Serious Eats: Drinks
How to Make Sweetleaf's Iced Chicory-Coffee 'Rocket Fuel'
For those who didn't get their fill of Mardi Gras, or perhaps overfilled, a tall glass of chicory coffee may be just the thematic antidote. At Serious Drinks we've been eager to document chicory coffee's legacy. But far from the French Quarter, in the outer boroughs of New York City, you'll find a coffee shop slinging a different twist on the classic combination.
Sweetleaf Coffee, with shops in both Brooklyn and Queens, offers a beverage they call "Rocket Fuel"—a chicory and cold-brew coffee based drink that recalls its predecessors at Cafe du Monde and Blue Bottle. Yet unlike Cafe du Monde's woody, canned blend or Blue Bottle's intensely viscous, almost boozy brew base, Rocket Fuel's a crisp yet rich take on the Louisiana tradition. Its intense, creamy, bakers-chocolate notes—tempered with maple syrup but no taste of maple—wash over the sharpness of nutty chicory—the perfect accelerant to the day after Mardi Gras...or any sluggish afternoon.
We crashed the party at Williamsburg, Brooklyn's Sweetleaf outpost to get some step-by-step tips on this drink from barista Nikita Flavius-Gottschalk.
1. Prepare the cold brew base
You'll make a cold-brew iced coffee, using basic cold brewing principles—only this time, you're adding chicory.
The team at Sweetleaf suggests selecting a coffee that's well-suited to the nutty, woody tones of chicory. "You don't want floral and berry notes in your Rocket Fuel," advises Flavius-Gottschalk. Sweetleaf uses a balanced, rich coffee as their base, like Stumptown's Hairbender blend, while the company gets its feet on the ground roasting its own Sweetleaf brand coffee. Measure out a 1:3 ratio of chicory to coffee—darn right, that's a lot of chicory! ("We had a huge crisis last summer when all the distributors in the New York area were out of chicory," said Flavius-Gottschalk. Hopefully that won't happen to you.)
Coffee should be ground to a filter drip setting: Sweetleaf's team of careful measurers prefers the coffee extract very slowly alongside the chicory, so while some prefer a coarser grind for cold brew, they err towards the finer. Think of a texture more towards coarse salt or cornmeal, rather than the coarser, near-French press grind often advised for cold brewing. Mix the chicory and coffee together before adding to the large container you'll fill with water.
Standard cold brew ratios are 1 part coffee to 4.5 parts water. Rocket Fuel is a little more demanding, so 1 part coffee/chicory mix you'll use 6 times that in water. Add the coffee and chicory mixture to the water, and stir completely. Leave the brew to do its work at room temperature, and in 12 to 18 hours time, filter the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or cloth—twice if you can. Flavius-Gottschalk says you can expect about a gallon of concentrated Rocket Fuel base to result from the slow-brew.
Now that you've got your base, you're ready to make cups of Rocket Fuel.
2. Administer the maple syrup
As with Blue Bottle's New Orleans style coffee, the next stage after cold brewing is to add a sweetener. Sweetleaf uses Grade B maple syrup to provide the dark and earthy base sweetener for this drink. Add syrup to taste—approximately one tablespoons for every four ounces of cold-brew concentrate.
3. Add ice
4. Add milk or dairy substitute
Add your dairy or substitute now—whole milk will be creamiest, but whatever you like the most—in equal proportion to the coffee concentrate. "Milk is the last to go in," says Flavius-Gottschalk, "in case you want an alternative. We want everyone to have rocket fuel." Plus, pouring in the milk last over ice yields a cascading, dairy waterfall effect that will make your eyes glaze over happily like a sleepy animal.
5. Stir and serve!
The final result? A creamy yet brisk drink of intriguing flavors, with the cold-brew coffee enveloped in the full, round, and slightly bittersweet taste of chicory. Bon temps? Why the heck not.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is the creator of Nice Coffee Time, a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world, published by Presspop, is the New York City correspondent for Sprudge.com, and contributes to other outfits worldwide.