Forget about flat whites, skinny lattes, or espresso macchiatos, there’s a new contender on the coffee scene, says Ilze Hugo
Next time you’re in the Mother City and spot a bearded hipster glugging what looks like cough syrup from a brown medicine bottle with a fancy label, don’t look at him askew. Just ask him where he bought his cold brew, bru, and join him for a chilled, strong fix of artisanal pick-me-up.
What is it?
If you haven’t yet heard of this newest trend to sweep the globe, let us fill you in: it’s called cold brew coffee and, in a nutshell, the name sums it up: good, strong coffee, brewed cold.
Unlike iced coffee, which is brewed hot and then poured over ice with milk, cold brew is cold from the get-go and preferably taken black. Whereas regular, espresso-based coffee is brewed using a short, heated, pressurized extraction, cold brew is steeped in cold or room temperature water for up to 24 hours, allowing for a more natural extraction of flavour to occur. ‘It’s an entirely cold process that offers a very different taste to heat-based extractions,’ explains Chad Goddard, head roaster at Braamfontein roastery and espresso bar, Father Coffee. ‘The aim of cold brew is to bring out the natural flavours and “sweetness” of the bean, allowing you to enjoy the coffee as is without any sugar or milk,’ explains Nicette Andrea dos Santos from Swart Cold Brewed Coffee. And the lower acid content also makes it easier to digest.
Cold brew can be served bottled, in a glass or on tap, like craft beer, and, just like craft beer, it is becoming increasingly popular. In the USA, cold brew is really catching on among coffee lovers.
‘Just last summer, Starbucks rolled out cold brew across their stores in the USA and when a player like that gets involved, you know it has hit the mainstream,’ says Jonty Medcalf of Cove Coffee Co.
Medcalf and his American wife go on annual visits to the US to see friends and family. On one of the visits, he stumbled on to cold brew and loved it.
‘I couldn’t believe no one was making it in South Africa.’ Medcalf roped in friend and fellow coffee addict, Kelly Kretzmann, and they started Cove Coffee Co. in 2014. Today, their bottled brew is sold online and in various coffee shops.
‘Cold brew has actually been around for a long time, particularly in Japan (where it has been made for centuries) but also in the States where the Toddy system for making cold brew has been around since the ’60s,’ say Karl and Ida Mynhardt from Twelve Royal Cold Brew. But with the recent boom in artisanal products, and the increased appreciation for quality, artisanal coffee, interest is going global.’ Twelve Royal is a new endeavor for the couple, who are both graphic designers by trade, brewed in small batches in their Muizenberg kitchen using single origin beans from Uganda. Bottles are adorned with a range of lovingly designed labels, featuring different hand-drawn artworks.
Father Coffee has been brewing their own cold brew for some time, but the market is only just starting to show, says Goddard, ‘as more people begin to take an interest in types of coffee beyond the ubiquitous cappuccino.’ This summer has definitely been a tipping point, with new local brands entering the market with bottled options, Medcalf adds.
You won’t be chastised as a coffee heathen if you add a splash of milk, but cold brew fanatics generally recommend that you try it black without any sugar first. If you need to add a little sweetness, go ahead. It also tastes good in cocktails, smoothies and even food recipes.
Goddard recommends it over ice, ‘in a shallow, wide glass so you can get your nose in and smell the aroma. It’s also great with tonic water for a coffee spritzer or even better, a G&T.’
‘Ida’s Swedish, so we also love drinking it with vanilla vodka,’ says Karl Mynhardt (with three shots coffee, two shots milk and one shot vodka).
‘Taste is subjective. You like what you like,’ says Goddard, ‘but coffee does have some indicators that can help distinguish a good cup from a bad one, and cold brew should not taste like a cup of coffee forgotten on the bedside table.’ You can’t brew good coffee with bad beans, explains Phaedon Gourtsoyannis from the online artisanal coffee store, Cape Coffee Beans. If cold brew is made well, it shouldn’t be bitter but smooth and easy to drink: ‘The more interesting flavours you can get, the better. Cove for instance, is very chocolaty while Swart is much more floral and fruity.’
Fruity flavours are usually indicative of a lighter roast, and are often found in North African varietals; while chocolate and nutty notes are more indicative of the darker roasts from South American regions, says Dos Santos. ‘It is not only the bean but the length of immersion that affects the taste. Ours is brewed for 16 hours, and has a strong, earthy flavour that’s smoky as well, with notes of dark chocolate and citrus,’ say the Mynhardts.
Gourtsoyannis suggests downloading a coffee flavour wheel (for tasting hot brew coffee), since many of the flavours should appear in cold brewed coffee as well. The big difference is that the cold brew method tends to extract less acidity: ‘So you don’t get those acidic notes you sometimes get in specialty coffee.’
Way of the samurai
Different to the immersion method used by most cold brew masters, the Japanese Kyoto cold-drip method allows iced or room temperature water to slowly drip over the grinds through a glass tower for four to eight hours. ‘Both this method and the immersion technique provide different tasting notes and nuances in flavor profiles,’ says Medcalf. Generally speaking, the Kyoto flavour profile can be a little bit more delicate and refined, but you can’t brew it in big batches, says Gourtsoyannis. ‘So if you go to a specialty coffee shop like Origin or Rosetta, they will only brew one batch every day.’
Grobler first tried Kyoto-style cold brew by accident at a little back alley coffee shop in Bangkok: ‘I was expecting an Americano, but was presented with a cold brew in a glass. As I turned around and saw how it was being brewed, it all made perfect sense. The downsides are that the tower is expensive and will take up a fair bit of counter space; it’s also very fragile and a pain to clean. But if you can see past that, then I would recommend investing in one, because it makes a really good cup of coffee.’
‘To make cold brew at home, no fancy equipment is needed. It’s by no means difficult to make. You just have to be patient,’ say the Mynhardts.
Start with good, fresh, coffee. ‘Ask your barista to grind it for a plunger,’ says Medcalf, ‘then find an empty jar and steep the coffee in filtered or spring water (no tap water). Play around with the ratio of coffee to water (anywhere from 70 to 100 grams per litre) as well as steeping time (12 to 24 hours) to find your ideal strength and taste. Filter before drinking.’
If possible, grind the beans yourself, says Gourtsoyannis. ‘You’re trying to capture as much of the aromatics as possible and within the first couple of minutes after grinding you are already losing out on that.’
Dubbed nitro brews, this fizzy version of cold brew is the new trend within the trend that’s fast catching fire. Nitro brews are slowly infused with nitrogen inside a keg to give you a rich and creamy mouth feel that is similar to that of a Guinness, and like Guinness, it’s also served on tap. ‘The gas lifts the flavour profile, and makes for a smooth, yet crisp finish,’ says Nicette Andrea dos Santos from Swart Cold Brewed Coffee. Nitro brews also have a longer shelf life than regular cold brew.
Photography: Gallo/GettyImages, Courtesy images