There are days under the hot desert sun when only a cold, refreshing caffeine fix will do. For some, that’s every day! And thanks to third-wave coffee aficionados, we are spoilt for choice between cool new ways of enjoying the bean.
The first wave of coffee made convenient products such as instant and home brews readily available. In those dark days, iced coffee meant brewing as usual, chilling the result and adding milk or sugar to taste. The second wave brought about a proliferation of speciality drinks, many of them iced. Loaded with ingredients (and sugar!), their strong, often sweet flavours overpower the actual coffee (usually freshly brewed espresso).
The third wave of coffee, which has been lapping at our shores for a few years now, ushers in a renewed focus on provenance, roast and the intricacies of aroma extraction. Skilled baristas are constantly experimenting with different methods to tease flavour out of coffee beans. Variations on the tried and tested brewed-then-chilled tipples are still going strong, but other cold coffees are, so to speak, born that way.
The coolest kid on the speciality coffee block is cold brew, the overarching term for coffee made with unheated water. Instead of blasting ground beans with hot water, they are immersed for longer periods at room temperature or lower, resulting in an entirely different bouquet.
Antony Papandreou, barista at the Sheikh Zayed Road café The Sum of Us, describes the appeal of the resulting beverage: “Apart from the really unique, syrupy rich flavour, which is anything but what you would quintessentially expect coffee to taste like, it also has a lot less acidity.”
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as chucking any old coffee into water and letting it do its thing. Some beans and roasts lend themselves to the method better than others, but finding them can be a question of trial and error. There’s a plethora of tools available for making cold brew, but little consensus on which is best. Whilst some recipes simply call for a paper filter or French press, others swear by dedicated appliances like the classic Toddy, the Kickstarter-funded Bruer or intricate drip towers.
Ryan Godinho, roastmaster at Speciality Batch Coffee, which roasts and retails small batches of speciality grade coffee, points out that there are many pitfalls to beware of: “We’ve seen a few cafés experiment and place it as a somewhat theatrical laboratory feature; but we still see it as something of a hit-and-miss with many cafés. The key is proper training and understanding the extraction process when coffee is exposed to cold water at slower intervals.”
You can tell a new trend has reached tipping point once the big players start adopting it. Once Starbucks launched its cold brew earlier this year, it was a sign that the drink had gone mainstream... and that independent establishments were probably already moving on to the next thing.
Dmitriy Griekhov, who won 2014’s UAE Barista Championship and will be one of the judges at this year’s competition, which began yesterday and concludes on Friday, considers cold coffee beverages a big draw. Behind his counter at Café Rider, he keeps the selection fresh with “several different methods of cold brewed coffee as well as espresso based cold cocktails”.
Antony Papandreou agrees that there’s many variations worth exploring: “Its versatility as a beverage really leaves a lot of scope for creativity. Before long, drinks like nitrous carbonated cold brew will be available on tap at your local coffee bar.”
Kegged cold brews are already a hit in the US. Some swear by the refreshing fizz of CO2, others love the creamy, Guinness-like head nitrogen creates. An easier way to make cold coffee sparkle is by topping up cold brew with a dash of soda. Tonic water and more exotic mixers like tart Italian citrus soda Chinotto complement the bitterness of coffee, adding just the right amount of sweetness.
Other, more outlandish experiments are pushing the boundaries of what can be done with coffee. Darren Castillo’s company Muddle Me supplies adventurous baristas with specialist equipment, such as an oak bottle that to age coffee, giving it “more boldness and a natural woody taste, which comes out awesome.”
With all those choices, next time you can’t stand the heat, don’t get out of the kitchen, just ask for a cold brew instead.