You’re standing in line at a Starbucks a block or two from work. It’s 8:45am and it’s already 80 degrees outside, so you’re craving something cold. “An iced coffee,” you think to yourself, “what I could really go for right now is an iced coffee.” Forget the amount of ice they use, it’s cool, it’s refreshing, and until the moment you hear the mustached man in front of you order a “cold brew” you felt very confident in your choice – and then of course you begin to feel uncultured, insecure and quite frankly, coffee-ignorant. Let’s unpack.
What is Cold Brew, Exactly?
When Starbucks first took the small-coffee-bar sensation of cold brew to the masses, it released a helpful infographic demystifying the difference between iced coffee and cold brew. In short, iced coffee is brewed as hot coffee and then poured over ice (slowly, and brewed extra strength to prevent dilution) while cold brew involves soaking coffee grounds in cold water for an extended period of time (Starbucks uses 20 hours as its standard).
And now the more pretentious differences: cold brew maintains “chocolate flavors with notes of citrus,” is full- vs. medium-bodied and includes low levels of acidity, making for less bitter coffee. Cold brew is also naturally sweet, with higher caffeine content and a higher price tag.
Who’s Leading, Hopping on and Completely Avoiding the Bandwagon?
What Does This Mean for the Everyman?
So is cold brew worth all the effort? With Starbucks’ cold brew sales increasing almost 340% from 2010 to 2015 and the success that Nitro cold brew is experiencing in Starbucks’ Tasting Room in Seattle, the evidence seems to say yes. But, of course, cold brew is not for everyone. The process is too time consuming (with many chains making small, daily batches) and the product too inherently pretentious to be effective in every coffee-centric chain.
What this means for the non coffee-connoisseurs among us is that options for cold coffee will likely continue to expand as Starbucks innovates and other chains seek to incorporate cold brew into their long range plans. After enough time — and with some practice — you will soon be able to order a cold brew almost anywhere and complain loudly that it’s too acidic, you can’t taste the citrus notes or that the grounds have clearly been steeped for a mere 14 hours. That is, until we all learn to feel foolish for not distinguishing subtle differences in coffee-nitrogen ratios.