The Cold Pro Guide to Cold Brew Coffee: Introduction

What is Cold Brew?

Cold brew coffee is a term you hear a lot lately, especially if you are in the coffee industry. It seems to be available everywhere you go from Starbucks to Dunkin’ Donuts, the local coffee shop to your grocer’s refrigerated section. But what exactly is cold brew coffee? To better understand what cold brew is, we must dismiss some of the misconceptions about what cold brew isn't.

Iced coffee has it’s place, but it’s not the same as cold brew.
  • Cold Brew is not yesterday's coffee placed in the refrigerator and served chilled today.
  • Cold Brew is not hot brewed coffee that is served cold or over ice.
Cold brew is not a type of coffee, but rather the brewing method used to prepare it. Methods of hot brew coffee preparation include:
  • Espresso
  • Drip Coffee
  • French press
  • Pour-over
  • Immersion with a Steeping filter
  • Single Serve (a.k.a. Keurig®)
  • Percolator
  • ...and a few others.

The preparation of cold brew is closest to using a steeping filter, also known as an immersion dripper. Both methods steep, or immerse, coffee grounds in water for a period of time before draining them to extract the desired beverage.
Making cold brew coffee is really quite simple:

In cold brewed coffee as well as pour-over coffee, a hot brew method, five of the primary variables are:

The difference is the amount of influence these variables have on the flavor profile in cold or hot brewed coffee. In a pour over, turbidity is controlled by the rate of the water pour. In cold brew, the grounds are primarily at rest throughout the steeping process, so turbidity’s influence is decreased. Since the grounds and water are in contact for up to 24 hours when making cold brew, grind size plays a more impactful role as opposed to the relatively short water contact time in a hot brewed pour over. Typically, a coarse grind similar to a French press is used in cold brew. If coffee is ground too finely, bitter flavors are more easily extracted over cold brew’s extended steeping time.

Cold brew preparation is very similar to making tea with tea bags. The difference is that with cold brew, the water is not heated. Since cold or room temperature water does not have as much energy as hot water, the process of extracting anything from the coffee grounds takes much longer than if heated water were used. It is not a completely linear relationship, but in essence, the lower the temperature, the longer the time required for extraction.

To put it into comparative mathematical equations:

A Brief History of Cold Brew

Hot coffee is pretty amazing, so why did anyone brew it cold in the first place?
There is a great deal of speculation as to the origin of cold brew coffee. As 17th century Dutch traders were the first documented consumers of cold brew, they are often given credit for its creation.

In the 1600s sailing the open ocean presented enough difficulties without adding open fires to the mix, so starting one for the purpose of brewing coffee was frowned upon. Going without caffeine wasn’t an option either, so coffee that was cold brewed was developed to make a concentrate that could last the period of long voyages. It could also be brewed on board. 

It is speculated that these same Dutch traders introduced the process to the Japanese, and that the Japanese made it their own by developing the Kyoto drip method. This method differs from the cold brew steeping method since cold water is slowly dripped through coffee grounds to make a concentrate as opposed to immersing the grounds in cold water. 

Since the Japanese had already been cold brewing tea at the time, it makes sense that they were early adopters of cold brew, if not the inventors.

Other sources point to central America as the origin of cold brew. Unquestionably that region influenced the modern history of cold brew, which is largely attributed to Todd Simpson. In the 1960’s Simpson was a chemical engineer on a plant gathering trip in central America. While there he tasted a coffee-concentrate made according to a Peruvian process. When he returned to the U.S., he developed a cold brewing system using that process, giving birth to the name Toddy®. 

After many years of a stagnant product offering for brewing cold brew coffee, Brewista® introduced the Cold Pro™ in 2016. The innovative lift-and-twist filter design allows baristas to drain their cold brew hands-free so they can take care of customers. This innovation is making an impact in the commercial cold brew market.

Regardless of its history, the future of cold brew is bright. According to a 2016 study by the research group Mintel, the domestic cold brew coffee market grew 580% from 2011 to 2016. And thanks to a 460% increase from 2015-2017, cold brew sales in the U.S. generated $38 million in 2017 alone according to Roast Magazine.

Why should you offer Cold Brew?

Why not offer cold brew? There are many reasons to add cold brew to your menu offering, but here are the most important ones:

  1. Double your menu with an investment of less than $100 for equipment!
    When it’s hot outside and all you offer is hot beverages, you’re going to have a lonely day and abysmal sales. Using the same coffee, syrups, milks and non-dairy alternatives you’ve already got in your shop, the addition of cold brew multiplies the drink options you can offer!

  2. Cold brew coffee provides options to a larger audience.
    Since there is no heat in the brewing process, only the compounds that are soluble in ambient room temperature water are extracted. Certain oils and acids are only extracted with the addition of heat, so many people consider the acid content of cold brew to be lower than that of hot brewed coffee. That perception paired with similar claims by cold brew retailers have spurred the belief that cold brewing coffee may reduce gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux or GERD, often attributed to drinking hot coffee.

    Recent studies reveal that any blanket statement about the acidity levels of cold brew vs. hot brewed coffee may have merit in some regards, but is unsubstantiated in others. The pH levels of identical coffees were measured after brewing hot and cold. Those pH levels were nearly identical for both brewing methods. However, the measured TA (titratable acidity: an approximation of the Total Acidity of a solution) revealed higher concentrations of extracted acids and additional acidic compounds in the hot brewed coffee that were not found in the same coffee brewed cold.

    Regardless of whether acid levels are higher or lower, if someone that has adverse reactions to hot brewed coffee is able to drink cold brewed coffee, then serving cold brew opens your shop to that customer! Perception is reality.

  3. Cold brew coffee requires far less preparation time than an equal number of hot beverages.
    It may take a barista 1½ to 3 minutes or more to make a single hot beverage. Once cold brew is prepared, it is simply a matter of pouring it into a glass, with or without ice, sweeteners or cream. With less time spent preparing a beverage, the barista is freed to make and sell the next drink.

    The Cold Pro 2™ System allows you to make up to six-and-a-half gallons of ready-to-drink cold brew or concentrate in one batch with far less waste and mess than other methods. Diluting the concentrate one-to-one yields up to 13 gallons of cold brew.

    With only 20-30 minutes actual time spent preparing the cold brew (not including time to steep) one barista can make up to 128 twelve-ounce servings of cold brew coffee. How long would it take the same barista to prepare 128 hot beverages? Time is money. 

  4. All the cool kids are doing it!

    Several big chains have created huge marketing campaigns to promote cold brew coffee. Most notably Starbucks® and Dunkin' Donuts®. They have done the leg work for you, and spent millions creating awareness of cold brew. Now that people know the term “cold brew” they are demanding it. Your competition is offering cold brew, shouldn't you?
Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on Cold Brew from The Cold Pro Guide to Cold Brew Coffee!

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    Starbucks Coffee® is a registered trademark of STARBUCKS CORPORATION. This article is not endorsed by Starbucks Coffee®.
    Dunkin' Donuts® is a registered trademark of DD IP Holder LLC Limited Liability Company. This article is not endorsed by Dunkin' Donuts®.
    Toddy® is a registered trademark of Toddy, LLC Limited Liability Company Colorado. This article is not endorsed by Toddy®.