For centuries, Americans have made coffee in more or less the same way: running boiling water through ground coffee beans. But a growing number of coffee makers and boutique coffee houses are offering an option for warm weather coffee drinkers: cold brew coffee.
“Its definitely a summer drink; we go through it like crazy,” said Cara Nader, owner of Strange Matter Coffee Co. on Michigan Ave. “No one seems to be buying hot coffee anymore.”
As the name suggests, cold brew coffee is made without hot water, which lengthens the preparation time. Most hot brewed coffee takes less than four minutes, whereas cold brew coffee is made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for hours.
“We let each batch steep for 22 hours,” said Jared Field, co-founder and head roaster at Bloom Coffee Roasters.
The coffee roasting business, which opened its Old Town café space last week, has been selling its coffee beans online and through retail outlets for two years. It serves cold brew coffee by the cup in its café and by the bottle at several local shops. Field’s cold brew coffee uses a mix of beans from Guatemala, Colombia and Ethiopia.
“We’ve found a blend of these amazing coffees that tastes just as good, or superior, to hot coffee,” Field said.
Cold brewing changes the flavor profile of coffee by removing much of the bitterness and acidity that comes with hot brewing.
“Because it doesn't change temperature very much, the acids that cause bitterness don't break down in cold brew,” Field said. “You can enjoy the same bottle of cold brew throughout an entire day without any degradation of flavor.”
But the taste is still more similar to a traditional cup of joe than a cold espresso drink like an iced latte or Frappucino.
“I’d recommend cold brew to black coffee drinkers,” Nader said.
“It’s unadulterated,” added Field, “But it’s still delicious.”
Even the process of grinding the beans is different for cold brewing. Ground coffee for cold brewing is coarser than that used in hot brewing. Although sanitation is important for both hot and cold brewing, cold brewing requires some special attention. Cold brew batches are more likely to mold, due to the longer brewing time.
There is a variety of cold brew coffees on the market, and consumers should be careful to read the labels. Cold brew concentrate is an intense version of cold brew coffee, designed to be mixed with water or milk, with a higher level of caffeine. Most cold brew products, however, are made to be consumed straight from the bottle, with caffeine levels comparable to a cup of hot coffee.
“That’s why we’re so precise about the amount of time we brew our cold brew,” Field said. “We don’t want to over-caffeinate someone to the point where they might be sick.”
Strange Matter also offers nitro coffee, a version of cold brewed coffee infused with nitrogen. Nitro coffee is brewed for 24 to 26 hours, then transferred to a keg pressurized with nitrogen and poured from a tap like a beer. The result is a richer, creamier tasting coffee that tastes like a stout — it even produces a foamy head that looks like a beer. Strange Matter plays up this similarity, serving its nitro coffee in 10-ounce pilsner glasses.
While Lansing’s taste for cold brew seems to be driven by the summer heat, Nader sees the increased interest as a nationwide trend.
“One of the reasons it’s become so popular is marketing,” Nader said. “There has been a huge push for roasters to mass produce cold brew.”
But even with the push for mass-market products, Field sees a competitive advantage for small roasters.
“We have the opportunity to create a community around our products and our brand and the ability to bring highly focused products to the customers.” Field said, “The beans used in our cold-brew can be traced directly to a specific lot on a specific farm in a specific growing region, giving us the ability to brew in small batches to guarantee consistency.”