Cold brewed coffee served cold with frozen milk and espresso ice cubes.
By Sherri Johns
On a rare sunny Portland dawn, I craved a little sparkle in my morning cup. Venturing into the local Stumptown Coffee Roasters I was delighted to see three varieties of cold coffee aside the usual iced Americano and iced café latte. Did I want the nitro brew on tap, single origin cold, in a carton or a can to go? Hmmm, a tasty decision to make.
But first a historical word on how cold coffee got hot.
According to Japan Today, cold coffee was first served in Japan in 1920, brewed using a dripper method that produced a concentrated coffee. Elaborate glass towers of course ground coffee were filled with cold filtered water that was allowed to steep and drip through the grounds finally through a fine wool filter (or sometimes a volcanic rock filter) and collected in a vessel below, drip by drip.
Like the slow, drip, drip, drip of preparation, it took a long time to catch on.
Cross the Pacific and fast forward to 1965 and the invention of the Toddy by Todd Simpson, who after graduation as a chemical engineering student at Cornell, enjoyed a cup of coffee created with a liquid concentrate. Inspired, Simpson developed and patented “The Toddy”, a cold brew system. The Toddy brewing process removed most of the acidity in coffee. Consumers used the toddy coffee and hot water to make a quick quality cup and also found the cold brew process was perfect for, well, cold brew, or iced coffee. The Toddy retains its reputation as the first, but no longer the only, domestic cold brew.
Back to Asia, and Tokyo’s UCC Ueshima Coffee Co. (UCC) which in 1969 first brought cold canned coffee to the Japan market. UCC owns plantations in Jamaica, Hawaii, and Indonesia controlling production from bean to can. The popularity of ready-to-drink surged as consumer demand for convenience grew. As a testament to RTD’s popularity, walk into any convenience store in Japan, Taiwan, China, Singapore, most Asia countries and you’ll see no fewer than 10 varieties of RTD coffee on their shelves. Oddly enough, during winter months, you’ll often see those same canned coffees in a small hot to-go case on the front counter.
UPDATE: Peet's acquires Stumpton
In 1994 Starbucks, in partnership with Pepsi, introduced to the US market a bottled, carbonated coffee drink called Cafe Mazagran that originated in Algeria. I recall it was a big flop and pulled from the market shortly after its entry. The coffee extract developed for the product re-appeared in the Starbucks bottled Frappuccino, suitable for the next generation of coffee drinkers who grew up on sweet soda and could be enticed to enter the coffee consumption world. Starbucks would “grow” the next generation of coffee drinkers by offering a sweet milky beverage for 12- to 18-year-olds. A theory anyway.
Almost every café around the world offers iced café lattes or espresso drinks and iced blended drinks, call it what you may, frappe latte or smoothie, (a nod to Julia Child for introducing the term frappe to the American public in her zest to introduce everyday French cooking in the US. The term translates as “blended or whipped”. Since the younger frappe drinkers only know the word from Starbucks popularity, I wanted to share that tidbit of wisdom).
Today cold coffee is hot with a broad range of innovations. Starbucks, Stumptown, Cuvee, Blue Bottle Coffee and many others have launched, craft RTD in bottles, cartons and cans. As consumer demand for quality grows, the craft roasters and brewers have addressed those needs. Consumers want a delicious RTD and unique cold coffee experience.
What is Nitro brew? As explained by Terry Olsen of AC Beverage, one of the leading suppliers of Nitro brew equipment in the US, most cafes getting into Nitro brew want to offer both a “still” non-carbonated form as well as foamy Nitro brewed cold coffee which passes through a 2.5 gallon tank attached to a compressed nitrogen tank. The process is much like serving draft beer. The nitrogen infused coffee which is under tremendous pressure is delivered by tap which causes the coffee to fizz. When pulled into a glass the process creates a large foam head just like a Guinness. The nitro brew offers beautiful appearance of cascading foam in a tall glass.
It delivers a creamy mouthfeel, and balanced sparkle with a lingering, pleasant aftertaste. A caveat: the quality of the brew will never surpass the quality of the green coffee or the skill of the roaster, so beware. If your cold brew does not taste good to you, then go elsewhere.
Back to my morning coffee. At Stumptown three taps deliver fresh cold brew. The first is a single origin from Rwanda, chilled but no fizz. The second is nitro brewed from a Latin American Blend. Tap No. 3 is their original cold brew. The barista on shift explained they sell a lot of it even on rainy days. Canned nitro brew was introduced in April and “Growlers”, (signature glass bottles) are ready for customers to buy and fill with their favorite cold brew to take away.
Case Study Coffee, Portland, Ore., offers a simpler version of gas infused coffee using a SodaStream device which adds carbonation. The SodaStream produces about one liter of cold brew at a time, which allows baristas to experiment SodaStream carbonating units are available at home appliance stores and can be used to carbonate any beverage. Try it with your favorite cold brewed coffee, with a touch of sweetness by way of simple syrup.
Cold coffee is growing in popularity, driven by improvements in quality, innovation, and convenience. Fans can enjoy it in cartons, cans, bottles, at the café or the store, flat or fizzed.
However you take your coffee cold, be sure to share it with the warmth of friends.