The origins of cold brew coffee can be traced back to Kyoto, Japan – tens of thousands of miles from the Venezuelan farms where Pedro and Juan-Carlos Ramirez’s ancestors launched the enterprise that would become Orinoco Coffee & Tea. That landmark was in 1909, and just like creating a rich, cold brew – time and commitment were ultimately the keys to perfection.
But cold brew coffee dates back a bit farther, to the 1600s. The Japanese had been cold brewing team for some time, by then, and it’s believed Dutch traders may have introduced them to this new taste sensation. To this day, Kyoto-style cold brews are crafted using a drip method implementing exquisite glass apertures.
As all good things do, the popularity of cold brew didn’t stay secretive for long, and the refreshing beverage spread across the globe in no time flat. Flash forward to the 20th century, when support from coffee chains like Dunkin’ and Starbucks caused its popularity to soar, and cold brew coffee continues to be a staple at every café and coffee roaster in the nation, and the world. And thanks to its balanced flavor and smooth consistency, it shows no signs of fading.
How It’s Made
According to Orinoco Vice President and Master Roaster Juan-Carlos Ramirez, a successful cold brew is the result of a perfect marriage between fresh, cold or room temperature water, coarse ground coffee, and time. Eighteen hours of steeping time, to be exact.
“You can make cold brew out of any single-origin coffee, meaning Colombian coffee, Brazilian, or Ethiopian,” Ramirez says. “Or you can create your own blend if you like.” (Orinoco, for example, specializes in a Hazelnut flavored cold brew which customers love.)
One pound of coarsely ground coffee is required per gallon of cold brew. The coffee is placed inside of cheesecloth, says Ramirez, which is then placed inside of the cold water. And then the wait begins. The result is a strong, rich concentrate that can be diluted with more fresh water to achieve the desired taste. Once that occurs, the cold brew is refrigerated.
Over the years, coffee enthusiasts tinkered, toyed, and engineered, and in the early 2010s, “nitro cold brew” was introduced to a coffee-loving populace.
Nitro cold brew, Ramirez explains, is kegged, infused with nitrogen, and dispensed with a spout similar to that used for beer. “It’s the same concept as Guinness,” he says. “But designed for coffee.”
The Flavor Profile
Its fans love nitrogenated cold brew because of the foamy, creamy head that forms with each pour, masking any acidity.
To that end, the flavor profile for cold brew coffee is far different than traditional brewing methods.
“You can use the same coffee – the same Colombian coffee,” says Ramirez. “South American coffees are notorious for having a medium body, low acidity, and a fruity finish.” When brewed using traditional methods – hot water at 200 degrees Fahrenheit – that coffee is going to showcase these common attributes. As that coffee cools down, however, its low acidity will become brighter, and it may be accompanied by a harsh and even unpleasant bitter quality.
Brewing coffee with cold water and steeping it for hours, creates a unique sweetness and smoothness, though. The medium body remains intact, says Ramirez, but as the cold water slows the extraction process, the flavor and acidity are more pronounced, but any bitterness is eliminated.
Why We Like It
Convenience may be one of the reasons that people gravitate to cold brews – a large quantity can be made in advance, and enjoyed for days – but there are other, simpler reasons that coffee lovers enjoy chilling with the beverage.
Younger generations, Ramirez notes, appreciate the caffeine jolt paired with the cool, refreshing taste that can be enjoyed at virtually any time of the day or night.
“In my honest opinion, it is the fact that you can drink a glass of coffee at 2 p.m. in the afternoon in the summertime,” he says. “Remember, coffee is typically a morning thing. You drink coffee in the morning, and maybe, maybe an espresso in the afternoon. But you’re not going to have a 16 oz cup of coffee when it’s 85 degrees outside. Cold brew allows you to do that.”
And while cold brew coffee, theoretically, could be reheated – Ramirez resists the idea.
“It’s better cold,” he says.