Friday, July 06, 2012

Cold Iced

At this time of year, attention turns to the question of how to prepare iced coffee. A friend recently shared a variation on cold brewing that was new to me, entitled Perfect Iced Coffee. Posted on the Pioneer Woman blog, this recipe emphasizes patience. Interestingly, I noticed this post just as I was enjoying and iced coffee after a bit of yard work. I describe how I prepared mine at the end of this post.

As Pioneer Woman points out, iced coffee is fraught with difficulty. Simply pouring coffee over ice essentially ruins it, and most ways of solving the problem involve time, complexity or both. The solution she does require both, but is redeemed by the avoidance of high temperature. It may be for this reason that the use of pre-ground, low-grade coffee does not impart excessive bitterness. The generous contribution of dairy products might also have something to do with her favorable results.

Iced coffee is generally more forgiving of flaws than hot coffee, but I believe that starting with terribly flawed coffee dooms the project to mediocrity at best. Pre-ground coffee is like pre-opened Champagne. Once coffee is ground, staling reactions begin that cannot be reversed, though they can be masked.

Some folks in the business recommend particular blends specifically for iced, but I've never found a worthwhile distinction. Rather, I find that a coffee I enjoy hot will be enjoyable for similar reasons iced -- whether smooth or bold, sweet or floral, that will be conveyed hot or cold, though I would welcome any demonstrable corrections on this.

The last time I served iced coffee to a group was for a presentation I gave on immigration at my church. Of course I brought Central American coffee, in this case a special coffee from Honduras. I had brewed it slightly strong the night before in a drip pot (a Black & Decker SmartBrew, whose main advantage is high temperature). I  let it cool to just above room temperature and then put it in the refrigerator overnight. It could then be served with ice and minimal dilution.

This is exactly the method that the blogger dismisses, but everyone who tried it loved it. I would like to try her method side-by-side with the coffee I used and the coffee she used. I would predict that her method with my coffee would be the best result.

Of course, neither of these methods is useful in a situation such as I faced this morning -- a bit of heavy yard work, too early in the day for a beer, and no iced coffee in the house. For such situations, I am always grateful to my brother and sister-in-law for the gift many years ago of a West Bend iced tea maker. Structured like a drip coffee maker, one puts bags or a filter with tea or coffee in the top and water in the machine. The difference is to nearly fill the serving vessel with ice. With a little experimentation, one can learn how much tea to put in in order to compensate for the melted ice. Once that dose is found, this becomes a very quick and reliable way to get iced coffee in about 10-12 minutes.

For more thoughts on the factors that affect coffee preparation, see the Caring for Coffee page on my web site.

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