I guess we had to address this sooner or later. Cold brew coffee is getting a lot of press, as well as devoted followers. We experimented with it, like we do with most “hot new items”, but we found it to be unacceptable. Here’s why:
Cold brew coffee has an unreasonably long brew time—in most cases over 12 hours. I can appreciate “slow food,” but come on, this is New York. I would love to be able to serve every cup of coffee we sell from a Chemex, but the logistics simply don’t make sense. We have to balance the demands of serving only the best quality coffee, but also the frantic pace of New York life. Often times customers will walk out if there are more than a few people on line, how long would they wait if it was another 5 hours before the iced coffee was ready? You may also have noticed that our stores are smaller than New York apartments, and cold brewing coffee requires an array of industrial size “toddys” in constant use in order to supply enough coffee.
Cold brew coffee is the wholesale roaster’s dream. In order to make something anywhere near a drinkable cup of coffee, you have to use a ridiculously large amount of coffee. I’ve seen some other cafes charge upwards of $5 a cup, just for a cup of iced coffee!
The temperature of the water when brewing coffee is important because the heat is partly responsible for dissolving the coffee oils into the brew. Subtleties and nuance in the cup are what sets great coffees apart from good coffees, and unless the water is 195-205 F, the brightness of the coffee stays in the grinds and you don’t get those great flavors in the cup. In Oren’s words “it misses all the subtle brightness and nuance extracted when water of the proper temperature is used to dissolve the coffee oils that are so carefully developed in the craft roasting process leaving a dull shadow of what might have been.” We go through a lot of effort to find the best coffees in the world and roast them to their highest potential.
A common claim for cold brewed coffee is that it reduces the acid in the cup. While there are certainly plenty of coffees that are painfully acidic, we take care in our selection and roasting to properly balance all the flavors of each particular coffee. Our unique roaster and roast style brings out the sweetness in the coffee that we look for in every sample we cup. This sweetness and acidity are the hallmarks of a truly great coffee and when you purchase coffee for $15 or $20/lb you should get the specialty quality you are paying for.
One advantage that cold brewed coffee is supposed to have is that the flavor (what little of it there is) won’t deteriorate with time. But who wants to serve week old coffee? We’d rather make sure our iced coffee is served fresh.
At the beginning of the summer, our stores switched to a new method of brewing iced coffee. For years, we would brew a small batch of coffee and allow it to cool before refrigerating and serving it. The problem with this is that it takes a long time to be drinkable. The new method (some call it the Japanese method) uses more coffee to make a smaller batch and then add ice to fill to a full gallon. The ice melts and the iced coffee is ready to be served immediately. This lets us make sure the iced coffee is kept fresher, and because we’re brewing a concentrate, the delicate coffee flavors stand up to the change in temperature. We also switched our iced coffee from the venerable Oren’s Special Blend to the single origin Antigua. This would have been unthinkable with our old method, as the Antigua has the kind of subtle characteristics that are shown in the new process and that would be buried in our old method and never released in the cold brew.
Cold brew coffee seems to be the latest media craze, but even if serving cold brew would get us tons of press, we’d rather get press for having the best coffee—not jumping in with the latest gimmick. Cold brew coffee simply does not meet our quality standards. In short, Oren says “the basic reasons are these: it takes too long; it uses too much coffee to be close to drinkable; it misses all the subtle brightness and nuance extracted when water of the proper temperature is used to dissolve the coffee oils that are so carefully developed in the craft roasting process, leaving a dull shadow of what might have been……oh, and the aroma is also dull to nonexistent. Otherwise I love it.”