I have to interrupt stories from Taipei with a cold brew post. I know, I know – I promised I wouldn’t post about cold brew coffee anymore. Mama Cooper is back home for a stretch, though, and two things happened: I got her hooked on cold brew, and she made a small suggestion while watching the process that simplified it. You can skip to the bullets at the end if you just want to know the simplified process.
Something you should know about my mom is that she is frugal. She and my dad grew up in Korea during the Korean War, and they both experienced levels of poverty I’ve only read about in books. As a girl, Mom would make a snack out of a single grain of uncooked rice. Sometimes when she’s reminiscing, she’ll tell me that if you suck on that grain of rice long enough, it will get soft, and you’ll be able to taste how sweet rice is. Casual memories and knowledge like that help me understand why she’s so reluctant to throw anything away. She’s not a hoarder (filth disgusts her), but we do have a huge collection of empty jars and bottles and small appliances in the kitchen that take up a lot of space. I haven’t laid eyes on many of them because I’m too afraid to explore beyond the first few inches of the cabinets. Thanks to the recent findings about plastic and how it photodegrades, we’re down to storing only glass.
Her frugality allowed her to pay off the mortgage on my parents’ house early, to put two daughters through grad school, and to ensure that my sister and I didn’t want for anything. I’ve mentioned before how spoiled we are. When I think about it from a distance, it amazes me that my parents don’t resent us for how easy we’ve had it.
In any event, my mom hates wasting money. I have the ability to put a dollar value on how much each double shot, Nespresso latte costs me in the morning (roughly $2.50, including the whole milk from grass-fed cows). I didn’t do the analysis on how much a cup of cold brew costs, and I had a vague fear that it was more expensive. I decided against making cold brew while she’s home, but I also had a half pound of Blue Bottle coffee losing flavor and burning a hole in the freezer. While she and my sister were shopping, I broke down, ground the Blue Bottle beans, and began the 24-hour brewing process.
The following evening, she wandered into the kitchen to see what I was doing after I had poured the concentrate into the filter lined sieve and before I wrung out the saturated grounds. I was using a spatula to force the liquid through the filter because, as usual, the slow drip was driving me mad. My sister came in and helped me change filters; we achieved negligible, additional speed on the drip. Then I got out my jelly bag, scooped out some grounds and wrung. Mom watched me do this a half dozen times until the grounds were done and then turn my attention back to scraping the filter. And then she said, “I have experience with this making soy sauce. You’re probably going to tear the filter. Why don’t you pour the liquid through that bag?”
Y’all, this is why diversity and fresh eyes are important. I made the classic mistake of doing it the same way every time without thinking about how to make the process easier. There was a time when I would have dismissed her recommendation because she was my mom interfering with my process. Because I have grown a little bit as a person, instead I laughed like a crazy person, and I did exactly what she suggested, thereby cutting the amount of time the whole damned process takes by a third.
Someone I follow on Twitter linked to this article on BoingBoing, which taught me that something called a nut-milk bag exists. (If you are twelve years old like I am, the name made you snicker. No, I’m not proud of this.) Apparently, people use them to make almond milk or cashew milk or whatever. I found one at Whole Foods that holds two quarts of liquid, which is a lot more than my jelly bag will hold. (The size of the jelly bag drives how many batches of grounds I have to wring.) I couldn’t resist the chances it presented to streamline the cold brew process more and establish how much a cup of cold brew costs me in the morning.
I bought $3.80 worth (close to half a pound) of organic Morning Blend coffee beans (Allegro, which I think is the house brand of Whole Foods), which yielded almost 3 cups of grounds. I brewed them in 4 cups of distilled water instead of 1:1 with tap water (the article I linked to above alleged that because there are fewer solids dissolved in distilled water, there’s more room for coffee flavor – makes sense, I guess). After the 24-hour brew, instead of pressing the grounds, I gave everything a good stir then poured the whole shebang into the nut-milk bag.
Here’s my new process:
- Half a pound of whole beans, ground on the burr grinder (medium grind)
- Dump coffee grounds (3 cups, give or take) in extra large French press and add four cups of water (this level of dilution gives me more concentrate without an unacceptable loss of flavor)
- Stir to saturate, wait ten minutes for raft of grounds to form at top, then stir again
- Brew for 24 hours
- Stir contents of press again and pour half of mixture into nut-milk bag (1-quart size is probably big enough)
- Wring grounds (I forgot that my hands are also small – wringing the full batch was harder than it needed to be for me)
- Stir contents of press again and pour remaining mixture into nut-milk bag
- Wring grounds
- Funnel into glass bottle and stash in fridge
That last step is more important than you might think. Using the nut-milk or jelly bag instead of the coffee filter forces a tradeoff between time/effort to make the cold brew and the amount of coffee silt in the liquid. You’ll need the cooling and settling time in the fridge to allow the silt to sink to the bottom of the bottle. The tradeoff is TOTALLY WORTH IT to me – delicious cold brew, half the effort and time, 80% less mess, at less than $2/cup, including the expensive milk. Let me know how it works out for you.