Digging into cold brew

What is it? And how is it different than iced coffee?

By Sophie Wilkins / The Bulletin

If you’ve ever ordered iced coffee from a shop that sells such a thing, chances are you’ve been asked this question: “Did you want to try our cold brew instead?”

Which may have prompted a different question in your mind: What’s the difference?

For one, iced coffee will have the same flavor profile as hot coffee; it’s just hot coffee that has cooled.

The cold-brew method, on the other hand, started because people were having issues with the acidity of coffee, said Dave Beach, owner of Backporch Coffee Roasters in Bend.

In an effort to mitigate that acidity, he said, “(you) put cold water and coarsely ground coffee together and let it sit together for 12 to 18 hours depending on flavor.”

Coffee, of course, is commonly thought of as a product made with hot water, said Ben Schweizer, roaster at Bend’s Thump Coffee, and when you use hot water to extract its flavors, it’s over a short period of time, like seconds for espresso or minutes for home brew.

Cold brew takes more patience.

“(It’s) slow and gradual, as opposed to quick and intense. It means you’re not extracting the heat-soluble parts of the coffee,” Schweizer said. “(There’s) less oil, less acidity.”

The cold-brew method produces a sweet and smooth concentrate which can be cut with water if desired, Beach said. It is typically more chocolatey than iced coffee and is a good alternative to a mocha. Because it can be sweeter, Schweizer suggested drinking cold brew black, or only adding a little cream or milk.

“(There’s) more caffeine because the water contact time with the bean is so much greater,” Beach said. “It packs a punch. I wouldn’t drink it after lunch time.”

Backporch spends 16 hours steeping its cold brew using a medium espresso roast, while Thump steeps for 20 hours and tends to use lighter roasted coffee that has fruitier notes. Thump’s staff usually puts about five pounds of ground coffee into a paper filter that goes inside of a mesh bag and then soaks overnight, Schweizer said.

Taking that amount of time allows for some wiggle room as far as the quality of the final product, he said.

“You let a shot of espresso go two seconds too long and it’ll probably taste harsh, but if you let a cold brew go an hour too long it probably won’t taste (that) different,” Schweizer said. “It’s a little more forgiving.”

There are many ways to make cold brew, but the most common uses a filtering system with the brand name Toddy. In fact, the method is so common, “Toddy” has become a popular name for the beverage.

Backporch serves its cold brew on tap, like beer. The company tried to bottle it, but couldn’t keep up with demand, and has considered a future move to a commercial system that would allow for greater production and the potential for bottling.

In addition to the Toddy, Thump uses a cold-drip Kyoto system that does not use the full-immersion process and usually takes eight hours from start to finish. Using a three-tiered contraption that looks like it belongs in a high school chemistry classroom, the top gets filled with ice water that drips into a container filled with coffee grounds. The water then trickles down through the grounds and is filtered at the bottom with a circular porcelain puck before falling into a catch-all beaker at the bottom. The ice water is constantly moving, “(washing) the flavors off the coffee as it slowly passes through,” Schweizer said. “This style of coffee is much harder to dial in (because) the size of your grounds are determining how fast it drips through. You want to hit that sweet spot where it’s flowing through quickly enough to extract the flavors, but not so quickly that it runs too quickly.”

So the biggest difference between iced coffee and cold brew is the flavor and the chemistry, Schweizer said.

“If you take the same bean and make cold brew and traditional iced coffee, they’ll taste different,” he said. “The chemistry that’s going on inside those grounds is going to be a different process.”

Something to think about next time you order one and are offered the other as an alternative.

— Reporter: 541-383-0351, swilkins@bendbulletin.com,