The Question

So, what is cold brew and how is it different from Iced Coffee?  That’s the question I asked myself as I noticed that the market is flooded with ready-to-drink and freshly made cold brew coffee options. Well, cold brew is made with cold water, ground coffee beans, the same as iced coffee, but it is allowed to steep in the refrigerator for 14-16 hours, rather than brewed using a hot method (coffee machine, pour over, or other).

But why cold brew?  Does cold brewing improve one’s overall coffee experience?  When coffee is brewed hot and then chilled does it have the same sensory character as coffee brewed cold? 

I decided to put it to the test using our expert coffee panel trained in Spectrum Method descriptive analysis and coffee attributes.

The Test

We had two objectives, to understand how cold brewed coffee compares to iced coffee made from hot brewed coffee AND to see the impact that of the brewer on those same hot brews.  We used two brewers, a lower priced drip coffee brewer and a higher-end coffee brewer.  Both hot brews were brewed and then chilled for 16 hours. We employed each of these brewing methods using a light, medium and dark roast coffee bean, freshly ground right before brewing.

The samples were analyzed by the panel, who evaluated the flavor characteristics of the brews using a 15-point scale.  Characteristics assessed included attributes like dark roast, nuttiness, chocolate, fruit, off-notes, bitterness and astringency.

The Results

The results showed that the cold brew method produces a more rounded, complex cup of coffee and allows the nuances of the roast profile to come out.  For example, the chocolate and fruit notes were higher in the cold brew while in the chilled, hot brew they were lower or nonexistent. The chilled, hot brews exhibited potentially less desirable flavor notes such as ash, rubber and dried grass/hay. The basic tastes in the cold brew showed lower sourness and, in some of the roast profiles, lower bitterness.  Body was similar across brew method, but astringency (the puckering feeling you get from over steeped tea) was higher in the chilled, hot brews than in the cold brewed coffee.

We further looked at the results to answer the question – does a higher priced coffee brewer make a better tasting cup of cold brew coffee?  The answer provided in the panelists’ result was yes.  Chilled hot coffee brewed in the higher end coffee maker was overall closer to the cold brew, especially in terms of the desirable flavor notes, and was closer in basic tastes (reduced sour and bitter) to the cold brew.  Astringency was also closer to cold brew.

The results showed that the hype surrounding cold brew coffee as more rounded and nuanced and less bitter and astringent is justified and supported by this scientific data.  Cold brewing provides a more complex, cup of coffee and a potentially better coffee experience overall.  I recommend you give it a try.

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