Iced Coffee: A User Guide 

Every day for the last six years, the majority of traffic to this humble coffee website has come from a simple Google search: “how to make cold brew with a French press.”  The data reveals a simple truth: people love iced coffee. But there’s perhaps never been more confusion surrounding a beverage.

Cold brew. Cold press. Slow drip. Flash chilled. The list goes on. But what do any of these terms even mean? Lucky for you we’ve compiled a handy guide to drinking iced coffee.

Iced Coffee

Of course, broadly speaking, iced coffee accurately describes any coffee that has ice in it. More often than not, however, iced coffee is shorthand for iced filter coffee, i.e. hot-brewed filter coffee that has been chilled and served over ice. The main advantage of this approach is a fuller extraction of coffee solubles. On the other hand, hot coffee tends to melt ice.

The best examples of this approach rapidly chill the coffee to preserve its acidity. Japanese iced coffee accomplishes this by brewing the coffee over ice, typically subtracting the weight of the ice from the brew water. More recently, devices like the Coldwave Coffee Chiller have used heat exchangers to accomplish a similar effect without diluting the brew.

The worst examples of iced coffee simply place old hot-brewed coffee in the fridge. Such primitive methods tend to produce an iced coffee that tastes bitter and flat, due to the build up of quinic acid over time. With this lazy sort of iced coffee being so common not too long ago, it’s little wonder cold brew has become such a phenomenon.

Cold Brew

Cold brew, as the name implies, is coffee that’s been brewed with cold or room temperature water. To compensate for the less efficient solvent, cold brew uses a much longer brewing time than conventional brew methods— typically 12-24 hours. Cold brew methods can largely be listed in two categories: Slow drip and immersion.

Toddy has long since cornered the immersion cold brew market, to the degree “toddy” is practically a synonym for cold brew. The large industrial brewers are essentially a bucket made out of food grade plastic, coupled with the largest coffee filter you’ve ever seen before. (Toddy also makes a consumer version for home brewers, which is a little more sophisticated.)

Immersion methods, whether a Toddy, French press, or mason jar, are typically used to make a cold brew concentrate, which can be diluted with water or cream. In Louisiana, cold brew is often steeped with chicory— a concoction sometimes called New Orleans-style cold brew.

Slow-drip cold brew, often brewed in elaborate— and expensive— glass towers, essentially operates like any other gravity filter device, but with a slow, steady drip of water. Slow drip tends to be less concentrated and a little boozier than immersion cold brew methods.

Iced Espresso Drinks

In our humble opinion, if you want a milky iced coffee— be it bovine or plant-based— espresso is best suited to make the base. Espresso has a high concentration, so stands up to some dilution, not to mention its lower volume means it’s easier to chill. Personally, I’m less crazy about iced Americanos, which have a carbonic bitterness I can’t shake– though many coffee professional swear it’s their summer go-to. Instead, I rather enjoy the simple pleasures of a shakerato — espresso and a dash of simple syrup shaken over ice for a frothy texture.

Conclusion

In my home state of Arizona, iced coffee sales exceed hot coffee. If current consumer trends (to say nothing of global temperature averages) continue, we can expect this in more places around the world. Although the purist in me will always prefer a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning, it’s safe to say that iced coffee is here to stay. I, for one, am cool with it.

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