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article by Caleb Ellison, Manager Cups in Clinton

Have you ever questioned the coffee-making process? Those who have are likely to assume that it’s only a matter of heating up water and pouring it over ground coffee. In modern culture, this is the most popular form of coffee. Your grandparents and parents most likely drink hot coffee, and commercials advertise it as a warm, cozy beverage perfect for kickstarting your day.

Recently, coffee-culture has changed this stereotypical understanding of coffee and introduced an alternative form, cold-brew. With this new development, a plethora of questions arise: How is it made and why should I consider it? Furthermore, which variant of coffee tastes better and which is most caffeinated? To answer these questions, we must first examine the nuances of each method.

How is hot coffee prepared?

The method of preparing hot coffee is the easiest to understand. Not only because it has been around the longest, but because everyone has at least observed the process. This classic method is infamous for burning many an unsuspecting mouth, but is credited with possessing an effective caffeine level. Here at Cups, we take the process seriously and are slightly more meticulous with our coffee.

Cups’ hot coffee brewed into an airpot is the most simple version of hot coffee. Whole beans are poured into a Bunn G1 grinder and milled by steel burrs for an automatic coffee machine. The coffee is placed into a brew basket with a paper filter and brewed through a Twin series coffee maker into an airpot. Once completed, it can be poured into a mug and mixed with milk and sugar for added flavor.

What are the strengths of hot coffee?

What hot coffee gains in simplicity, it loses in taste. Compared to the pricier coffees, like espresso, that require more maintenance, coffee beans brewed as a hot beverage have an unsavory reputation of tasting virtually similar. This is because the majority of coffee is brewed with pre-ground beans which stunt the coffee’s natural flavor. This is why Cups uses whole beans, and does not grind them until the coffee is needed. Brewing coffee this way allows each brand to flaunt a distinctive taste. Next time you buy a cup of coffee, pay attention to the roasts-of-the-day and try to taste its natural flavor.

How to make cold coffee.

To make a batch of cold brew similar to the Cups recipe, it is important to use the proper beans and a proper container. To make cold brew, coffee beans are ground coarse in the Bunn G1 grinder. The grinds are then placed into a large paper filter and sealed with a string. The filter is then placed into a reusable filter and attached around the lip of a 22 gallon toddy container. This of course is overkill for a small cup of cold brew but is useful for mass production. Water is poured into the container and placed in a safe, temperature sensitive room. The container is left for 24 hours. Once the coffee has finished brewing, it is divided into smaller, manageable containers and chilled in the fridge. If you do not want to wait for the coffee to chill, ice can be added. Pour into a glass and cut with milk or water and enjoy your caffeinated beverage.

How not to make cold coffee.

Many people will ask: why use this long, drawn-out brewing process when one could easily stick ice in the coffee and have it ready instantly? My experience as a barista is filled with examples of customers asking for hot coffee poured over a cup full of ice, and I will say, my heart hurts to see this happen. I am not sad because of the ineffectiveness of the ice. It actually does make the coffee cold. But what does make me sad is the fact that the coffee is now a watered-down cup of liquid. Essentially, all the flavors in the coffee are gone, the caffeine level is greatly decreased, and you pay for a whole cup when in reality, there is only half a cup. It is ridiculous!

Another iced coffee trend that is less unsatisfactory is chilled coffee. This is when a person brews coffee and places it into the fridge. What is rendered is essentially a cup of hot coffee made cold. This is different from cold brew because it removes the elongated brewing process. This in turn denies chilled coffee the smooth silky texture of cold brew and does not have a high caffeine content.

Ultimately, it is safer to stick with cold brew as your first cup of cold coffee. Once you have gained a pallet for its unique flavors, and practiced its brewing method, then it would be appropriate to test other forms of cold coffee.

What are the best beans to use for cold brew?

Cups’ cold-brew typically uses Ethiopian beans. This beans taste the best because they were grown in high altitudes which caused the complexification of the bean’s sugars. This means the more controlled the brewing process, the more complex the flavors. Therefore, when brewed for exactly 24 hours with a calculated measurement of water, it exudes smooth notes of chocolate and citrus. It is also common to use French roast beans because they have been baked for a long period of time. Commonly reported notes of French roast cold brew are cocoa and tobacco.

Which one is the most caffeinated?

Building off of the previous section concerning water ratio, hot coffee contains a higher quantity of water which in turn dilutes caffeine. Furthermore, it affects the taste of the coffee since it is stripped of its oils. Conversely, cold-brew marinates in water allowing it to keep some of its oils. Furthermore, it is made with room temperature water which does not reduce the bean’s caffeine content. Therefore, cold-brew prevails as the most caffeinated beverage.

Which one has the better quality over time?

Though hot coffee is the easiest to make, it cannot stay hot all day and will eventually cool off. Reheating hot will bring back the original temperature, but it will burn the coffee in the process essentially evaporating its key flavors. Conversely, cold brew can be cooled without losing  its flavors if sealed properly. Furthermore, it can last 2 to 3 days in the fridge.

The beauty of both methods

Hot and cold coffee are undeniably delicious drinks in their own regard, but they would not be as complex or versatile without the encouragement of the customer. Though trial and error continue to be the brains of coffee-culture, it will always be the customer who provides the impetus for growth. By selecting the coffee that is most desirable, customers challenge baristas to create something new. This could be seen by finding new beans that taste amazing when served hot, or chilling coffee over night to create a refreshing drink for a hot day, or a more caffeinated drink for a sleepy worker.

What does the future hold?

For iced coffee, cold-brew will continue to make an impact because of its variation from hot coffee. As the industry grows, so too will the appreciation for methods of brewing. Even in modern coffee culture, it is possible to find coffee lovers who have a go-to brew method, whether that be a Chemex, French press, or a Keurig.

For the curious customer, this change will seem overwhelming. But as you experiment with coffee by trying various flavors and recipes, you will begin to develop a taste for it. Once developed, you will find the method that satisfies your tastes perfectly. Eventually, you may become tired of that method not because the drink is bad, but because you have fully discovered the potential of the drink and are ready to explore new flavors. It is within this continuous cycle that the coffee novice will become the coffee expert and understand the beauty of each individual cup of coffee. Like the wine connoisseur who appreciates the sweetness of a Moscato and the dryness of a Bordeaux, the coffee connoisseur will appeal to both iced coffee and hot coffee for their unique, wholesome qualities.