Cold Brew Coffee: Kitchen Torture

I cheated on my Nespresso machine earlier this week.  Oh, I know that it doesn’t care, because it’s an inanimate object.  Also, it’s only been here for a few weeks, so it hasn’t had time to get as attached to me as I am to it.

I cheated with cold brew coffee.  When I’m away from home and forced to choose among all the commercial options out there, if cold brew is available, I jump on it.  In the absence of a Nespresso machine, cold brew coffee is as close as you’ll get to the perfection of Australian coffee:  dark and rich and round without any weird sour flavor and just enough bitterness to assure you it’s coffee.  Not everyone gets it right.  Zombie Runners in Palo Alto and Roy’s in San Jose are the best I’ve ever had; the Texan in me is sad to report that Central Market’s is not that good.

I came across a recipe for cold brew coffee at home in the America’s Test Kitchen DIY cookbook.  I bought this cookbook primarily for the tofu and cocktail bitters recipes, but it’s teeming with all sorts of yummy things, including a recipe for cold brew coffeeDuring the summer, I ice my lattes, but sometimes that’s not satisfying because as the ice melts, it waters down my espresso, making my morning latte lose flavor.  I thought I’d give the cold brew a try, especially because of how easy it looked – it’s coffee, cold water, a French press, and time.

You know what’s a bigger pain in the ass to make than cold brew coffee?  NOTHING.  I am someone who will happily chop more than a dozen vegetables into quarter-inch dice and scrape the rinds off of a pound of parmesan rinds to make three gallons of minestrone.  Before my doctor banned pasta from my life, I used to make butternut squash ravioli from scratch.  I don’t mind hard work in the kitchen.  But cold brew coffee almost broke me.

The ATK recipe calls for a one-to-one ratio of coffee to water, a much higher ratio than other recipes I’ve seen.  I trust ATK, though, and its testing process, so I do what it tells me to while recognizing that sometimes the recipes are ridiculously laborious.  Also, the recipe writer justified the ratio by saying that I’d be making a cold brew concentrate that I could easily dilute to taste.  This made perfect sense to me, so I fetched the mandated 3.5 cups of ground coffee.  I failed to wrap my mind around how much coffee this is until I dumped all of it into the French press.  The coffee grounds filled more than half the press.  Then I poured in 3.5 cups of water.  If you make this recipe, I recommend that you place the French press wherever it is that you want the coffee to steep, because the risk of sloshing and splashing grounds all over the kitchen when you move the beaker is high.  I wish I’d remembered to take pictures, because the ATK pictures are deceitful.

The recipe tells you to give the mixture a stir after about ten minutes, then to leave it for 24 hours.  Super easy.  That’s the part of the recipe that lured me in.  After 24 hours, you put in the business portion of the French press, push down, and then pour out the elixir into a strainer lined with a coffee filter over a bowl, and voila – three cups of delicious, cold brew concentrate.

Except no.  It’s not that easy.  The grounds absorbed quite a bit of water, which I should have expected, so the press didn’t go down very far.  It was easy to get the first cup and a half of liquid out, but after that I had to work, and not the fun work of chopping, but the hard labor of straining solids out of liquid.  I used a stepstool to get more leverage on the press to try to extract more coffee out of the grounds.  That was only mildly successful.  At this point, I only had what looked like at most a cup and a half of concentrate.  The recipe said if I wanted, I could pour the grounds into cheesecloth and squeeze them as a supplement.  (My friend, Stephanie, who graduated from culinary school, despises cheesecloth and refuses to use it, and now I understand why.)

You know what’s not readily available and is considered a seasonal item in my neighborhood?  Cheesecloth.  Luckily, I have some extra jelly bags from my bourbon-infusing adventures, so I used one of those.  The jelly bags aren’t huge, so I knew I’d have to wring the grounds in batches.  The first batch was too large.  Oh, the jelly bag could have held more, but I don’t have Hulk hands.  I had to squeeze five batches of grounds in the jelly bag.  It was a combination of gripping the grounds in my hands and twisting the jelly bag until no more liquid dripped into the strainer, then dumping the grounds into the trash and starting over.  With each batch, my incredulity and frustration skyrocketed.

All this time while I was getting an arm workout, the original liquid I poured from the press was dripping through the strainer.  The first half flowed quickly, but the second half… did not.  I understand water torture better now.  After getting rid of the grounds I’d pressed by hand, cleaning up the stretch of counter and floor between the bowl and the trash, and washing my hands, I turned my attention to the stubborn concoction left in the filter.

I dimly recalled reading that maybe I should use a spoon to help the coffee through the filter.  I scraped at the silt, but when that stopped working, I got a new filter.  I had to go through three filters to get, not the three cups of concentrate promised by the recipe, but two cups.  If I’m honest, I got slightly less than two cups because I tried to pour from a gigantic bowl into my funnel for storage in one-cup mason jars.  I didn’t spill, but that thing that happens when you try to pour liquid from a container that doesn’t have a spout happened, and I lost about half a cup to the counter.  I looked at the puddle for a full 30 seconds trying to decide whether and how I would sweep the puddle into the mason jar before coming to my senses and wiping it up with a paper towel.  I considered wringing the paper towel into the jar.  You’ll be relieved to know I threw the sopping wet paper towel away.

Yesterday morning, I hatepoured a half cup of cold brew concentrate into a mug with an equal amount of whole milk.  Delicious, but too strong, so I added more milk until it tasted like heaven.  The strength of the concentrate is the only thing that saved this recipe for me.  Even with the scant amount of coffee concentrate I got out of it, I could probably get almost a full week’s worth of coffee to drink.  If I hadn’t had to go through the nuisance of making it myself, I’d say that it was as good as the cold brew coffee from Zombie Runners and Roy’s.

So, yeah.  Despite the fact that nothing is a bigger pain in the ass to make, not even cocktails, I’m going to make it again.  Some of us never learn.

This entry was posted in food and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Cold Brew Coffee: Kitchen Torture

  1. CA says:

    I know you’ll chop all day, but will you peel shrimp?

  2. Paul says:

    i cant help but think that this is what my youngest daughter would call a “first world” problem. and how can coffee taste “round” ?? btw – i love french press coffee and don’t feel like i am cheating on my nespresso machine as we have a open relationship that way.

    • All my problems are first world problems, and for that I am infinitely grateful. It doesn’t make them any less frustrating, but I do recognize that I’m blessed not to be hungry or homeless or ill.

  3. Paul says:

    i know you are grateful. 🙂 just gigging you. but . . . you need to tell me how coffee can taste round??

  4. Pingback: Dribs and Drabs | Travel, Food, and Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s