Beyond Single Serve: Making Sense of the Cold Brew Craze
Cold brew coffee certainly isn’t new. In fact, the Japanese began brewing ‘Kyoto-style coffee’ using cold water in the 1600s. But since cold brew exploded onto the American coffee scene a few years ago, and especially as gourmet coffee brands have made it a central part of their seasonal summer menus, it has rapidly established itself as both the new beverage of choice for coffee drinkers as well as a platform to create myriad drinks beyond what it possible with single serve or traditionally brewed coffee.
Cold brew is popular for many reasons. It’s a great summer drink because it’s served cold over ice, and it appeals to a broad audience because it has a much lower level of acidity than traditionally brewed coffee. By leaving the water in contact with coffee grounds overnight, some of the bitter and harsh notes are not extracted, creating a smoother tasting coffee.
Any, probably not by coindicence, cold brew’s popularity has risen right along with the pace of most people’s daily lives. The brewing process requires very little involvement, and like single serve, cold brew is the perfect grab-and-go morning beverage for anyone in need of caffeine but short on time (sound familiar?).
One simple recipe calls for 12 ounces of coarsely ground coffee steeped with 7 cups of water overnight, then strained using a coffee filter or cheese cloth. This cold brew concentrate is then added in a 1:3 ratio of coffee to water or milk, further mellowing the flavor and taste.
Further enhancing its appeal, cold brew also works as a beverage platform by adding milks, sugars, and flavors to create different drinks. Just as espresso is used as the base for cappuccinos, lattes, and mochas, cold brew can be used to deliver a range of iced beverages. Adding alternative milks such as soy, almond, and coconut to the base also changes the flavor and consistency of the beverage.
Recently, the most notable transformation of cold brew coffee has been the addition of nitrogen gas. The resulting nitro coffee is a dark, creamy coffee beverage with a foamy head, resembling a Guinness draft beer.
To create nitro coffee, cold brew concentrate is pumped from a container and nitrogen gas is mixed with it under pressure to create the distinctive look and taste. Unlike carbonation which results in a sharp, crackly sensation when drinking, the nitrogen gas gives the drink a creamy texture and mouthfeel. A foamy head adds additional smoothness to the drink – and makes it look delicious!
The nitrogen evolution doesn’t stop at coffee. While traditional coffee retailers are adding keg systems to offer nitro cold brew, breweries are also dedicating a tap handle to offer nitro infusions of their traditional ales, lagers, stouts and porters.
Cold brew coffee has roots that go back centuries, and has been served in parts of this country – including in New Orleans as a staple coffee beverage – for decades. Finally, however, cold brew and nitro coffee are becoming widely established across the United States as it enables drink options that can’t be achieved with single serve or traditional brewing methods. With its flexibility as a platform for making multiple drinks and its growing popularity, cold brew is going to be enjoyed in more places by more coffee consumers for many years to come.