Coffee is hot, there’s no two ways about it. If there is a foodstuff that has captured the popular imagination and soared to venti heights unimaginable to anyone who asks for a double-double, it must be coffee.
Cold brew coffee came along in some magnitude several years ago, and it’s widely available in both chain stores and independent coffee houses. The process is a pretty simple – albeit slightly counter-intuitive – one: also called cold water extraction or cold pressing, coarsely ground coffee beans are simply steeped in cool water for periods of time of 12 hours or more before they are strained and served in a variety of ways. The result, depending on bean blend, grind and water quality, is a caffeinated beverage with a different flavour profile than hot-brewed coffee.
Indies like DVLB, Seven Shores and Café Pyrus, to name only a few, serve variations on the cold brew theme. For instance, Show and Tell Coffee in Kitchener does a Japanese-style “flash brew” that is a cold concentrated pour-over by the cup to order. There is also cold brew at both Matter of Taste coffee locations – downtown Kitchener and Phillip Street Waterloo.
At Cambridge’s Monigram Coffee Roasters, small-batch cold brew is a 20-hour process at room temperature that results in about 20 litres per week using Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans.
“It’s a long extraction but gentle,” according to Vanja Stojanovic, Monigram coffee quality and roasting manager. “It’s sweet and jammy, and almost like port wine.”
Now, you can throw into the cold-brew mix something called “nitro” cold brew. It became a pretty big thing in the coffee-beverage world a few years ago, the charge – to use an appropriate pun – in the chain retail coffee culture being led by Starbucks which followed a few artisanal specialty coffee roasters and food scientists on the west and east coasts of the United States.
The pour nitro brew coffee from a tap with a special design looks like the glorious cascade of Guinness or other similar beer. Stouts, dark beers and some ales are often infused with nitrogen (other beers with carbon dioxide) which gives them their unique textural characteristics; it comes down to chemistry and the small nitrogen-bubbles (which are reluctant to let themselves be dissolved in water) that make the difference.
Similarly, coffee, with its nitro infusion, drinks creamy and satiny smooth as a result. The lack of oxygen in the process means that there’s no oxidation and therefore less bitterness than you get with regular coffee after it sits for awhile. One resulting quality that pleases some coffee drinkers is less acidity and more sweetness because there is no heat used in the extraction process.
The cold-brewed and nitrogen-infused coffee at the newly re-decorated Balzac’s Coffee Roasters at Communitech in downtown Kitchener uses Balzac’s Blend coffee beans which are ground and infused at Toronto’s Junction Craft Brewing for between 20 and 22 hours. It’s neither too dark nor too strong.
“There’s no flavour from the nitrogen,” says Diane Olsen, Balzac’s owner. “In cold brew, which we’ve been doing for about five years, the coffee is never touched by heat. That brings out different flavours in the coffee than when hot water is used.”
Olsen adds that many customers are buying the drink as an alternative beverage – and it, in fact, has the appearance and the texture of a stout. “It’s not just millennials drinking it. A lot of people are drinking it who don’t want to drink alcohol and they like the fact that it wakes you up too.”
At EcoCafe in St. Jacobs, where they roast a lot of coffee beans, the nitro brew infusing is done virtually across the street at Block Three Brewing, while the new Blackwing Coffee Bar in Cambridge has partnered with a north Waterloo brewery, says Blackwing owner Katherine Gingerich. The beans are roasted to a cold-brew profile and ground at Smile Tiger Coffee Roasters, their sister café which also has nitro.
“Innocente Brewing infuses the cold brew with nitro. It’s a 16 or 17-hour process in cold water,” Gingrich says, confessing that the drink continually surprises her with its flavour and texture.
“I love how smooth it is,” she says. “Every time I drink a nitro, I think how good it is.”