by Adina Steiman
Like switching your climate-control thermometer from heat to A/C, there's always a distinct tipping point every spring when you switch from hot to iced coffee. I look forward to this moment with just as much glee as the arrival of cherry blossoms and the shoving of winter coats to the back of the closet.
And these days, it's easy to assume that good iced coffee means cold brew. Right? Third-wave coffee shops trumpet it, gourmet shops feature bottled versions, and making batches at home with a toddy is a pressure-free way to keep you in iced coffee all week long.
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Everyone's heard the spiel about cold brew's lower acidity and smoother taste. I'm obsessed with the way cold brew is strong enough to take ice without getting watery and tangy enough to take to half-and-half like a duck to water. (And they tend to be a bit cheaper than my previous go-to summer order, the iced redeye).
But does cold brew always mean better? My local coffee place just started serving cold-brew iced tea, and though the barista proudly announced that their white and oolong varieties were steeped in water for 16 to 18 hours, they tasted like tea-scented ice water. Turns out cold brew may not be as infallible as I thought.
Here's what I learned from Anna Utevsky, Coffee Director at Joule in Raleigh, NC:
Heat can make your drink better: "Some of the brighter more aromatic compounds you find in coffee don't dissolve in cold water," says Utevsky. Cold water tends to draw out the sweeter base notes in coffee, while hot water essentially cooks as it extracts. "It transforms the flavor notes and aromas of the solubles into a more nuanced product," she explains.
If you like your coffee (or tea) without milk, choose your beans wisely. Cold brew tends to be lower in acidity, more viscous, and sweet, while hot-brewed coffee can showcase brighter, more floral notes. "Right now for our cold brew we are using Counter Culture's La Voz from Guatemala, a sweet, juicy coffee with notes of pink grapefruit and toasted almonds. But for our iced coffee we are using Reko, a washed coffee from Ethiopia that is floral and tea-like, and all of those subtle qualities wouldn't be released if it were brewed with only cold water."
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You can still chill your caffeine source fast, even if it isn't cold-brewed. Japanese-style iced coffee is brewed hot directly over ice, so you get the best of both worlds -- flavorful coffee and near-instant iciness. "The basic idea is to create a slightly concentrated hot brew, extracting all the aromatic compounds hot water releases and have that drip directly on to ice, chilling the coffee immediately and locking in all the aromatics," Utevsky says.
Try out Utevsky's Japanese-style iced-coffee method at home: For a pint glass of iced coffee, start by measuring out 150g (5oz) of ice with a Chemex or a Melitta-style cone and 30 grams of coffee ground slightly finer than you would for brewing the coffee hot. (If you don't have a scale, one level tablespoon of ground coffee is approximately 5 grams.)
Brew the coffee using 250g or 9 oz of off-boil water (about 200-205 degrees). Make sure the hot coffee brews directly on to the ice. The finished product should have almost 100 percent of the ice melted. Serve over fresh ice.
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