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Crimes Against Iced Coffee

April 16, 2015

Spring is here, and it’s glorious. For now the chill is still working its way from deep out of our bones. After a few more days of sitting in the sun, everything should be back to normal. And then we can start complaining that it’s a little bit too warm.

I’ve already said goodbye to my boots and shoes and have started to wear my sandals. But it will take warmer weather to bring the shorts out of my closet. One thing that will not change is the presence of my Filtron. It’s my cold brew coffee bucket, and I’ve been drinking cold brew coffee the whole winter through.

That’s not to say I’ve been drinking it iced. That’s crazy. Over the winter, I just keep the coffee concentrate on hand. Then when I stumble downstairs, I pour a slug of the cold brew into a pint glass, and top it off with tap water. Sixteen ounces of strong, tasty coffee are ready in an instant.

As the weather starts to warm up, I’ll just add ice to the equation. There is a problem with getting accustomed to drinking decent iced coffee. It makes most of the stuff you buy from coffee shops almost undrinkable. And some of the crimes perpetrated by people who should know better are unthinkable.

The snobbiest of the coffee snobs may bristle at my love of cold brew, and they’re right to feel that way. A long slow extraction produces a solid cup of coffee, but it’s missing some of the lovely volatile aromatic compounds that are only released at higher temperatures. On the other hand this time intensive brewing process also strips out some of coffee’s bitterness and astringency, making it easier to drink.

There are better ways of making iced coffee, like brewing hot over ice. But we can cover that later.

Let me tell you a story. I was at a lovely coffee shop in NYC not too long ago, and I witnessed something shocking. My sister and I strolled in just a few minutes before closing, and I needed a caffeine fix. So I sat down to drink a quick macchiato.

The crew was breaking down the cafe, and part of the closing routine was to empty the brewed coffee carafes into pitchers to be tomorrow’s iced coffee. It’s not an unusual practice, but there are a few things wrong with this.

For starters, that’s going to be some old iced coffee. Not only has it sat around for who knows how long in the hot carafe, but now it will spend another twelve hours in the refrigerator. Not good. To make it worse, the iced coffee pitcher wasn’t even empty. So they’re adding today’s old coffee to yesterday’s old coffee and going to be serving it to people tomorrow? I understand wanting to control waste, but creating a solera process for iced coffee is ridiculous.

Did I mention the iced coffee pitcher was made of clear plastic? And they are pouring hot coffee into it. Granted, I don’t know what kind of plastic it was made from, but there is university science that backs up my crazy reluctance to put hot liquids in plastic vessels.

That’s one kind of bad.

Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve also gotten suckered into the Starbucks game on the iPhone where you can collect stars with every purchase. So now buying drinks is like a fun game set in the future, because you can make purchases with your thumbprint, or something like that. Anyway, sometimes a Starbucks is the most convenient option, and their blonde roast doesn’t have that signature burnt flavor.

Playing this game got me a free frappuccino. I don’t know much about these things, so ordering it was a bit of a challenge. As far as icy coffee milkshakes go, it’s not that bad. But watching the barista make mine gave me agita, because she placed the plastic cup right under the espresso spout. There wasn’t any ice in the cup to cool down the blazing hot emulsified extraction. It just went right into the bottom of the clear plastic cup.

Maybe it was my imagination, but after I walked out of the store with my drink, I swear I could taste the melting plastic. Gross.

But that’s a special case. The ordinary, everyday kind of bad iced coffee is when a place will simply pour hot coffee over ice and create a watery lukewarm mess in a cup.

Fortunately, I have plenty of glass vessels at home, including a portable glass water bottle. It makes a great traveling coffee container too. And there is always plenty of cold brew in the fridge.

When the weather heats up a little more, I’m looking forward to my first spring trip to Stacks where I hear they are making an iced coffee with tonic, which was very cutting edge last year. Somehow in the confusion of the move from New Jersey back to New York I missed it. This year I’ll get to correct that tragic oversight.

We’re lucky to have a couple of good options for iced coffee locally, including the Blue Bottle New Orleans iced at Lucas Confectionery. But be on the lookout for lesser refreshers. And don’t forget to find some way to warn the drinking public of the stinkers.

In the grand scheme of things, cold brew is a pretty good choice. And it’s really so easy to do. The fact that more places don’t go the extra effort is really telling.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2015 9:32 am

    Limey and I have been pouring leftover brewed coffee into ice cube trays, which we then keep separated in the freezer; so when we pour hot coffee over them it’s not diluted (much).

  2. Jack C permalink
    April 16, 2015 9:47 am

    I cold-brew in the summer months and French press in the winter. I use the Toddy system to make the concentrate and it comes out wonderfully. Now I just need to find a great local roaster so I can get it all as fresh as possible…

  3. Matt permalink
    April 16, 2015 10:37 am

    Have you tried Starbucks’ cold brew? It’s spoiled me, now I can’t go back to their regular iced coffee…

  4. April 16, 2015 6:30 pm

    I’m with Matt – Starbucks’ new cold brew is quite good. Strong and very smooth, no bitterness (I only have 6 more stars til I earn my next reward).

    I do love making my own cold brew in the French press, tho. Because I’m a cheapskate.

  5. April 19, 2015 7:59 pm

    Have you been to Perfect Blend in Delmar? My mom is nuts about their iced coffee, which they do a true cold brew process, and if they run out, they run out, because it takes 2 days to make. I got her some tools to make concentrate at home, since hardly anywhere else locally, as you noted, has cold brew.

    Related, there is a brewery up in Burlington that put cold brew coffee on their nitro spout. It was delicious. I wish I could remember the name of the place!

    • April 19, 2015 10:52 pm

      Funny you should mention that thing about cold brew coffee served on a nitro spout…

      • Jack C permalink
        April 20, 2015 1:25 pm

        Why is that funny? This sounds amazing, so if there’s a place nearby that does it, I must know!

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