A Brief History of Coffee
In the past century, coffee has gone through a lot of changes. Specifically, there were three very large changes in the industry that happened, which people refer to as “waves.” The “first wave,” ranging from roughly the early to mid-1900’s, brought coffee from being a rather rare luxury to being extremely accessible. You could find coffee in any grocery store and keep it in your cabinet forever. It was almost as pervasive as having salt.
The “second wave,” beginning in about the 1970’s, was the advent of cafes. In particular, Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee had a huge impact in making cafes more mainstream, particularly in the United States. Prior to this, espresso bars weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are now. This wave also featured a higher focus on quality, particularly on using 100% Arabica coffee. This 100% claim was most notably touted by Starbucks, and later on, Dunkin’ Donuts picked up that same claim.
Lastly, the “third wave” started to gain prominence in the 2000’s, and was about pushing past the basics of coffee. While espresso was still a focus in the third wave, drinks featuring large amounts of milk and sugar started taking a back seat to straight espresso or black coffee. And the theory the third wave had is this: Straight coffee shouldn’t taste bad. It shouldn’t have been a novel idea, but it somehow was. What if there were coffees that had lovely flavors of flowers or fruit? There were such coffees out there. And with the third wave focusing more on roasting a lot lighter, this new coffee was entirely a different drink. Instead of being intense and robust, this coffee was sweet, tart, and wildly complex.
The Modern Emergence of Cold Brew
However, during the third wave movement, there was a new drink developed that captured the world’s attention: cold brew. Cold brew is coffee that is brewed with cold water instead of hot water. Cold brew’s massive success is a bit of a mystery to the industry. It boasts a much higher caffeine content, since large amounts of coffee needs to be used to make up for the fact that heat doesn’t play a role in the extraction. It also may be popular because it touted a very low acidity, which somehow became desirable. Unfortunately, many positive things were lost as well. A lot of the sweetness in coffee was gone as well as most of the complex flavors that third wave coffee had been boasting about. The result is: all cold brew more or less tastes the same. And when the third wave coffee industry is running an entire section of the market based on the subtle differences between coffees, this is kind of a problem. Suddenly, the emperor has no clothes.
The words “cold brew” have become almost entirely interchangeable with “iced coffee.” However, cold brew is not a new idea. While we’re not sure exactly when and where it first developed, it was likely either the Dutch or the Japanese who invented the process first, and it dates back as old as the 1600’s. So, why has such an old brewing practice all of a sudden become a must-have in every café? The reason is, the demand for iced coffee is growing. Sales of iced coffee went from $300 million to $1.2 billion in 2009 in the United States alone. Those numbers are stunning. As of 2014, 75% of coffee drinkers in the United States drink iced coffee, though not exclusively. Still, we’re looking at a wide change in the market. This is a new “wave,” if you will. People are drinking iced coffee whether we like it or not.
Shortcomings of Cold Brew Methods
So, is cold brew the best we can do? A number of coffee experts worldwide don’t think so. In fact, some of them won’t serve it in their cafes and publicly do not endorse cold brew as a method. Most notably, George Howell (co-founder of Cup of Excellence and founder of George Howell Coffee) and James Hoffmann (author of World Atlas of Coffee and 2007 World Barista Champion) have both expressed their dislike for cold brew. “I find it quite unpleasant and it’s just not something I ever really want to drink,” says Hoffmann. The reason why cold brew underperforms, is that cold water does not extract coffee the same way as hot water. There are a handful of factors the contribute to coffee extraction, most notably: temperature, time, agitation, and particle size. Since cold brew doesn’t have the aid of temperature, the extraction takes a long time, typically around twelve to twenty-four hours to brew, depending on your recipe Moreover, the volatile aromatics associated with a fresh hot cup of coffee are chemically not achievable.
There are two other methods that are gaining more traction as of late, however. One method, referred to as the Japanese iced pour-over method, involves using about one-third less water in the extraction and having the coffee you brew drip over the remaining third of water as ice at the bottom of the pot. This method does produce better results than cold brew, but the coffee often tastes watery and it is hard to extract enough of the coffee to make up for the ice you’re including. Another method that has gained a lot of traction recently is flash-chilling the coffee. This involves typically brewing the coffee with a normal recipe, which is much easier than trying to measure out specific amounts of ice. Then, once the coffee is brewed it is either put in the refrigerator/freezer or kept in an ice-bath for anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour or more. This does take longer than the Japanese method, but it is still much faster than cold brew. The problem is that hot coffee needs to cool down very quickly, or it begins to become stale and lose a lot of flavor.
Birth of the ColdWave
There is a product that has recently hit the market that has made flash-chilling much more feasible. The product is called the Coldwave. And, ironically, it may just usher in a new “wave” of coffee drinking. Instead of twenty minutes to cool down the hot coffee, the Coldwave takes one or two minutes, eliminating the opportunity for the coffee to become stale. And unlike cold brew, the Japanese method, and typical flash-chilling, the device is remarkably easy to use. There are two parts to the product, a pitcher, and an insert. You simply make hot coffee, put it in the pitcher, and put the insert on top.
You simply make hot coffee, put it in the pitcher, and put the insert on top:
How the device works is this: All of the white tubes you see in the Coldwave are filled with purified water that are sealed shut so they won’t leak. The insert gets left in the freezer and all of the water in the tubes freezes. Then, the hot coffee has to go in the very minuscule spaces in between the tubes as it gets displaced by the insert. Like extraction, transferring heat has a few factors that play a role: temperature difference, time, and surface area. Because there is a large difference in temperature between the frozen tubes and the hot coffee, the temperature drops suddenly as soon as the insert is put into the Coldwave. In the first ten seconds of the Coldwave being put together, the coffee drops 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The last bit of the cooling to get the coffee down to be really cold takes a little bit longer. After 2 minutes, hot coffee drops down to 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s about as cold as your refrigerator. At that rate, you don’t need ice that will water down your drink. Instead, you’ll taste all of the subtle flavors of your hot coffee, with all the jasmine and raspberry notes your heart desires. And, at $39.95 per Coldwave, it’s affordable enough for everyone to have one in their home.
After working in the coffee industry for six years, this is the only way I’ve found to make iced coffee that suits me. But if my word isn’t enough, the same people I mentioned earlier who reject cold brew, George Howell and James Hoffmann, they’ve both come out saying that the Coldwave is a solution to the problem of iced coffee. James Hoffmann says, “Ultimately, I like it because it does no damage to the coffee that you brew. It just makes it cold pretty quickly and I like that a lot.” George Howell has put out newsletters saying it is, “The best-iced coffee method yet.”
There has been a lot of conjecture about when and if coffee’s fourth wave will appear and what it will be. However, what is clear is that with the increased sales of iced coffee, the industry needs to sell something it can stand behind. Coffee cannot move forward if the methods we’re using are stuck in the past. While there may or may not be a fourth wave, the Coldwave is definitely going to be part of iced coffee’s future.