Serious Eats: Drinks

What's Your Iced Coffee Method?

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[Photographs: Dennis Tang on Flickr]

I don't always agree with IsItIcedCoffeeWeather.com about whether we've hit the frosty-coffee season. As long as the sun is out (even if the wind is brisk), I'm game for a cool afternoon caffeine kick. But these days there's an entire menu of possible iced coffee brewing methods...even if you're just making yourself an iced coffee at home.

Cold Brew

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[Photo: Liz Clayton]

This popular method is often prepared in megabatches at cafes, sometimes using equipment like the Filtron or Toddy. At home, one of the easiest options is to use a French press, though of course that limits your batch size. Fill it with 1 part medium-coarsely ground coffee (about the texture of kosher salt) to 4.5 parts cold water, mix it together to saturate the grounds. And then...wait.

How long? Some recipes call for a 12-hour steep at room temperature. Alex Powar, who works in education and quality control at San Francisco's Four Barrel Coffee, says this method "takes so long to brew that the coffee has a tendency to develop oxidized and stale flavors even before it's finished brewing." His solution: "You can diminish the impact of this issue by brewing at below room temperature—say, in the refrigerator. Really low temperature brewing slows the pernicious effects of oxygen on your brew, but needs to be accounted for in your brew time (at a lower temperature, 24 hours will give you a better result than 12.)" Noted!

Lazy Cold Brew

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There are a few different companies (see Grady's, Stumptown, Gorilla, Kickstand, Secret Squirrel, and others) who sell bottled cold brew concentrate for the person who can't wait for slow infusion. (Or for that person (ahem, me) who just keeps forgetting to start a batch at night, whoops!) One warning: these high-test coffee concentrates tend to be pretty pricey!

New Orleans Style Cold Brew à la Blue Bottle

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[Photograph: Dennis Miyashiro on Flickr]

Want to make sweet, creamy, slightly nutty New Orleans style chicory-flavored cold brew like they serve at Blue Bottle? You can make a big batch with a pound of ground coffee and 1.5 ounces of chicory, steeped with 2.5 quarts of cold water in a stockpot overnight. (Filter with a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth and sweeten to taste.)

More on how they make it over on the Blue Bottle site »

Japanese-Style Iced Coffee

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[Photo: Meister]

Cold brewing, according to Alex Powar, "doesn't necessarily do a great job of developing a lot of the qualities that you're paying for when you buy a bag of really top shelf coffee from a specialty roaster." The alternative: brew hot over ice. This method, says Powar, "does a great job at facilitating all of the reactions that we love about hot brewed coffee, while quickly cooling it down to around 40°F quickly enough to trap in all of those qualities before the coffee oxidizes or before it begins to break down and become bitter." By brewing hot, you'll extract the more nuanced aromatic compounds and solubles from coffee that you wouldn't get in cold brew.

Want to try it? Our own Meister suggests making double-strength pourover coffee with hot water directly over ice using a Chemex or a Melitta-style drip cone. Get the measurements and details here »

Aeropress Over Ice

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Consistently delicious, without a fancy pouring kettle. If you already have an Aeropress (and a kitchen scale), you're ready to brew air-pressure extracted iced coffee in a jiffy. As noted above, according to Alex Powar, hot-brewing over ice is considered by "a lot of bigtime coffee folks" to be "a better way of getting the most out of a more expensive, nuanced coffee. The Aeropress," Powar continues, "permits a lot of control over brew time, which can be really advantageous when you're dealing with lower quantities of brewing water. " Get the measurements and details here »

Want to get fancy? Consider flavoring your ice cubes like North Central Regional Barista Champion Ryan Knapp of Madcap Coffee does: a little tangerine essential oil in the ice highlights citrusy flavors in the coffee.

Shakerato

It's never to early in the day to break out the cocktail shaker, especially if you're making this Italian specialty. (It's caught on across Europe, too: you can get a shakerato at coffee destinations like Tim Wendelboe in Oslo, Norway, and The Coffee Collective in Denmark.) A fresh double espresso and sweetener is shaken with ice until well-chilled, then strained into a cocktail or wine glass. Though simple syrup can help you avoid the problem of graininess, some folks believe that using a little sugar instead (say, a teaspoon) can help boost the frothy texture of the shaken beverage—just shake and shake and shake until the sugar is completely dissolved and the drink is frosty and foamy.

The shakerato needs no embellishment, if you're not a purist, you might have fun experimenting with homemade flavored simple syrups (or spiking your afternoon shakerato with liqueur or amaro.)

Other Methods?

[Photograph: Leonard John Matthews on Flickr]

In Australia, ordering an iced coffee is likely to get you a mix of espresso with ice and vanilla ice cream. That probably counts as dessert (but we won't judge if you won't.)

What's your iced coffee method of choice? Are you a cold-brewer or hot? Have you tried Aeropress over ice?

About the Author: Maggie Hoffman is the editor of Serious Eats: Drinks. She lives in San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @maggiejane.

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