Real Iced Coffee

My friend Nan is from New Orleans. When I met her nearly 20 years ago in Philadelphia, she talked endlessly about the iced coffee of her hometown, that it was simply the best and that we dopey Yanks had no clue. I tried turning her on to iced Americanos at our favorite coffee shop, but it never quite did the trick for my pal.

Could it be "clouds in my coffee"? (Kim O'Donnel)

When Nan and her beau, Mig, got hitched a few years later at the The New Orleans Botanical Garden, I had a chance to taste what she had been talking about all this time -- creamy, chocolate-y iced coffee that held up even over ice. She was right; we dopes had been drinking lame-o brown crayon water disguised as iced coffee.

Flash forward to June 2007, when I'm back in the Crescent City, volunteering as a chef with CulinaryCorps. Our very basic dorm accommodations at Xavier University meant no access to a full kitchen, a bit of a buzz kill for those of us who rely on that morning shot of caffeine.

Our leader Christine Carroll cooked up the brilliant idea of buying a few bottles of Coolbrew coffee concentrate, to which you add ice, water and/or milk for a very respectable first cup of coffee of the day. While I was concocting my first cup, I realized this was exactly the stuff that Nan was talking about all these years -- cold-brewed coffee that resulted in a dark, syrupy extract that made the best iced coffee.

Over the course of the week, cold-brewed coffee was my morning beverage, and I liked it so much I bought a bottle of the concentrate to take home. Shortly after unpacking, I learn that cold-brewed coffee is this summer's hot new cold beverage (New York Times link will not work for nonsubscribers), and it's showing up on coffee bar menus, including chains such as Caribou Coffee and Seattle's Best.

What's got trend-spotters buzzing about cold brew is its full-bodied flavor and its purported low acidity. It's been said that acids and oils are released in the presence of hot water, a combination which causes an upset stomach for many coffee drinkers.

Cool Brew is just one of many brands of coffee concentrate, sold in a nifty bottle with a measuring top spout. (Kim O'Donnel)

You can also try cold brewing at home, an elementary process as long as you have 12 hours and a fine-meshed sieve. Essentially what you do is pour medium-to-coarse ground coffee in a deep bowl and pour cold water on top. Cover and allow the brewing to begin; when you wake up, you'll need to pass your mud through the aforementioned sieve (or coffee filter). The resulting elixir is the concentrate, which you covet and pour into a airtight container, jar or pitcher.

I love the stuff, particularly on summer mornings. But I will admit that if you generally take your coffee with dairy, you may end up using more with the cold brew, which ultimately becomes an expensive habit. Purists will argue for the addition of chicory, which actually is part of the endive plant, for a traditional New Orleans brew, but your favorite dark roast will do the job just fine. Skeptics will wonder about the cost per pound, and here are a few figures for contemplation: A half pound (8 ounces) of coffee yields between three and four cups of concentrate, which is 12-16 servings. When I make a six-serving pot of hot-brewed coffee with my French press, I use about five ounces of coffee, so according to these calculations, the cold-brewed method uses less coffee. However, I'm a strong coffee girl -- no drip stuff for me. Those who use electric machines may find the cold brew too intense. See what works for you.

Cold-Brewed Coffee

1/2 pound medium ground coffee -- darker roasts or coffee with chicory work best
5 cups cold water

Pour coffee into a deep bowl or pot. Add water, stir to mix and cover. Allow to steep between 8 and 12 hours. Pour mixture through a fine-meshed sieve or coffee filter. Repeat filtering process twice if necessary.

Makes 3 cups coffee concentrate.

To make iced coffee:
Add 1/4 cup coffee concentrate into 12-16 ounce glass. Add 1 cup cold water OR fill the glass with ice cubes. Add 3/4 cup - 1 cup milk of choice and stir.

One batch of concentrate makes 12 servings.

If you're curious but want someone else to make the stuff for you, consider these ready-made concentrates from French Market, Cool Brew and N.O. Brew. Blue Bottle Coffee, in the San Francisco Bay area, sells cold-brew "kits" which include coffee, chicory and a recipe. Ten percent of the proceeds go the the Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans, a project I got to see in action while there last month.

By Kim ODonnel |  July 9, 2007; 10:49 AM ET Liquid Diet , New Orleans
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Kim, you are sooo right about the iced coffee. My husband has been making it for years using the cold brew technique he picked up in Houston from an N.O. coffeehouse that opened a shop there. He dilutes the concentrate as you describe and also adds just a touch of vanilla. Heaven. Especially on days like today!

Posted by: tarheel gal | July 9, 2007 12:34 PM

Kim, wonderful post, rich with useful detail. The ubiquity of good coffee is one of the things I love about New Orleans - sets it apart from most other US cities, particularly in the South.

My gourmet grandma used to cold-extract Yuban coffee (from the can) and keep the super-strong stuff in the fridge; rather than make iced coffee, though, she'd add it to hot water. She never got into grinding her own beans, and was never exposed to Starbucks, but she knew what worked for her.

Posted by: Reine de Saba | July 9, 2007 12:41 PM

Dumb question here. Do you allow to steep at room temp or in the fridge?

Posted by: Boston | July 9, 2007 1:07 PM

Boston: I agree, it's confusing. It's called cold-brew, but really you're steeping at room temp. Just leave it out on the counter.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 9, 2007 1:12 PM

My first exposure to "iced coffee" was when I was a student in Jerusalem in 1972. There, iced coffee was a cup of hot coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it. Yumm!

Posted by: Mel | July 9, 2007 1:49 PM

I read once upon a time that making coffee this way resulted in a lower acidity brew (which would be nicer to my acid-prone tummy)...have you heard likewise?

Posted by: librarylady | July 9, 2007 1:53 PM

Never mind, I see the paragraph in your post that says that very thing. That's what I get for skimming :)

Posted by: librarylady | July 9, 2007 1:55 PM

Hey Kim -- I wondered about this after seeing the NYT article... but now that it has the KOD approval I will give it a shot! Question: how long will the concentrate last in the fridge?

Posted by: Liz | July 9, 2007 4:58 PM

Hey Liz:
You definitely should give this a whirl. I served a glass this morning to Miz Karla, who normally takes sugar in her coffee and she didn't need any with the cold brew. This particular method is also friendly to soy milk, by the way.
Re: Time in fridge: You're safe for about 5, 6 days in an airtight container. After that, the brew starts to lose its teeth. Try it, you'll like it!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 9, 2007 5:08 PM

"The resulting elixir is the concentrate, which you covet and pour into a airtight container, jar or pitcher."

Do I detect a Freudian slip there?

Posted by: Jen | July 9, 2007 6:00 PM

Couldn't you just use a French Press to make the concentrate, i.e. by pouring in cold water, letting it steep overnight and then pressing down? Isn't the French Press really just a fine-meshed sieve anyway?

Posted by: Section 419 | July 10, 2007 7:39 AM

Posted by: Erika Froh | July 10, 2007 12:11 PM

I've been making the NYTimes version since the article ran, and it's delicious, but it's not nearly as strong as I would have thought -- I don't really need to dilute it at all. I'm using 1.5 cups of water to 1/3 cup ground coffee for the brew, then straining once through a sieve and again through a paper coffee filter. Am I doing something wrong?

Posted by: Alexandria, Va. | July 10, 2007 2:04 PM

Alexandria: You may not need to strain more than once. I'd be curious how much concentrate you're using and what you're adding to that.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 10, 2007 2:15 PM

If you get really into the cold brew coffee thing (it is far superior, particularly for iced coffee) you should consider getting a Coffee Toddy:

Posted by: MBinDC | July 11, 2007 11:19 AM

Section 419, I make cold brew coffee daily in my French press, no problem. I just use half my usual amount of water; in the morning I top it off with vanilla Silk--delicious, and very fast.

Posted by: Baltimore | July 11, 2007 2:32 PM

Kim, this looks fabulous, and might be the ticket to not spending $5 a day on iced espresso drinks. Dumb question: what is the volume of half a pound of coffee? Am I exposing my math idiocy here?

Posted by: Sass in Arlington | July 11, 2007 7:46 PM

Kim, I brewed this according to your recipe and it is FABULOUS! This morning my boyfriend and I kept looking up from the paper and saying, "Wow, this is just so good." And it couldn't be easier. Thanks for this great idea!

Posted by: MM | July 12, 2007 10:08 AM


Just another fun fact -- the Chicory used for coffee comes from the root of blue flower blooming all over the place right now (in the VA/MD/DC area).

Posted by: Esther | July 12, 2007 10:44 AM

Section 419; I have also been using a french press to cold brew my coffee since I read the NYT article; works like a charm!

Posted by: dr winona | July 12, 2007 10:46 AM

I've been buying Cool Brew -
- for years. It makes the concentrate stronger than I have ever been able to make using a Toddy, and by the time I buy coffee its cheaper. Works out with milk to be 30 cents a cup or glass, as you only need one ounce of their stuff. Others on the market you need to use quite a lot of it. They do a decaf too.

Posted by: Nola Boy | July 12, 2007 11:01 AM

Hey Sass, 1/5 pound equals about 1 cup in a dry measure. So for 1/2 pound of coffee, as stated in recipe, that equates to about 2 1/2 cups dry. Hope that helps.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | July 12, 2007 1:14 PM

I tried the NYT recipe, cut the water down to 1 cup & almost 1/2 cup coffee, and it was still dishwater that tasted like raw coffee grounds. I'm not a convert.

Posted by: pat | July 12, 2007 2:10 PM

Hi Kim!
Thanks for the article! I live in Germany, though, so the 1/2 pound measure is causing me some headaches. How much would that be in cups -- or grams? (Am still not hugely in love with the metric system but all of our dry food products come in grams so I could make a "guesstimate.")

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2007 3:14 PM

I tried the recipe from the NYTimes article. One caveat: boiling, perking or otherwise cooking coffee destroys some of the caffeine. Cold-brewing does not.
I tried the cold brew. It was good, but minutes later I had classic reactions to the caffeine: I was hyperventilating and my heart was racing.
This stuff is much stronger than it tastes.

Posted by: Afi | July 13, 2007 12:08 AM

Cold brew in bulk:
Makes a couple gallons.

Put a couple pounds of medium grind coffee in a pillow case. Tie top of case so coffee doesn't get out.

Put in a couple gallons of water in one of those big sports jugs that football players dump over coaches.

Let steep overnight, or over the weekend.

Remove pillowcase.

Drink coffee.

Posted by: wiredog | July 13, 2007 8:33 AM

My mom used to make this with 1 cup of ground Folgers (if she couldn't get Yuban) poured into a 1 quart jar. She'd fill the jar with cold water, close it and let it stand overnight on the counter with a papertowel under it, or in the sink (better). In the morning, it would be filtered into another jar and the concentrate stored in the fridge.
If you have an older (1964 and before) version of "Joy of Cooking", this recipe is in there as a coffee concentrate for serving large groups.
My mom (and "Joy") would put about 2 Tbsp. of concentrate into a cup and fill with hot water to serve.
It is very easy on the tummy.
Thanks for reminding me to make some!

Posted by: ginger71 | July 13, 2007 9:29 AM

My father was stationed in England during WWII and said they got coffee from a concentrate-syrup type deal while in the service. He said it tasted like iodine. Not worth trying.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2007 9:55 AM

I think that the New England region has a similar drink - but we call it coffee milk, I believe that it is similar. Kim - have you heard of it or tasted it?

Posted by: aleka | July 13, 2007 10:16 AM

Apparently there is a link between Louisiana-style iced coffee and Vietnamese iced coffee which I love.


Posted by: wikiwonka | July 13, 2007 10:40 AM

For the person in Germany wondering what the conversion of pounds to grams was:

Very easy!

1 kilo is about 2 pounds.

Therefore, 500 grams = 1 pound

Just buy a 250g (for a half pound) or 500g (for a pound) package of Jacobs Kronung (one of my favorites, if I can't get Carte Noir). That's what I use in my Toddy cold brewer!

Posted by: Liz | July 13, 2007 10:47 AM

I've tried making this -- using the NYTimes recipe -- for about a week now in my French press. It's delicious and easy to do. You just need to remember the night before! I drink mine with whole milk and a little sugar.

Posted by: Adams Morgan Coffee Convert | July 13, 2007 11:10 AM

My grandmother in Houston always had cold coffee concentrate in the fridge that she mixed with hot water for her morning cuppa--she had some sort of plastic thing she brewed it with. It wasn't until I was an adult that I enjoyed her wonderful coffee, and I never thought to ask her about what she brewed with, and she is now gone. Could that be the Toddy that a couple of people have mentioned? Or something else? She had family from Louisiana, and I wonder if her brew came from that side of the family. I always thought of it as a Texas thing! Anyone have any ideas for me, to find the nifty coffee device?

Posted by: Curious | July 13, 2007 1:03 PM

Tips & background on cold brewing coffee:
1. Exact amounts of coffee and water are NOT needed. We're not baking. Rather, we're simply making a concentrate that's meant to be diluted to your taste as you see fit for the day.
2. Brew tons (i.e., 6 cups) of concentrate at at time. Some people in your office will dilute it 4x; others 2x. It lasts at least 2 weeks in fridge; Cooks Illustrated said it lasts over 2 months. Thus, convenience is a major benefit of cold brewing. Clean taste, low-acid, no bitterness, etc are others. Brewing just a day's worth of concentrate at a time is simply a waste of time.
3. Rick Hodges of the Wash Post wrote the best article (sorry Ms. O'Donnel)on this topic (Drip, Drip, Drip, WP 12/2/03). It's a must read. A free version of this article and others is at

Posted by: Henry | July 13, 2007 1:18 PM

If you have a good filter, why wouldn't fine ground coffee work better than medium ground? Seems like there's more surface area, and steeping would be more effective.

Is it all about having to remove the sludge afterwards?

Posted by: Erika | July 13, 2007 1:49 PM

Liz, 1 kilo = 2.2 lbs!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 13, 2007 2:21 PM

As I recall a pound is 454 grams, rather exactly. This whole thing sounds rather wonderful. I'll run home shortly and whip some up.

Posted by: bboot | July 13, 2007 3:12 PM

to Erika: I've been using the Toddy system for a long time now (has a 1/4 inch thick very dense felt-like filter). Using a fine ground makes the filtration process take FOREVER. Coarser ground works fine, especially since you are steeping over 12-24 hours.

I LOVE the Toddy. I make an iced "mocha" by adding 1/4 to /12 cup of concentrate to a glass of chocolate milk. Yum!

Posted by: Caroline | July 13, 2007 4:10 PM

Curious, you can find one of these nifty coffee devices at It's worth every penny.

Afi, making coffee in a traditional coffee pot the "hot way" actually absorbs more caffeine from the grounds into the liquid, resulting in a cup of coffee with more caffeine than the cold water systems, in which the cold water doesn't absorb near as much caffeine from the grounds. The increased heart rate could have been anxiety. Maybe try a beer.

Posted by: Lau | July 13, 2007 4:55 PM

Thanks, Caroline. I thought it was something like that.

The mocha sounds nice.

The reason I'm interested is Eiskaffee, which is cold coffee with a scoop of ice cream (can be small, can be any coffee sympathetic flavor, including chocolate.) My favorite hot summer afternoon pick-me-up, but which tastes like dishwater (not that I'd know what THAT tastes like) made with cooled off drip coffee.

Posted by: Erika | July 13, 2007 6:03 PM

For delicious Frapuccino:

5 ice cubes in Vita-Mix blender
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 tsp. instant coffee
1/2 pkg. instant hot cocoa mix, sugar-free

Blend until no ice chunks.

Sip through straw for a delicious, cooling wake-up drink these hot mornings.

Posted by: Elaine | July 13, 2007 10:57 PM

Cold-dripped coffee is the best. As a New Orleans native, I have ordered N.O. Brew Iced coffee for about a year since my mom shipped me my first bottle. It has to stay refrigerated and has a shelf life of about 3-4 months and 3 weeks after opening according to the bottle. Do yourself a favor. No sugar, no artificial ingredients and just about fifty cents per drink.

Posted by: Paula | July 14, 2007 12:16 AM

Another easy-to-make iced coffee is the Vietnamese iced coffee. What you'll need:

1) a Vietnamese coffee filter (about $3 at an asian grocery store)
2) a coffee/chicory ground (I use Cafe Du Monde that comes in a yellow can)
3) sweetened condensed milk.

To make the coffee, unscrew the damper and remove it from the filter. Put about two tablespoons of the coffee ground onto the filter and screw the damper back onto the filter so that it sits snugly on top of the coffee ground. Tap the filter to shake out loose grounds. Put the filter onto a cup. Pour boiling water into the filter but not more than the volume of the filter. Add the sweetened condensed milk and ice and stir. In about three minutes you'll have a delicious iced coffee.

Posted by: Dan L. | July 14, 2007 9:29 PM

Tried it last night--let it steep overnight--and today my wife and I agree that it's great, with or without sugar.


Posted by: reporter1 | July 15, 2007 12:16 AM

Yes, to be perfectly acurate, 1 kilo = 2.2 pounds.

But, who on the planet cares for this purpose? Coffee comes in 500g and 250g packages in Europe. If you're looking for a "pound" of coffee, just buy the 500g package and call it a day...

(I cooked professionally in Europe for a year. Not once did I ever have a problem using that conversion, or the "1-liquid-cup-equals-250ml" conversion either, for that matter!)

Posted by: Liz | July 15, 2007 12:52 PM

This cold coffee from concentrate with a hint of chicory sounds almost exactly like what we in the UK call "Camp coffee", which I for one fondly remember from my youth in the 70's.

But it wasn't any sort of gourmet thing--it was an alarmingly potent cooking ingredient that you could make into a drink as a last ditch effort if you were desperate and there was no proper coffee in the house.

Posted by: Keith B | July 15, 2007 5:27 PM

Is there anyplace in the Washington, DC area where you can get the authentic New Orleans iced coffee described? Also, in any Vietnamese restaurant, to order the special Vietnamese iced coffee, ask for a "cafe sua dah" (ka-fay soo dah). Wonderful! --- Rick

Posted by: Rick | July 15, 2007 10:22 PM

Try this site, you'll get exactly what this article is talking about. It's Great & not only for ice coffee but your hot winter coffee too. All you have to decide is how much water to add to the concentrate to get to your strength level

Posted by: Andy | July 15, 2007 10:38 PM

Ooops let me correct that address

Posted by: Andy | July 15, 2007 10:43 PM

freeze coffee in ice cube trays so your iced coffee does not get diluted.

Posted by: anonymouse | July 16, 2007 1:03 PM

the ice cubes idea is a great thing.. i do that for my iced tea and fruity drinks as well :)

Posted by: anixa | July 16, 2007 2:08 PM

Lau--thanks for the confirmation, I also emailed my mom and she confirms as well that what Grandma had was a Toddy (my mom is notoriously fuzzy on details so I didn't think she'd remember!). I checked out their website and there are several places around here that sell it, so I think I'm going for the instant gratification and going to go get one.

Can't wait to try it out!

Posted by: Curious | July 17, 2007 12:59 PM

I think there is a place in Vienna, VA that sells cold-pressed coffee concentrate, but the name escapes me.

Posted by: moose | July 18, 2007 11:11 AM

I made this "brew" last night, using a good coffee from a coffee shop which I ground myself. Straining it this morning took a loooooong time. The first straining was fast, but putting it through a coffee filter was interminable.

That said, it is VERY strong and I like strong coffee. I put about 1/4 cup of the concentrate into a small glass, added an equal amount of water, then filled the glass with ice cubes and milk. I still needed sweetener as I found it to be very bitter. But once I doctored it, it is delicious.

Posted by: JoAnn | July 22, 2007 4:46 PM

just wanted to mention that seattle's best coffee (yes, i know, owned by STARBUCKS, MMMAAAAANNNN) uses the cold-brew toddy system to make its iced coffee. don't know where one is near you? they have licensed cafes in Borders Book stores.

(semi-disclaimer: i work for borders, running a sbc cafe. that said, i still hate every other iced coffee i've ever had, so if you're looking for a retail version of this cold-brew, Seattle's Best Coffee [in Borders Books!] is the place)

Posted by: stoney | July 26, 2007 7:26 PM

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