Iced Coffee and Cold Brew, Your Summer Fix
With summer in full swing, we want to take some time to explore and share our favourite ways to stay caffeinated in a heat wave: cold brew and iced coffee.
If you’ve ever wondered if there is a difference between cold brew and iced coffee, the simple answer is yes. Iced coffee is more or less what it sounds like. Hot brewed coffee or espresso served over ice. It makes for a cool and refreshing drink. It’s quick to make, and you can easily adjust it to your preferences. With a little care and attention, you can serve up a delicious iced coffee in your own home. Cold brew, however, is a little more delicate & involved. While the overall process is simple, zeroing in on the ideal recipe takes thought, experimentation, and a whole lot more coffee!
As the name implies, cold brew is coffee brewed using cold or room temperature water. Since it doesn’t use heat to extract flavours, it takes much longer to bring out the unique characteristics of a given coffee. True cold brew takes a minimum of 12 hours to make and, depending on your chosen method, can take as many as five days. The slow extraction process brings out a smooth and sweet flavour, that’s low in acidity, making it all the more refreshing.
The two main ways to make cold brew are the immersion method and the slow drip method. The immersion method is relatively simple, adaptable and once you get your recipe where you want it, easily replicable. To make cold brew using the immersion method you need coarsely ground coffee, room temperature water, a vessel, a filter and time. Once you’ve figured out your coffee to water ratios, you need only to combine all components and let the coffee steep. After 12-15 hours, you’ll have a smooth, full-bodied cold brew concentrate that you can serve over ice, dilute with milk, sweeten, mix with tonic and so on. In addition to its simplicity, another great part about the immersion method is that you don’t necessarily need any additional gadgets. You can use something as simple as a French Press or any other vessel and filter combination that you may already have in your home. Of course there are some great home cold brewer options out there that can help you refine your technique. A personal favourite of ours is the Hario Cold Brew Iced Coffee Brewer for when you don’t want your regular coffee maker taken up by your next batch of cold brew.
At Propeller, we’re partial to our nitro cold brew. It’s made using the immersion method with coffee and a recipe we’ve carefully developed and tested to maximize flavour and body. Once brewed, it is then infused with nitrogen gas, giving it an especially rich, creamy mouthfeel, eliminating any need for milk or sugar. Our grab and go cans make it easy to take with you on your summer adventures. Keep in mind that cold brew has a higher caffeine content than hot coffee because cold brew recipes require a reduced water to bean ratio. That is, when making cold brew you need more coffee beans to achieve that rich taste. The resulting liquid is more akin to a concentrate, which makes it perfect for serving over ice or in your favourite coffee cocktail.
The slow drip cold brew method is less common than the immersion method in part because it requires more specialized equipment. It is made in a brewer that consists of a top chamber for water, a middle chamber and filter for coffee grounds and a bottom chamber for the end result. The more intricate versions of these contraptions are often on display in action as they are quite neat to look at. What makes this particular method a little tricky is the challenge of getting the drip speed right. A typical target drip speed is one drip per second, so it’s critical to get the grind coarseness just right to achieve this pace. Depending on a few factors, this brew method can be left for days, with the water filtering through the ground coffee. Since the coffee grounds are not fully immersed in water, the flavours of this version of cold brew are often bright and clear but less full-bodied than their immersion cold brew counterpart.
What if you want a cool, refreshing coffee but don’t have the time or patience for cold brew? Enter flash brew. Flash brew methods are technically iced coffees because they require hot water but with the right tweaks to your usual hot brew recipe, you can achieve a similar smoothness and richness to a cold brew, in a fraction of the time. You can use just about any of your typical brew methods, such as an AeroPress, V60, Chemex or Kalita Wave to make a flash brew. There are a few key adjustments to make in order to achieve a delicious cup of cold coffee. First, as with other cold brew methods, it’s important to decrease your water to coffee ratio. This produces a more concentrated beverage that gets mellowed by ice. If you can, use larger ice cubes so that the dissolution of your concentrate happens at a slower pace. This, along with using a more concentrated recipe, helps avoid ending up with just a watered down version of your hot coffee recipe, a common problem with poorly conceived and executed iced coffees. Finally, unlike with the immersion method where coarsely ground coffee is recommended, with flash brew, it’s best to use a finer grind than usual. This helps extract more flavours from the coffee despite the reduced water to coffee ratio. With a flash brew, you can highlight more of the subtle flavours of your coffee, while maintaining the smooth richness of a well-made iced coffee or cold brew.
With both cold brew and iced coffee, the recipes, brew tools and options for customization are endless. Whatever method you go for, have fun experimenting. We’ve got a great lineup of coffees that work well for both hot and cold beverages. And if it’s too hot to be bothered, grab a can of our latest organic cold brew release available online, at our Wade Street location, and in our partner stores and cafés now.
Written by: Alison MacDonald