Ah, coffee. Sweet elixir of life. Best friend to workers, mothers of small babies, and all those who like to feel non-stabby in the morning. When I first moved to the USA, there were many culture shocks awaiting me, some wonderful and some not so wonderful. The biggest and most problematic one was the coffee. Dear readers, I hope you will indulge me in some hearty complaining for just a short time.
If you have friends who live in, heck, almost any other country in the world, you’ve probably heard them complain about American coffee. It’s bad. I’m sorry. There’s no other way to put it. It’s also weak, in terms of caffeine content at least, which is, in this writer’s humble opinion, the most important metric of coffee quality.
I was mystified as to why I was being asked what roast I would prefer. I tried to ask what the difference was, in terms of caffeine content, and they kept telling me about flavor. But it all tasted like someone put their cigarette out in the pot before pouring anyway. I spent the first two weeks in this country with a caffeine withdrawal headache.
My husband said it best: Australians see coffee as medicine, not just recreation. And I think that he’s right. Does that mean flavor isn’t important to us? Not at all; it’s really important. But the roast of the beans themselves is rarely a factor, in my experience. Generally, how the drink is extracted is the most important thing.
No one in Australia has drip coffee machines or Keurigs (though Nespresso machines gained popularity in the last few years). Most people have an espresso machine in the kitchen, though usually not a big one with all the bells and whistles. My dad’s Gaggia Classic just makes one cup at a time, and has a manual milk frother on the side.
I found it so hard to find particular beans as well. I prefer robusta beans because they tend to be the highest in caffeine content, but the only information I was able to find was region grown and flavor notes. I resorted to buying a french press and making myself a full beaker, when previously a small coffee with milk would have done the job.
Which reminds me — cream in coffee is strange to me. Milk (whole or skim) is the addition of choice in Australia. And I know at least one reason why I prefer milk, which brings me to the point of my article (finally!).
Cold-brewed coffee is now my drink of choice in all seasons, because it tends to be stronger.
When I first started making it, I expected it to be a difficult and tedious chore. But it’s actually incredibly easy, and if you are interested in giving it a try, all you need is a jar with a tight seal and some coffee grounds.
The basic formula for cold brew is a pound of grounds to a gallon of water. If you live with six other coffee-drinking adults that might be fine, otherwise, scale down to a quarter-pound of grounds and four cups of water. Add them to the jar all together, give it a good shake, and put it in the fridge for 12-24 hours, shaking once if you wish just to make sure it gets extracted. The longer you brew it, the stronger it’ll be, but 24 hours should be the outer limit before it starts becoming bitter.
Now, I’m no barista or chemistry expert, but my understanding is that brewing coffee this way reduces the acidity in the coffee which, in turn, gives a MUCH smoother brew. You see, in order to quickly extract caffeine from coffee grounds, you need heat. Slowly extracting the caffeine with this method prevents heat damage to the flavor compounds in the coffee, giving a full flavor without the bitterness. Patience truly IS a virtue, friends!
Once it’s brewed, I recommend double-filtering, once through a regular sieve and then through a coffee filter or paper towel to catch any silt from the grounds. Now what you have is a coffee concentrate. From here it’s up to you — most “recipes” recommend a 1:1 concentrate-to-water ratio, after which you can add milk, simple syrup (though I recommend trying it without first, you may not need it) or whatever you like. If you try to add cream, you may see some curdly chunks — this is because the fat in the cream solidifies in the cold liquid. Hence, I recommend milk.
If you decide that you are a bit in love with this idea and would like to get a little fancy, or brew more than a few ounces at a time, you have many options. On the cheaper end of the scale, you could buy a Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Pitcher ($15.70, Amazon ). It’s pretty self explanatory — grounds in the mesh part, fill with water, allow to brew. An upgrade is the OXO Good GripsⓇ Cold Brew Coffee Maker ($49.95, Bed Bath & Beyond ), a bit more fiddly but makes much more concentrate and is really cleverly designed. I’ve used both with a lot of success.
Use coarse grounds. Using fine grounds will over-extract and that makes the coffee bitter, defeating the purpose.
Don’t buy the high-end beans — the cheap beans will do just fine, because they’re being treated gently enough that they won’t explode with bitterness.
Make coffee ice cubes — this will stop the watering down of your coffee, if that is something that bothers you. That’s a trick I learned from the wonderful Speakeasy Café team.