The Quest for the Perfect Iced Coffee

Believe it or not, in 1946, Americans consumed double the amount of coffee that we do now: 48 gallons annually per person. That's amazing, considering they did it without Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and fancy coffees like French Press, espresso, and Frappucinos. They accepted prepackaged, preroasted, overheated, watered-down, one-flavor-fits-all coffee.

And for the most part, they did without iced coffee.

Exactly when and where iced coffee was invented is up for debate. Some speculate it can be traced back to 17th-century Vienna, after the Turkish army unsuccessfully besieged the city. With a surplus of the magical bean left behind, the Viennese began to experiment with new ways to prepare the drink, eventually coming up with a cold version, mixing it with ice/snow from the Alps. It's more likely, though, that iced coffee wasn't invented until the beginning of the 20th Century, when ice could be produced and stored. The Japanese started drinking iced coffee in the 1920s, and the Greeks developed the idea of the coffee frappe in the 1950s.

Harold's owner Keith Palagye and his brew.
Harold's owner Keith Palagye and his brew.
Coffee beans and the macchiato at Harold's.
Coffee beans and the macchiato at Harold's.

Location Info

Map

Harold's Coffee Lounge

509 Northwood Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33407

Category: Restaurant > Coffeehouse

Region: West Palm Beach

Coastars Coffee Bar

12 S. J St.
Lake Worth, FL 33460

Category: Coffee Shops

Region: Lake Worth

Green Bar & Kitchen

1075 SE 17th St.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316

Category: Restaurant > Vegan

Region: Fort Lauderdale

Details

Harold's Coffee Lounge, 509 Northwood Road, West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-6366, or visit haroldscoffee.com.

Coastar's Coffee Bar, 12 S. J St., Lake Worth. Call 561-533 0353, or visit coastarscoffee.com.

Green Bar & Kitchen1075 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-533-7507, or visit greenbarkitchen.com

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On a smoldering South Florida summer day, nothing sends shivers of pleasure into your fingertips and an instant chilly wake-up call to your brain like iced coffee. I went on a quest for the perfect cup.

Starbucks has served iced coffee since 1971, although back then, it was called Iced Marrakesh and was actually cold brewed using the Toddy system (more on that later). Today, you can grab one at the company's 13,000 U.S. outposts. Baristas now use a regular hot drip coffee, brewed at double strength, and serve it over ice. According to the independent caffeine research site energyfiend.com, one grande (medium) cup of iced coffee ($2.60 for 16 ounces) still contains only about half the amount of caffeine (165 mg) as the same sized cup of regular hot coffee (330 mg). A grande Frappuccino ($4.23), a sweeter, milkier blended iced coffee beverage, will give you 110 to 115 mg. As for Dunkin' Donuts (where it costs $2.32 for a medium, 24-ounce iced coffee), according to energyfiend, cut the caffeine roughly in half.

But I discovered something better than either of these two titans can offer — cold brew coffee — and I'm never going back.

Cold brew or cold pressed coffee is simply coffee grounds that have been steeped in room temperature or cold water for an extended period. This process of leaching flavor from the beans results in a different chemical profile — a sweeter, deeper brew.

This potent potion is deceptively simple to make and has actually been around since before electricity was invented. Because the coffee beans in cold-press coffee never come into contact with heated water, cold-brewed iced coffee contains 67 percent less acid than its hot-brewed counterpart, experts say. Yet because of the drastically longer steeping time for cold brews, you usually get a stronger drink. In fact, the folks at Panther Coffee in Miami claim their cold brew packs a bigger caffeine punch than any other drink on the menu. (Fort Lauderdale's Green Bar & Kitchen offers Panther's cold brew for sale behind the counter. Just make sure you stop in early, as it often sells out. )

While cold brewing is still relatively new at most coffee retailers, a few local specialty coffee shops have caught on and offer their own home cold-brewed iced coffee drinks.

At Coastar's Coffee in Lake Worth, owner Chris Palacio uses something called a Toddy system, an easy-to-use device for producing the perfect cold brew every time. A neat plastic contraption developed by a Cornell chemical engineering graduate nearly 50 years ago, the Toddy system filters the coffee through felt before it's released into a glass decanter, creating "a full body, slightly bolder, and I believe more flavorful cup of cold brew," Palacio says. "The lack of contact with oxygen during the process prevents loss of flavor." Panther Coffee in Miami uses the same system. Palacio offers an entire cold brew menu that he says "includes one made with homemade honey-lavender simple syrup and lemon zest, mixed in a shaker and served over ice."

A third cold brewer is Harold's Coffee in West Palm Beach. This specialty shop uses the Blue Bottle Kyoto-style cold-brewing system, a fancy-looking and somewhat costly setup composed of tall, fragile, glass drip towers, traditionally called an Oji machine in Japan. Drip by drip — 48 drips per minute, to be exact — the Oji takes seven hours to produce one six-cup batch. The drink is typically prepared by pouring four ounces over ice for an exceptionally deep and smoky yet light-bodied coffee experience.

"Adjustable taps on the Kyoto systems at Harold's lets the barista adjust the drip rate," Palacio explains. "The amount of control can potentially produce a cleaner, sweeter cup of coffee. Plus, it looks cool mounted on the walls." A regular-sized cup (16 ounces) costs $3.82; a large (20 ounces), $4.35.

Or save a few bucks and a disposable coffee cup by preparing your own homemade cold brew — it's one of the simplest things you'll ever do in your kitchen.

Grab yourself two large containers or bowls. Pour one pound of your favorite medium-ground coffee into the first bowl. Then pour in eight quarts (two gallons) of cold water. Give it a good stir to make sure all the grounds make contact with the water. Cover the container and let the coffee steep for at least eight hours. The longer it steeps, the stronger the brew.

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