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Why all the buzz about cold-brew coffee?


We pull back the curtains on the it-brew of the moment—and why it might be better for you.
Vanilla-Iced-Coffee-cold-brew-coffee
(Photo: kitchentreaty.com)

Summer might be over (sigh), but iced coffee season certainly isn’t—and the buzz around cold-brew coffee is just getting stronger.

Starbucks is reportedly testing out a version, while Brooklyn-based Grady’s cold-brew is now available at dozens of shops in the New York tri-state area (including Whole Foods). Even Barry’s Bootcamp sells cold-brew iced coffee by New York-based Wandering Bear to its pre- and post-workout warriors.

So what, exactly, is it—and are there any health benefits to this trendy brew? We went to the experts to find out.

How it’s made

Instead of brewing coffee with hot water, chilling it, and diluting it with ice, you let the grounds sit, undisturbed, for upwards of 12 hours, then you filter the grounds from the liquid. What you end up with is highly-concentrated coffee that you can add water to, says Vivian Polak, co-founder of Red Thread Good Coffee, which is sold at Sylvester & Co. in Sag Harbor and Amagansett, NY, and Savannah, GA. (The Sag Harbor locale installed a “coffee tap” to keep up with demand from customers wanting to buy jugs in bulk.)

But…why? When you add heat to coffee, a chemical reaction occurs that “brings out acid and a bitter taste,” Polak explains. “But if you fail to heat the coffee (which is what we’re doing), you won’t bring that bitterness out.”

Stumptown Coffee Roasters_cold-brew iced coffee
(Photo: stumptowncoffee.com)

The cold-brew difference

While he’s not saying it’s necessarily a healthier coffee, “you can taste the quality of the coffee beans better,” says Raul Navarrete, the head barista at Nourish Kitchen + Table. “I make our cold-brew concentrate every day. It’s a longer process, and certainly not a cheap way to do iced coffee, but people are looking for quality and that’s what you get with cold-brew,” he says.

Katie Bernstein, social media manager and former barista at the beloved Stumptown Coffee Roasters, agrees. “Once people taste it and realize it’s different than hot coffee poured over ice, they really like it,” she says.

And while research on the potential health benefits of coffee hasn’t delved into a cold-brew versus regular-brew battle, there’s some suggestion it’s better for the body (and gentler on stomachs), because it’s less acidic—up to 67 percent less, according to The Daily Beast.

Nourish founder Marissa Lippert of Nourish Table + Kitchen agrees. Because “cold-brew coffee typically has less acid content than hot brewed coffee, it’s easier on sensitive digestive systems and for those with heartburn. But coffee across the board is loaded with antioxidants (to fend off disease and help anti-aging efforts). Who knew you could fight wrinkles by just sipping on your morning cup?!”

How to make it at home

“We recommend getting a dedicated brewer for it,” Bernstein says. “You can certainly MacGyver it with a bucket or jar, cheesecloth, and paper filters, but it’s easier and much cleaner to use a brewer.” She’s big on the Filtron system for home brewing, which makes a concentrate you can refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Stumptown uses a ratio of 12 ounces of coarse ground coffee to 56 ounces of cold water, Bernstein says. (You can follow their full how-to-brew-at-home guide, here.) Who knows? You might just find yourself investing in a pair of well-insulated gloves to support fall and winter sipping… —Molly Gallagher