Never in my hospitality career have I encountered a beverage so simultaneously loved by customers and despised by baristas as cold brew. Sure, there’s plenty of drinks we bemoan making, but often they’re few and far between. I mean, there’s only so many soy macchiatos you can make in a week. But cold brew, cold brew is an entirely different beast.

Besmirched by many coffee people, food writers (if you’re reading this, hello), and other people with vocal opinions about things they dislike, I have only ever encountered cold brew as something almost universally loved by those who frequent its umber, viscous extractions. Especially during summer, I’ve sold Toddy-loads of cold brew. Demand is high, satisfaction is high, yet industry opinion is at an all-time low.

So, (Jerry Seinfeld voice) what’s the deal with cold brew?

Let’s get things straight

I don’t enjoy cold coffees. Yes, even the humble iced latte does little to impress me. On the one-or-two times a year I have one, I find myself adding a little sugar syrup just to make it a bit more enjoyable. But in my journeys of making all the trendiest iced pour over recipes, I’ve encountered many that I’ve found OK at best, and underwhelming at worst.

With my ambivalence towards cold coffees in mind, I am a staunch defender of the humble cold brew. I think its convenience is terrific, and the cup quality isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. I don't think flash brew is an 'instant win' over cold brew, and there's plenty of ways to elevate the Toddy-born beverage. 

To be completely honest, I’ve found almost consistently that the actual coffee plays the biggest role in flavour quality in flash brew or traditional cold brew. All this is to say, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, and both expressions have their place in this crazy, constantly bickering coffee world we live in.

Cold brew with coconut foam at Uncommon, Amsterdam. This was very nice, the coconut added a nice depth and sweetness to the drink.

The Flash

Just like how I would never pull an 8g espresso, top it up to 20g with boiling water and call it a well crafted coffee beverage, I have never fully understood or appreciated the world of ‘flash brew’ coffee. As someone who has prided their coffee-renaissance on hating on ristrettos, I always found it a little confusing that filter ristrettos, diluted with water is considered the best thing in cold coffee making. If anything, I’d probably say I’d prefer a cooled down, well made pour over, tipped on ice the most. But that’s not really practical or commonplace whatsoever, and the flavour doesn't hold up amazingly over the time it would take to happen.

I’d just like to pause the crafting of this highly unnecessary piece and say, I would be very curious to see how a humongous, frozen bit of steel, used to cool the entirety of a coffee, would go in making a nice iced coffee? Moving on…

In the world according to Instagram, I’d generally say most coffee people enjoy flash brew almost considerably more than cold brew. The benefits from a service perspective make sense - you can craft it on the go, the coffees aren’t sitting in thermoses for days on end, and the opinion of people is it generally has a ‘fresher’, ‘brighter’ flavour. But, just like how I find it hard to find a batch brew I really enjoy, I find it hard to find a flash brew I really enjoy. The best I’ve ever had was from Dan at Primary Coffee in Potts Point, so shouts to Dan.

Now while I don’t think the world of good ol’ cold brew is infallible, I think it’s a convenient and simple style of coffee brewing that customers generally enjoy. I would even go so far to say that customer appreciation of cold brew is the easiest, and one of the most frequent pathways into people drinking more black coffee, and appreciating coffees based on name, origin or flavours. With this in mind, I feel with any coffee beverage it’s best to treat the drink with respect, and generally using high quality coffee, ground appropriately, will tend to yield something pretty juicy and delicious. So please observe below my loose list of ‘Cold Brewing Techniques That I Generally Find Give Me Pretty Good Results And Gets Good Feedback From Customers’.

The Bean
Don’t use roasty coffee. It will taste roasty. That is gross when it’s hot and gross when it’s cold. Also, I find Kenyan coffees to be the best to brew cold, but really just fruity coffees will have the most fruity vibes when extracted low and slow. Really fermenty coffee can also be a bit gross, but dense and fruity coffee with a good body will serve you well.

The Ratio
I like to use a ratio of something between 1:12 and 1:13. I find it’s a tricky number to get right, wanting to balance intensity with complexity and ice melt. But for the most part, I use around 1kg coffee to more-or-less 13L water and I think that’s generally a pretty happy place.

The Grind
I don’t know why people grind cold brew so coarse?? I grind almost as fine as I would for cupping, which is basically as fine as I grind for batch and, with the coffees I use, the results are fantastic. More viscosity, more intensity and more sweetness. So try grinding finer, would you?

The Agitation
Make sure things are wet! I like to use a whisk, adding most of the water first, whisking it up, then adding the rest of the water. It goes a long way to ensuring a more better flavour profile.

H2O, Just Add Water
Naturally a very important step is to use high quality filtered water. I don’t talk about mineral compositions because I don’t know much about it, but generally if you’re using good quality filtered water then that’s the hardest part done. Tap water generally certifiably sucks in comparison, and I usually find it leaves a bit more of a 'stale' flavour.

The Pot
Half filled pots will go stale faster, just like your hot batch. Fill your pots up and use the lowest ones on the first day. The fuller ones should hold pretty well, I tend to keep mine for around 3 days which is brewed on Sunday, strained and served on Monday, chucked on Wednesday. Then brewed on Wednesday, strained on Thursday, chucked on Saturday. If you can make less to have a smaller turn around, and just serve it two days post strain, that’s even better.

The Time
Time is the least useful metric in my opinion, and I’ve made nice cold brews between 6 and 24 hours. I don’t like longer brew times, but usually overnight in a fridge (let’s say 3:00pm to 6:00am?) is good, and generally room temperature for 8 hours is even better. In fact most of the time I significantly prefer the room temp cold brew.

C6H8O7 (optional)
Some geniuses add citric acid to their cold brew as well, and I think that’s just a brilliant idea, although I have never tried it. But it sounds good doesn’t it?

Anyway, this is how I like to make my cold brew and I think it’s generally pretty good. But that being said, this isn’t to change any persons ideas on the drink. I just think using nice, dense and fruity coffee, ground pretty fine in filter terms, and roughly a 1:12.5 ratio will give you quite nice results pretty much all of the time.

Until next time, James