It may be America’s hottest summer drink, but cold brew is nothing new. Heat-free coffeemaking has long come in handy. Dutch sailors cold-brewed beans as early as the 17th century, eschewing cooking to avoid accidentally burning down ships. In the 18th century, New Orleans residents began mixing coffee and chicory concentrates with cold milk, seeking relief from searing temps. Despite cold brew’s reputation as a newfangled beverage, it’s surprisingly simple. Power gone out? Camping without a stove? Stranded on a deserted island? Mix ground beans with water, and you’ll be sipping the $4 beverage we’re queuing up for in urban coffee shops.
Here’s the catch: If you erase heat—the magic component that increases the solubility of beans—you need to add time. “Our cold brew recipe takes 12 hours,” says Maciej Kasperowicz, director of coffee at Gregorys Coffee, which replaced iced coffee with cold brew at its dozens of NYC storefronts seven years ago. Back then, the shops were making iced coffee in what Kasperowicz calls “the Bad Old Way”: putting hot coffee in the fridge. Heat causes coffee’s chlorogenic acid to start breaking down, and fridge cooling coupled with oxidation can result in off flavors. Today, Gregorys’ baristas drop coffee into room-temperature water in the early evening, leaving it to infuse until the following day.
The result not only yields fewer unwanted flavors compared to the iced coffee of yore, but also a notable absence of acidity that lets some of coffee’s undercurrents shine through. “In a word, cold brew is sweeter than iced coffee,” says Brent Wolczynski, head brewer of cold brew at Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters, adding that the drink has a less drying finish. When it comes to pairing, that helps us avoid a tragedy—coffee’s intensity trampling delicate notes in cheese—while opening up a whole new world of caffeine-charged possibilities.
Cold Brew Coffee
Not everyone loves the fact that cold-brewing hampers acidity; in fact, many beans are beloved for their acidic qualities. That’s why Kasperowicz favors beans with chocolate and roasted nut flavors (rather than high acidity) for cold brew. Paired with a nutty, buttery cheese like hybrid gouda-Alpine style Cornish Kern, those notes mingle to create a long, creamy, salted-toffee finish.
For nitro versions—which are infused with nitrogen gas and pushed through a valve with small holes to create a stout-like texture—expect the sensation of cream and a heavier mouthfeel. Pair it with an equally velvety sheep’s milk cheese for extreme decadence.
Cold Brew Beer
There are plenty of ways to get coffee into beer, says Zach Bodah, quality control manager at Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company. Many brewers add it during steps when ingredients are super hot—which, like brewing regular coffee with heat, results in oil extraction and acidity. The cold-brewing method Allagash uses when making Map 40, a Belgian-style stout, is a bit more difficult, as it requires sterilized, oxygen-free water. But it’s worth it. “It allows us to just get the essence of the coffee,” Bodah says. “It’s smooth, really round, and doesn’t add any acidity to the beer.” Senior brewer Sean Ellsworth suggests pairing the rich, chocolaty stout with a less intense blue like Spanish Monte Enebro for a “nice balance of the funk with some creaminess.”
At Oregon’s Rogue Ales & Spirits, brewmaster John Maier uses cold brew for similar reasons to produce a very different style of beer. His Cold Brew IPA has an initially strong hit of coffee flavor followed by enough hoppiness, carbonation, and citrusy notes to “cut through the buttery texture of a clothbound cheddar,” he says.
Cold Brew Cocktails
Mixology is about achieving equilibrium between bitter, sweet, and acidic flavors—a balance that a perfect cup of cold brew should achieve on its own. When shaking and stirring it into cocktails, aim to preserve that harmony, avoiding extra bitterness or acidity and offering complements to the coffee’s roasted aromas.
The same goes for pairing. “With cold brew cocktails you already have a lot of great flavor going on, so you need a bridge,” says Tenaya Darlington, cheese blogger and author of The New Cocktail Hour (Running Press, 2016). “You need a cheese with a like-minded sentiment—a rum-y note, or something with coffee. I don’t think you can just throw a cheddar into that mix.” Darlington suggests adding a shot of cold brew and a shot of rum to a sweet, cinnamon-y horchata, then serving it alongside the coffee, cocoa, and cinnamon-coated Tomme Molé from Birchrun Hills Farm. Or try her Black Julep—cold brew, mint syrup, bourbon, and crushed ice—alongside a sweet, herbaceous “dessert bomb” of a cheese coated in barley malt and whiskey.
Birchrun Hills Tomme Molé + cold brew–spiked Rumchata
Occelli Testun al Malto d’Orzo e Whiskey + Black Julep