Cold Brewing: Home and Away

The best cup of coffee I ever had–cold or hot–was a Kyoto Cold Brew at the Temple Coffee Roasters‘ coffeehouse at 2200 K Street here in Sacramento. It featured all the pleasurable notes I love in coffee without the acid quality. When I first began to drink coffee I had to accept the acid quality of the drink as a given–that the acid taste was not a bad taste, but just a part of the drink’s signature. Similar to the hurdle new wine drinkers clear when they accept the vinegar quality and move on to notice the features that bring the wine drinker back for more. I never got there with wine, though my sister-in-law from Sonoma County is still trying to pull me over that hurdle–a particular pinot noir she poured me once has come the closest to me completing that jump.

One quality about cold brewed coffee that the taster immediately notices is that the drink is nearly devoid of the acidy note they come to accept in a hot cup of coffee. I still like hot coffee–acidity and all, but the first time I tasted a Kyoto, it was everything I come to expect in a cold brew, but it was even smoother. I was sick on the day I was scheduled to take a class on Palate Development & Tasting that I wrote about in a previous post so I can’t give you a full report on the tastes and aromas I experienced with the Kyoto. Let’s say it had a certain jenesequa.

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Temple’s Kyoto cold brewers at work. Above the tall brewers, we see what has to be one of the most inconvenient bike storage solutions in the world!
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The Kyoto brews coffee one drop at a time.

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What you get is eight fluid ounces of the best coffee you may ever taste. Yeah, that’s not a typo–eight (8) ounces. I would prefer at least twelve, but this gourmet coffeehouse serves the drink without ice, and the glass is chilled, so it isn’t that far off from twelve-ounce glass with ice cubes, but I usually buy sixteen-ounce drinks. Oh never mind. This cold brew you are supposed to spend time savoring. Considering how slow the process is I can see why the small dose. And at about $4 a glass it is worth every drop!

This experience led me to investigate cold brewers for the home. The first thing I looked for was a home-scale Kyoto, but I couldn’t find one small enough for my operation and storage. Nick Dekker of Breakfast with Nick did a thorough post on how Kyoto-style brewing works. You should check it out here if you are interested in the specifics. The image below I lifted from his excellent site and as you can see the domestic Kyoto is still quite tall and is too cumbersome for my kitchen. Also, I can see me knocking this thing over–shattered glass everywhere!

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Home-size–I guess–Kyoto brewer.

So I binged on YouTube videos looking for more practical home cold brewers. I got to know Gail from Seattle Coffee Gear like she was my out-of-town wife and watched a lot of demonstrations of cold brew contraptions. I narrowed my cold brewer down to brewers by Hario, Osaka, Toddy, OXO, Bruer (more on this one later), and Takeya (better known for its tumblers and insulated sports bottles). I settled on Hario mainly because of the design, but also its rep in the coffee business. To my frustration, I couldn’t buy a new Hario anywhere online, so I ended up with the Takeya Cold Brew Coffee Maker because it was almost identical in design to the Hario.

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It finally arrives.
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Mmm, that looks tasty.

After I took the above two photos, I went to bed. Visions of ice-cold coffee beans dancing on my large head. I woke up in the morning got on my riding gear and blew my brand new cold brewer a kiss–promising I would brew my first quart when I got home that night. When I arrived back at the homestead that evening my son had decided he would pop the poor brewer’s cherry usings some Peet’s pre-ground coffee. Before I could taste the stuff, my son told me it was awful–blaming the bad taste on the pedestrian-quality of the coffee and the manufacturer’s fine grind. Indeed, it was horrible, but we slogged through the quart thanks to on-hand low-fat milk and chocolate syrup or vanilla soymilk (not together, mind you).

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Now, my turn: I gathered all the gear to brew a better quart.

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On my first try, I used my–whole bean–coffee: a blended Brazilian from Temple Roasters. I started buying this coffee because it is reported to taste like “milk chocolate in a cup.” Meh, my dull buds say it just tastes like good coffee, hot or cold. (Anyway, if I want milk chocolate in a cup I’ll fix me some chocolate milk.) The main reason I return to this product and not any of the other equally good beans the coffeehouse sells is that 50 cents of each bag sold go to the Sac Bike Park Project. Unfortunately, just before I published this post this a manager at the Temple coffeehouse told me this blend’s days are numbered. I’d better find a new bean!

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Add 16 tablespoons of the freshly-ground coffee to the infuser…
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twist on the lid…
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add thirty-two fluid ounces of cold filtered water, but my water is unfiltered. I used bottled water. Since my first try, I’ve been using unfiltered tap and not cold, either. I know, I’m quite the café philistine!
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Insert the infuser and lid, seal the top air-tight and shake well, then…
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refrigerate for twelve to twenty-four hours.
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I stopped the process after twelve hours. (I couldn’t wait!) I should have measured the amount of water, marking the carafe before I inserted the infuser. Naturally, the grounds retained some of the water, but the volume seems lower than I expected.
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Cleaned the filter was easy, but there were some models I was courting that had a more elegant way of dispatching the grounds. I suppose I should toss these grounds to our planters. I’ll have to talk to the boss about that.
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I sampled it in its concentrated state. A little too strong for me. The Takeya–like many of the non-commercial brewers–makes a coffee concentrate. One can drink it straight, cut it with cold water, hot water, cream, and play with the 1 to 3 concentrate ratio.
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It looks a little weak. There’s a couple of variables that can be adjusted: more brewing time and, of course, less water added to the original concentrated brew.

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I’ve had a few carafes of cold brew from my Takeya since that nasty false start and can say it was worth the purchase. Also, with the weather beginning to cool I may continue cold brewing and mixing the concentrate with (very) hot water when the weather turns chilly. My son, the ex-barista reminds me that cold brewing means not brewing with hot water–room temperature will do, you only need to watch your brewing times. Room-temperature brewing means I can heat my drink faster when I want a cup of hot coffee.

Still, the more I look at the $80 Cold Bruer Iced Coffee Maker Temple sells, the more I am intrigued: it has an adjustable valve that controls the drip. So the operator can brew the coffee one drip at a time, in a similar way the Kyoto brews. Damn! Why didn’t I notice that before? All I saw at the time was the cost-prohibitive pricing and that it was a little too small with too much glass. I should be happy with my purchase and move on, but now I want to know how a cup of coffee from the Bruer product tastes. Some people are never satisfied.

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Postscript: While tooling around the web looking for Kyoto-style cold brewers I found Kyoto Black by Justin Doggett–a pre-brewed Kyoto-style coffee concentrate. In the spirit of this post, I ordered one. After tax, the 1.5-liter pouch cost about $40. That’s about $5 a drink depending on how strong you like your coffee. As far as the taste goes, it was good, though not as good as the Kyoto I had at Temple, but that’s not the point. If you have never had Kyoto cold brew and none of the coffeehouses in your area brews it, you might think the price is not an issue. If that’s the case, you may get hooked. As for me, I’ll stick with my non-Kyoto style Takeya–for now, at least. Happy sipping!