The playing field of cool brewed coffee has widened considerably since the days when espresso over ice was the only option. From industrial plastic tubs to mesmerizing chemistry-set corkscrew drippers, cold brew is in full summer effect. Whether you're toting a cup of melting ice cubes to the park, or bringing home a handsome bottle to nurse all week long, you want your coffee cold? Baby, you've got options.
Most cold brewing methods work on the same general principal: extracting a superconcentrated brew coffee from a long, slow drip of water through a very large quantity of coffee grounds. What's missing in the heat processes of normal brew is made up for in time—lots and lots of time. The resulting extraction of these strong, day-long steeps is typically a mellow, very low acid coffee, well suited to serving over ice, with milk or cream, and with enough stamina to keep on hand in the fridge for a number of weeks without any discernible dropoff in flavor. Though the slight flatlining of a coffee's taste spectrum may be the downside of cold brew methods, these brews become dessertlike in their natural sweetness and their affinity for being slutted up with cream. We tried five different kinds of cold-brew preparation, and now have brain freeze.
Kyoto Drip at Blue Bottle Coffee
The breathtaking, mad-scientist-style brewers imported by Blue Bottle Coffee from Japan are a focal point of their cafes, and no wonder: the process of their spiraling one-drip-at-a-time cold brewing is a heck of a thing to watch. (Luckily Blue Bottle's cafes kick you out overnight.) The west-coast-based roaster specializes in not one, but two, cold brewed methods, and Kyoto's brew is an intense, flattish-tasting brew that has that guilty pleasure flavor of canned iced coffee. The cup we tried was a bit ice-cube flavored, but the sturdy, almost woody quality to the brew suggests it might get better and better as that melty ice goes on.
Available at Blue Bottle Coffee locations in San Francisco, Oakland and Brooklyn, and on similar equipment in other cafes worldwide.
New Orleans Style Coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee
Take a sip of this coffee straight and its liquory sweetness might shock you. Or is that the chicory? This slow-dripped syrup comes out tasting only vaguely reminiscent of coffee, its concentrate served over ice in equal proportions to milk, with a healthy dose of simple syrup in the mix. It's good for a creamy cool summer treat, though the syrup lends a somewhat distracting mouthfeel (and you'll want to stir—all that sweetner ends up on the bottom.) Overall it has a softer and more dimensional flavor than the Kyoto, but it might not be the most "sessionable" cold brew. (You can always make it yourself at home and find out.)
Preparation available at Blue Bottle Coffee locations in San Francisco, Oakland and Brooklyn.
Filtron Cold Brew at Cafe Grumpy
Unlike Blue Bottle's Japanese style drip, the Filtron (equivalent in concept to the Toddy brewer) claims, rather, to be Javanese. The astoundingly unsexily named brewer steeps its concentrate from a large quantity of coffee dripped over a receiving vessel during a period of 12-24 hours. At New York's Cafe Grumpy, seasonal coffees that have proven to taste great cold are selected throughout the warmer months, says co-owner Caroline Bell. Currently on slow drip is El Limonar, from Huehuetenango, Guatemala, a tangy, super-clean tasting brew of this citrusy, slightly cocoa coffee. And the Filtron's super-smooth and balanced brew goes perfectly well with a little milk without diminishing any of the coffee's flavor.
Available at all five Cafe Grumpy locations, and is a method widely used by many other coffee shops.
Brewed like beer, packaged like beer—no one should expect anything less from bicoastal Stumptown, whose newest sensation takes something everybody wants to drink anyway, and makes it adorable. Brewed onsite in steel tanks at Stumptown's roasteries, the concentrate is then diluted and bottled into "stubby" beer bottles (not a bad companion piece to the holiday blend coffee bean jars a lot of people stored, um, other things in). The short cold one—brewed using a blend of seasonal beans—is drinkable from the bottle and full of sweet chocolate flavors. It's not great in milk, but poured over ice (or just tipped back) it's a fine, non-flat take on the cold method that's a much more delicious on-the-go-alternative than a plastic cup of melty ice. Do these come in six-packs?
Available at Stumptown cafes in Portland, Seattle and New York City.
Kickstand Cold Brew Concentrate
Don't chug this one no matter how pretty it is—Brooklyn-based bike baristas Kickstand have offered up a more long-term solution to the cold coffee problem: a take-home concentrate you can keep in the fridge and decant with whatever proportions of cold water or dairy you like most. (Oh, and if you live in the right geographic vicinity, they'll just bike a fresh bottle to your house each week.) Using professional grade Filtron drippers and in-season beans roasted by their friends at Cafe Grumpy, each handsomely tagged Kickstand cold brew bottle lets you know not only how to drink it but what you're drinking—a level of transparency and pride in which kind of cold coffee you're actually drinking that's suspiciously absent in most preparations. Their version of the Guatemalan El Limonar is supremely fruity, with a little soft chocolate, and can be enjoyed for up to 14 days in the privacy of your own home. It's super floral and their brew retains the brightness inherent in this coffee without any of that stale taste cold brews are so prone to. We have a winner! Now if only they could bike nationwide.
Available at The Brooklyn Kitchen or have it personally delivered by bicycle in New York City.