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.
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.
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.
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.
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