For some people, indulging in a cold brew means heading for the nearest coffee shop.

Cold brew coffee may seem to be a recent trend among the caffeinated set, but in fact the practice of steeping ground coffee in room temperature water for hours dates back centuries.

The earliest mention of the process comes from 17th century Japan, where it was known as Kyoto-style coffee. Some coffee historians believe that it was Dutch traders who introduced the drink to Japan some time earlier.

As aficionados know, cold brew coffee — while often served over ice — is a different creation from iced coffee.

Cold brew coffee is made with ground coffee (a medium-coarse grind usually is the best) that is mixed into a quantity of water, usually at room temperature, and left to steep for anywhere from eight to 24 hours.

“It’s a little like making tea,” said Justin Carpenter, owner of Foolish Things Coffee Company, 1001 S. Main St. “We tend to let our cold brews steep for anywhere from 18 to 24 hours.”

The finished coffee concentrate is then strained and filtered, whether with conventional coffee filters, a sieve, or both.

The result is a smooth, complex drink without the acidity that regular brewing can bring to coffee.

Foolish Things prepares its cold brews in 5-gallon buckets, and adds a couple of extra ingredients to make what it serves unique.

“We do an oak-aged cold brew and a cacao-aged cold brew,” Carpenter said. “The oak-aged cold brew is something that’s been on our menu since we opened nearly seven years ago. We knew this was something we wanted to have right out of the gate.”

For the oak-aged brew, the ground coffee is mixed with toasted oak chips before being wrapped in cheesecloth and submerged.

“We tried used oak barrels, but the chips have a higher surface area, and they impart the flavor faster,” Carpenter said.

Most cold brew is served diluted, with equal parts coffee concentrate and plain water mixed together (although some prefer a two-parts coffee to one-part water mixture).

The menu at Foolish Things states that “almost all” its libations — from lattes to chai teas — can be served iced.

“We usually don’t serve macchiatos iced, because they’re so small,” Carpenter said. “And usually when people order a cappuccino, they want it hot.”

At 918 Coffee, 2446 E. 11th St., cold brew coffee is prepared using a glass drip tower, where cold water is sent drip by drip through ground coffee to create the finished concentrate.

“It takes about eight hours to make,” said Kayci Hebard, a barista at 918 Coffee. “It’s always one of our most popular drinks.”

About as popular, especially with temperatures hovering above 90 degrees, are the shop’s iced chai lattes, to which Hebard said some patrons add a shot of espresso.

“We also have frappes, which is a blended drink, and lattes that people ask for iced,” she said. “And we have about 50 different flavored syrups that we can add to any drink.”

Making an iced coffee drink, however, isn’t simply pouring a finished latte into an ice-filled glass.

“For a milk-based drink like a latte, you use cold milk rather than steamed and pull the shot (of espresso) into that,” Carpenter said. “It keeps the drink from getting too watered down because of the ice.”

Some places, such as Java Dave’s, 6239 E. 15th St., will amp up the chocolate flavor of its mocha drinks by using cold chocolate milk as the base of the drink.

Carpenter said he estimates that, during the summer months, iced coffee drinks make up about 70 percent of sales at Foolish Things.

“But they’re really popular year-round,” he said. “The ratio between hot drinks and cold drinks is always about 70-30 — which one accounts for more sales depends on the season.”

However, Hebard said, for some coffee fans, it doesn’t matter what the temperature outside may be — they want their coffee hot.

“Especially people who order an Americano,” she said, referring to a mix of espresso and hot water. “I’ve seen it where it’s a hundred degrees outside, and people will still order a hot Americano.”

If you would like to try making a cold brew at home, here is a basic recipe.

Basic Cold Brew

2½ cups medium or dark roast coffee, coarsely ground

12 cups cold water

1. Fill a large container, which has a tight-fitting lid, with the water. Pour in the coffee and stir. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

2. Carefully strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. This may need to be repeated with clean cheesecloth to remove as much sediment as possible.

3. Cold brew concentrate should keep in the refrigerator for at least a month.

NOTE: Ground cinnamon or whole cinnamon sticks, ground chicory, or toasted coconut may be added to the coffee and water to give the finished product a distinctive flavor. Serve over ice, and mix with milk or cream, if desired.

— Adapted from Cooking Light

Chocolate Fudge Swirled Iced Coffee

1 cup strongly brewed coffee, room temperature

¼ cup fudge Sauce

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup whole milk

Whipped cream and shaved chocolate, garnish

1. Add coffee, fudge sauce, vanilla and milk to a blender, mixing until combined. Pour over crushed ice. Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings or curls


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James D. Watts Jr.

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Scene Writer

James writes primarily about the visual, performing and literary arts. Phone: 918-581-8478