Long, long, ago, in a forgotten world where people listened to scratchy vinyl ‘LPs’ and lovers sent mix-tapes to one another to express their emotional reach, cold coffee was contemptuous, only worthy of the kitchen sink. But, firmly entrenched in a new millennium where the future is retro, where the possible is impossible and where the impossible is happening. This isn’t ‘fake news’—it’s official, cold coffee is ‘a thing’.
Unlike those fortunate people who live in an eternally sunny clime, places where the tomatoes are sweet and the local feta salads taste like paradise; where old men spend their post-siesta afternoon outside a crumbling café armed with a glass of iced-latte and yesterday’s newspaper—occasionally glancing up to watch the fishing boats bobbing up and down in the sheltered waters of some adorably unspoilt harbour… England’s weather is more conducive to piping hot coffee, and British culture—sadly—more likely to produce the commercial franchise coffee shop, over-hyped marketing deals, loyalty cards and scripted customer interactions. And, all the while, serving up tasteless Americanos. Yes, there is some great coffee to be had here, but you must search it out. So… it’s with this baggage in mind that cold brew coffee arrives and many will, no doubt, have a healthy dose of skepticism.
What is it, and what’s it like?
Instead of leaving a normally brewed coffee to get cold, a proper cold brew is coarsely ground coffee steeped in water for a length of time (usually overnight, sometimes up to 24 hours) and then filtered. The proviso here is ‘good’ (should I say ‘authentic’) cold brew coffee, because a quality cold brew tastes different to any coffee you’ve probably had before. The fusion of flavours is not the same as a regular hot coffee. Cold brew is more refined, more delicate—nuanced you might say.
And now there’s a new kind of cold brew the nitro cold brew. It sounds vaguely dangerous, like some form of turbocharged racing fuel. This is cold brew coffee with the Guinness Draft treatment. It’s infused with tiny nitrogen bubbles to give the coffee a creamy consistency and a stout-like head. I was dubious about cold brew and its nitro sibling (did someone say the word gimmick?), but it’s definitely more than ‘interesting’, it’s actually very enjoyable. I can see why some people approach cold brew with a connoisseur-like appreciation more akin to craft beer or wine. Sandows produces a delicious cold brew that’s beautifully packaged in a pocket flask-sized glass bottle (the sort more typically associated with whisky or brandy). The Sandows is not cheap, but it has a genuinely unusual flavour and gorgeous packaging. Tasting Sandows does bring up associations of an alcoholic beverage, and people are starting to drink cold brew and ‘nitro coffee’ as alternatives to wine and beer—cocktails even. Don’t be dismissive. Variety is a good thing and offering non-alcoholic drinks to people in clubs and bars, can only be positive.
There will be doubters. I can understand why you might not want a cold brew coffee at 6.17am on a freezing, gloomy winter’s morning. Each to their own I say. Some people choose a breakfast Red Bull to drink on the Tube, but that’s something I’ve never understood. Maybe served in the evening with vodka and ice (and frankly I’m not convinced that feeling more ‘alert’ while you’re getting inebriated is a good thing), but hey. It’s a free world. Sort of. You know what I mean. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone puts their cold brew through a Sodastream and we have sparkling coffee.
In the meantime, I don’t want to preach, but cold brew isn’t just for hipsters and bearded weirdos—there’s something to this. The question is: will cold brew become a permanent ‘thing’ like Frappuccino? Or will it be the forgotten ‘alt’ drink of 2017?