It’s fair to say this site would not exist without cold brew coffee. The caffeine and comfort it provides in the morning allows me to hammer away on my keyboard while I do a treatment. The low acidity and ease of preparation means there is always enough in the house. I just need to check the supply at dinner the night before.
Cold brew coffee
I was introduced to cold brew coffee years before it became cool. When I was a kid (or at least just out of college), I worked for Caribou Coffee. They were one of the largest non-Starbucks coffee chains around at the time. Later, places like Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, and others decided to expand into so-called gourmet coffee. Anyway, one of the offerings at Caribou was called Cold Press. As a supervisor, one of my jobs was to make a huge batch of the stuff around midday so that it could be filtered the next morning. I don’t remember the exact ratio of coffee to water anymore, but it was served over ice without any dilution.
We would grind up a medium roast coffee on the coarse setting, dump it into a huge pitcher, add water, cover with plastic wrap, and keep it out on the counter. The next morning, we’d use one of the brew baskets to filter it. Then we’d pop it into the fridge. Pretty simple stuff. It wasn’t the most popular specialty (that would have been the Caramel High Rise or Campfire Mocha), but we rarely threw any away.
Journey to cold brew
I realized that I was spending way too much money on coffee a few years ago, so I tried to remember what I liked from my Caribou days that I could recreate at home. The Americano (espresso in hot water) was a favorite, so I tried an iced one. It kind of worked, but there was the bitter edge from hot coffee made cold, so I ended up adding a little white chocolate which increased the price. At the same time, I didn’t want to shell out $350 or more for an espresso machine (though the math indicated I would save that much in the first year). And being a lazy sort of person, I was unlikely to take the time to make espresso at home before I left for work.
As I continued to spend money at my local Caribou Coffee, I rediscovered Cold Press. At $3 a pop, it was cheaper than any espresso-based drink… but still too expensive. Because I didn’t remember their recipe anymore, I had to hit the internet to figure out what a good water to coffee ratio was. There are many opinions on the matter, but I found a good rule of thumb was 1 ounce of ground coffee per 16 ounces of water to make hot brewed coffee. When I tried it out at home for cold brew coffee, it worked; I had a lovely, smooth glass of coffee. Jenny found it to be a bit too strong for her, so she would add some water or go heavy on her favorite creamer. Plus, it took up a lot of room in the fridge and didn’t last long.
Make it a double
I would love to say that I came up with the idea of concentrate all on my own… but I didn’t. While I rode the cold brew coffee bandwagon for years before anyone else hopped on, it took me forever to see the people carrying cases of double, or even tripe-strength cold brew. When the twins arrived, we started hitting the coffee hard. There were days where we would head to Caribou Coffee and pick up a drink for the evening plus another one for the morning. We made a lot of expensive choices in those early days, because that’s what you do as a new parent and you’re looking for any kind of simplicity. One day at Target, I noticed they were carrying a brand of cold brew I hadn’t seen before: Chameleon Cold Brew. It was $10, and it made a half gallon of coffee. That pretty much cut our coffee spend in half. And for people who don’t have access to good beans or just really don’t want to make their own cold brew, this is probably the place to stop. Find a good cold brew concentrate and buy it.
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I did the math, though Captain Obvious was already shouting the answer at me. For the price of a single bottle of Chameleon, I could get a pound of beans. That pound made 2 gallons of single-strength coffee. Following the lead of Chameleon, I made concentrate. In the end, $2.50 made 32 ounces of cold brew coffee concentrate. We were now spending a whole lot less on our caffeine addiction.
DIY cold brew
The great thing about cold brew is its simplicity and versatility. Like coffee in general, there are few things you need to make a good cup. Whether coffee is brewed hot using a drip coffee maker, French Press, or fancy pour-over system, you get a hot cup in 5-10 minutes. But it does not chill well. Coffee that was brewed hot ends up with a bitter edge when it gets cold, whether it’s slowly on the counter or quickly over ice. I once enjoyed that, or at least tolerated it, but now I prefer a smoother cup of coffee. Cold brew coffee is great over ice. And if you want a hot cup of coffee, you can heat it up in the microwave without any problems. This gives you flexibility over serving options.
However, if you have some truly exceptional coffee like Jamaican Blue Mountain or Hawaii Kona, don’t cold brew it. Cold brew coffee does lose some of the more subtle flavors compared to a hot brew coffee. The same goes for a light-roasted coffee, which is valued because its high acidity gives you a “bright” cup of coffee. I stick with a medium roast, usually a blended one, such as Caribou Blend. If you have a local roaster you’d rather go to, by all means do it. And if you don’t have a coffee grinder at home, ask them to grind it. Just don’t buy pre-ground coffee, as it will be too finely ground for cold brew.