of wine and let it sit around.” Cold brew is for “simplified Merlot drinkers,” Howell said. “But the Japanese iced expresses terroir beautifully.” Got it.
The iced method isn’t complicated. Basically, you prepare brewed coffee as you normally would, only you use half hot water, half ice you put in the bottom of the vessel. The hot, fresh coffee drips directly onto ice so that it’s cool and ready to drink right away.
My simplified instructions are below. (Coffee fanatics measure liquids by weight — these days, a digital scale is standard gear — but while most use grams, I prefer ounces because the low-scoring numbers are easier to track.) If you want to go deeper, Counter Culture’s recipe is here, George Howell’s is here, and Square Mile’s James Hoffman’s thoughtful and complicated take on it is here. Everybody’s is different, and everybody’s is right. Chances are you can make it with the coffee gear you already own, or you could get a Hario kit here.
Is it vastly superior? I’m not convinced. And I’m not giving up cold-brew coffee — opening the fridge to find a jar of concentrate is as much a part of summer as a nectarine or a Carvelanche. But I appreciate that the iced method is simple and quick, tasty, easy to master. It’s another addition to the repertory.
Iced Method Coffee 1 ounce fresh-ground coffee 7 ounces ice 8 ounces water heated to 200 degrees, plus extra for rinsing filter.
Place a filter in a Chemex (or any filter brew system) and rinse filter with at least four ounces hot water. Remove filter, discard water, place Chemex on a kitchen scale and add 7 ounces of ice. Replace filter, add coffee and slowly add 1 ounce of water heated to 200 degrees, until the grounds are saturated. Let the grounds “bloom” then deflate, which might take up to 1 minute. Reset scale to zero and add remaining 7 ounces of water heated to 200 degrees, in a slow, steady stream. Drink immediately.
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