Over the years – and over the course of running my own cafes – I have gathered a vast array of coffee-making paraphernalia and am spoiled for choice when it comes to making my personal cup of Joe. There is an espresso machine lying around that I stopped bothering with once I realized that espresso wasn’t my favourite style of coffee. A moka pot and a french press jostle for shelf space somewhere at the back of the kitchen. An Aeropress, my de-facto coffee maker, headlines. For now.
In subsequent columns we will discuss the merits and demerits of each of these methods and more. Today, however, as an ode to lazy weekends and lazier-still coffee enthusiasts (me) I want to talk about the method of making coffee that has the highest Rate-of-Return for the amount of effort it requires. In short, minimum fuss, maximum taste. It’s called cold-brewing.
Cold-brewing involves steeping coffee grounds in cold – or room-temperature – water for extended periods of time. Without getting too scientific about it, while hot water does release more volatile organic compounds from the coffee (read: flavour) it also ups the acidity of the coffee and damages some of the oils. This has the double disadvantage of making the coffee bitter and shortening its shelf life – I have agonised so many times about bad baristas letting my espresso go rancid while they are preparing the rest of the order. Cold-brewed coffee, then, is ideal for making once and savouring over a longer period. I have made concentrates that keep for up to a month with no degradation in taste.
Let’s get started.
Ingredients and Equipment – both ingredients can be scaled up or down
- 112 grams (about a level cup) of medium ground medium roast coffee.
- 800 ml of filtered water at room temperature.
- A lidded jar or large-mouthed bottle in which to steep the coffee.
- A way to strain the coffee before use.
At the bare minimum we need whole roasted beans. If we are to have any hope of getting good flavour from our coffee we need whole beans. Start with a medium roast and adjust based on taste. Also, ideally, we would use a burr grinder but you can use a dry grinder that uses blades. While cold-brew is forgiving, that way, I would highly recommend this one upgrade. I use a Hario Slim Grinder that I couldn’t find in India but a clone of the Hario Skerton is available here as are vintage grinders. Set it for a medium grind to start and adjust with taste.
- Put the ground coffee in the jar or bottle and pour the water over it.
- Stir to ensure that all the coffee grounds have been wetted.
- Cover lightly and leave in a cool dark area. Your kitchen counter should work fine. If you plan to leave the brew for longer than 16 hours I recommend you put it in the refrigerator.
- After 12 hours – I found no discernible difference between steeping for 12 or 16 hours so do what is convenient – strain the coffee. For straining coffee filters are ideal. Cheesecloth or muslin lined in a large metal sieve will be just fine. Use a clean (not for long) T-shirt as a last refuge. I started by using cheesecloth but am tempted to buy small muslin bags that I can drop the coffee in and pull out later. Think of them as handmade, re-usable teabags for coffee.
And, that’s it. What you should have now is a strong coffee concentrate that you can dilute 1:1 with milk or water, hot or cold, for a flavourful cup that should showcase the subtle notes in the coffee and will have none of the acidity that turns most first-timers off coffee.
Bottle it and it should keep for up to a month though I never, personally, let it survive past 24 hours. Cold-brew is also a way to salvage slightly older beans so it is especially suited to off-the-shelf buys.