Article contributed by Kathy Gallo
If you are a restaurant or café owner who aspires to offering the kind of food and drink items that will help you stand out from the competition, you may be thinking about including cold brew coffee on your menu. Here is a guide to choosing the right coffee beans for brewing up this hipster’s favorite.
What is cold brew?
To help make the right decisions about which coffee beans to choose, we need to understand a little more about the drink. So, starting at the beginning, what exactly is cold brew?
To the uninitiate, the answer might seem obvious. Cold brew is just iced coffee, right? Just regular coffee poured over ice? Well, to clear things up from the beginning, no, this is not cold brew; this is standard iced coffee. Cold brew is different.
If you make iced coffee using regular, hot brewed coffee, the first problem is that when you pour it over the ice, the ice melts and the coffee ends up diluted and watery. Of course, you can overcome this problem by simply letting the coffee cool first, but this is still not cold brew.
Cold brew is not hot coffee poured over ice – cold brew is coffee that is actually brewed without using hot water at all. It is brewed using water at room temperature and much longer steeping times; the result is a rich, full-bodied, mellow coffee with low acidity and almost no bitterness.
So how does it work?
Advantages of cold brew
When inexperienced baristas brew coffee, sometimes, the result can be a dark, bitter liquid that is unpleasant to drink without adding lots of sugar and milk. If your staff serve coffee like this, there’s a good chance it’s over-extracted – and you probably need to organize some training.
Over-extracted coffee is coffee that has been left to steep too long and undesirable bitter compounds have dissolved out of the grounds into the beverage. Of course, it could be that the coffee was just low-grade in the first place, but that’s another story…
Since cold brew is made by steeping the coffee in water at room temperature for up to 24 hours or more rather than brewing for a short time in hot water, these bitter compounds are not released into the drink. This is why cold brew tastes completely different to regular coffee.
And it is this unique, mild flavor that has become such a favorite in recent years with coffee aficionados and hipsters alike. For many, their first taste of cold brew is a revelation, and this is what you need to be serving.
Cold brew is ideal for iced coffee but is also very versatile. It can be used in desserts, you can use it to make coffee ice cubes and it is ideal for inventing creative new cocktails. In short, you can see why it could be an attractive addition to your menu in many forms.
Know how to brew hot coffee? Throw away the rule book
Even if you consider yourself an accomplished barista and master of the art of brewing, to some extent, a lot of what you have learnt can be forgotten when making cold brew.
Specifically, cold brew coffee is a much more forgiving method than brewing regular coffee. Since the steeping process is done slowly and gently, you don’t need to worry quite so much about dosing, temperatures and timing as you would when making a cup of top-quality pour-over, for example. And another thing, cold brew can be made with beans that are too old for regular hot coffee.
Now, we’re not suggesting you should just be using cold brew as a way to finish up stale coffee beans you can’t use for regular coffee anymore. Of course, if you want to make great cold brew that your customers will remember, you need to use great beans.
It’s just worth noting that beans that are a little old for regular coffee will still produce high-quality cold brew – again, because this method of brewing is more forgiving than hot brewing.
Which coffee beans should you use?
The accepted wisdom is that almost any coffee beans can be used for cold brew, although we can offer a few pointers to guide your choice.
As we mentioned before, cold brew is known for its low acidity and lack of bitterness. This means you should probably choose beans that will accentuate these properties rather than work against them.
Light and delicate coffees with a bright acidity that work well with hot brewing methods are probably best avoided when making cold brew. Similarly, fruity and flowery notes are likely to be lost in the brewing process.
When choosing coffee beans for cold brew, favor more robust, mellow and earthy flavors. These will work best when brewed cold.
Origins that tend to produce good results are many of the South and Central American countries; some roasters now make blends specifically for cold brew, and these could be a good place to start.
What about the roast?
The roast is possibly more important than the bean itself when making cold brew and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
Light roasts generally won’t work well with this brewing method – the subtle flavors we favor in light roast hot brew coffees won’t hold their own in cold brew.
The best option is medium roast as the more developed flavors are better suited to the longer extraction process. Some dark roasts will work too – but you may end up with a coffee that tastes “burnt”. To be safe, start off in the middle.
And the grind?
To finish, an easy question to which we can give a very straight answer: for cold brew, use coarse ground coffee, similar to the grind used with a French press. The reason is that if you use finer grinds, you will over-extract due to the long brewing time and end up with a bitter brew.
Coarse ground coffee will extract gently and slowly over the course of the 24-hour brewing process, leaving you with perfectly extracted, delicious cold brew that will see your customers coming back time and again for more.
Remember, the secret to grinding is to use a burr grinder, which will ensure your coffee is ground evenly. This gives the most uniform extraction, greatly improving the taste of the final beverage.
Follow our guidelines – and then experiment
In this article, we have deliberately refrained from naming a particular bean or brand. In order to brew memorable cold brew that makes people notice, you should try to stand out from the crowd and this means finding your own signature coffee beans that fit your establishment.
If you follow our suggestions, you won’t go far wrong – but if you are willing to experiment, you will quickly find coffee beans suited to your business and your specific clientele. These will be the coffee beans that help you make a name for yourself locally for serving distinctive, outstanding cold brew coffee.
Kathy Gallo is a full-time coffee lover who has spent many years learning everything there is to know about her favorite drink. There is nothing that gives her greater pleasure than writing about what she has discovered in the hope that she can share her passion with as many others as possible.