In the past few years, my beverage tastes have edged from wine to bourbon to beer and, now, to coffee. I still imbibe and still have far too big of a collection of all of the above than I need, but I love good coffee most of all – especially bright, acidic coffees. Maybe it is that, after having children, my body’s clock has to get used to starting, as a great friend calls it, “in the fives”, but I think that because coffee is the drink that you can make at home, have while out, and enjoy a varieties of flavors and aromas, it has reached that status that eclipses the status of caffeine delivery vehicle.
In Chicago, the coffee scene has improved measurably over the past 3-4 years. With emerging roasters, Dark Matter, Ipsento, and Passion House, joining Intelligentsia as super-high quality roasters in town, there is no excuse to line up at Starbucks to buy beans. None. The trick is that, in Chicago, we have a short summer and I like to spend as much time outside during the summer as possible. Drinking blazing hot coffee is 80 and 90 degree temperatures does not hold the same appeal as sipping that same coffee on 40 degree fall or winter days. This is where iced coffee comes into play.
Iced coffee is a controversy that, like many dust ups, is something very controversial to very few people. I was unaware of the controversy until I overheard a conversation between baristas, nearly all sarcastic, regarding a request for iced coffee. Looking into the issue more, it became clear why I, and nearly everyone I know who drank iced coffee simply loaded in dairy and, in some cases, sugar – for the most part, iced coffee is crap. All of the good things about coffee are killed and just the dark color and bitterness remain.
Again, in doing research, I came across two methods differing in nearly every way (one posted in direct response to the other) and thought that a controlled experiment would be a nice way to test which I like better.
Starting with the fantastic Johnson Brothers Ethiopian Sidamo Shanta Golba that I picked up while in Madison a week back and my new burr grinder, I set forth with complex, delicious iced coffee in my eyes.
I started with a combination hot/cold brew technique where the grounds are bloomed for a little over a minute, then slammed with iced water. The whole mixture steeps for twelve hours, is strained, and then bottled. The process is very similar to making charcuterie in that there is elapsed time and you need precision, but very little work.
Next, my Chemex was set up with grounds and filled it part way with ice. With equal part (by weight) water, I made coffee as I normally would just with less water as the ice counted for half. As the coffee drained into the Chemex, the ice cooled it immediately. Note the amount of grounds used includes the ice as part of the water, to keep the coffee from being diluted.
The results of the experiment both vastly exceeded my expectations and anything that I had tasted in the iced coffee arena, but there was a clear winner for me. Let me preface this by saying that I have the utmost respect for both writers and their superior palates, but the winner was the combination hot and cold brew. Both coffees featured the aromas and flavor complexity of coffees brewed and served hot, but to me, there was a brightness to the coffee that was greater than the chilled hot brew iced coffee.
The big advantage to the chilled hot brew coffee is that it is ready almost immediately whereas the winner takes 12 hours to steep. A little planning goes a long way however and, I am going to be honest, there will not be a Friday or Saturday summer night when I go to bed without making a batch for the next day. Like brushing, flossing, and washing, this will be part of the evening ritual with this waiting for me outside the next day.
In the end, I suggest trying both out to see which you like better. Just reading about the methods by actual experts is dizzying, but to a someone who appreciates the why and how as much as the actual result, it was terribly interesting.