cold brewed iced coffee
Most of my friends go out every day to buy their coffee. They complain of tiny kitchens and not enough counter space to house a coffee maker, and maybe even a grinder (if you’re one of those virtuous souls and have the deepest respect for the beans.) It’s too much, they say, the effort for a decent cup of coffee is too great. Easier to just walk across the street to your nearest cafe (and New York has no shortage of those, including the ubiquitous Starbucks) and have a trained barista make you
a coffee, an espresso, a latte, an Americano, a cortado whatever your heart desires.
And it’s true: Our New York kitchens are smaller than most people’s bathrooms, or even, to be more precise, half of their bathrooms. And yet a lot of us, dealt this paltry hand, still make breakfasts, and lunches, and dinners. We throw parties and we host brunches. We ask a group of friends to come together and then pass the h’ors d’oeuvres around. And somehow everything and everyone fits, and even though we complain of our lack of space, we cannot seem to quit the city. We want to go, and yet we don’t budge. And even the most kitchen obsessed in us, will make even go as far as make bagels at home, but we’ll go out for coffee.
As far as kitchen spaces go, I got freakishly lucky with mine. There is shelving and lots of it too. The cabinets go deep and I’ve been known to unearth an item or two I’ve completely forgotten I had. Which reminds me that now is a good time to clean out those shelves – right before we get married.
But even if your kitchen is officially listed as a kitchenette (yes, they are quite common in New York rental listings), you can make cold brewed iced coffee at home. And easily too.
All you need is a nice largish jar, some strong ground coffee, filtered water, and a fine mesh strainer. A lot of folks will make their cold brewed coffee with coarsely ground beans (as in like for a French press). But I read somewhere recently (and I can’t remember where) that you get much better and bigger flavor if you finely grind your beans (think espresso grind). This, of course, makes sense: finely ground beans, means more surface area. More surface area means more flavor. More flavor means better tasting coffee.
You spoon some of that coffee into your jar. How much coffee you want to spoon is somewhat dependent on the kind of beans you’re using and how strong you want your coffee. I’d start with 1 tablespoon per 6 ounces of water and see where that takes you. Usually for a 3 cup jar, I use about 4 to 5 tablespoons of ground coffee, depending on the intensity of the beans. Sometimes I’ll use 6 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of ground coffee if I’m craving a stronger morning brew.
Once your coffee is in the jar, you cover it with some cold, filtered water, give it a stir, cover and let it sit either overnight or for 24 hours. And when you’re ready to drink it, strain the coffee via a fine mesh strainer into a tumbler or a mug.
Now, purists, will also tell you that you need to make iced coffee ice cubes because regular ice cubes will dilute the taste of your iced coffee and there go all your fine efforts.* I don’t go quite that far. To think so far ahead as to make coffee ice cubes is, frankly, a bit beyond me and my abilities to juggle planning a wedding and writing a book. I say, go ahead, pour that coffee over regular water ice cubes and enjoy it. But before you add any sugar/simple syrup/milk, taste the coffee first. Cold brewing brings out coffee’s natural sweetness and avoids the typically bitter notes of hot coffee. You might want to drink you cold brewed iced coffee straight – I do.
Best of all, you don’t need much counter space or fancy machinery. And the coffee brews while you sleep. Which is kind of awesome if you think about it: you rest and the coffee works. Brilliant.
*Purists will also balk that I am suggesting that you buy your coffee pre-ground, but hey, if you’re lacking kitchen space for a coffee maker, then you’re probably not going to spring for a coffee grinder either, right? Right. Just buy your coffee in small quantities to keep it as fresh as possible.
**UPDATE JULY 1, 2012**
After writing this post, I embarked on rather geeky pursuit of trying to figure out which is better: coarse or fine grind for the cold-brewed iced coffee. The advantage of a coarse brew is it takes less time to strain, which if you’re in dire need of caffeine in the morning, can make a difference. However, you need more coffee to get as flavorful a brew, which translates into buying coffee more often. How much more coffee might you need? In my testing, I discovered that to get the flavor equivalent of a finely ground brew, you need to use 50% to 75% more coffee beans that are coarsely ground. However, in the last 4 years or so, coffee prices have been climbing steadily (look at this chart). I’m no coffee futures trading expert, but in this economy, if I can save a few bucks by using less coffee (finely ground) to get a flavorful brew, I’m all for it. In our household, we treat ourselves to quality beans that we get from a local tea and coffee shop, foregoing cheaper, less delicious beans, so for us, the additional money spent on quality beans makes the financial sting a bit easier if we use a little less coffee, but take a little more time in straining it.
Also, sorry about that ramble up top, but I have found that using a french press is helps a lot. You press the plunger down, and then strain the coffee via a strainer lined with a paper towel. Easy peasy.