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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Iced coffee is trending hot


A while ago, we wrote an article on iced coffee that got a lot of industry discussion.  Since the first week of summer is nearly officialy upon us, it might be time to come back and have a few discussions about cold coffee over the next few weeks.

For one, cold brew has become the 'hot' and trending product in the coffee hipster scene this year.  Much like Single origin espresso years ago, per cup (see v60/Syphons/Abids etc), and others we've gone from rebutting the hoardes of industry types arguing against a particular approach seen as 'out of the main stream' to watch it trend to the front and become the thing to adopt.  On one hand being at the front means you get the benefeits of early adoption (incuding the risk associated). The flip side being the frustration when the trend waters down the name and identity of the product as it becomes widespread.  It has helped that in each of these cases, a larger industry company has adopted these methods and brought them to the mainstream but has simultaneously made it more difficult with each trend to identify our own methods.  Being more nerdy than hipster, we are always working on getting ahead of the next technique or method as long as it makes our coffees better.

We've seen this 'trending' happen over and over again to a point where there are vocal figures in our industry lumping together all forms of any particular brew method as being one monolithic approach.  It makes for better arguments when you have a straw man to knock down but overlooks the facts and complexities of the situation.  This is perhaps part of our rapidly growing industry that as prominent voices struggle to maintain a perception of leadership over the rest of our peers, the finer points are likely to be dismissed in discussion.

In Cambridge, the approach to cold brewing over the last 4 years has shifted in the better shops to involve actual brewing of the coffees cold (at ~40F) and then a fine (often cloth) filtering the coffees.  (This version is not the cold brew which is a room temperature toddy filtered with metal filters or cheese cloth)  It requires a more medium grind and a lot more care  to get the particulate out but single estate coffees can come out with more character this way.  Think of normal toddy (what everyone now generically calls cold brew) as a farm house wine with the sediment in bottle (filtered through a sieve or cheese cloth), this Cambridge version is filtered by either flannel cloth or in the case of dwelltime, a  three stage polypropylene filtration that gets the coffee pretty crisp and free of particulate.  The resulting product is completely different and absolutely unique in comparison.  dwelltime may be the only place that is nitrogen flushing the canisters the cold brew is stored in (and offering them on beer style taps) to prevent oxidation and flavor changes but we know of at least two more shops discussing the logistics to adopt the same system (in Cambridge no less).  The fact that nearly a dozen shops in the area are already brewing variations of this style or are beginning to adopt this style 'cold immersion/clean filtered' as a methodology doesn't escape us that it's caught on locally.