November 29, 2007

Dangerous Ideas for the Caffiend - Part 1

My mother-in-law bought me the Aerobie AeroPress for my birthday and I’ve been hyper ever since. But I’m saving that story for Part 2.

I have a love-hate relationship with coffee. I love the flavor, but I hate the fuss of making it myself and having it come out bitter and unsatisfying. I love a jolt of caffeine when I need it, but my digestive and nervous system is not very forgiving if I overstep the line. I love coffee-shop coffee, especially iced coffee, but I have done the calculations and know that buying even one coffee every day is a much larger expense than people seem to realize1.

I have found two methods for making coffee I like without the expense and with very satisfying results.

Method 1: Concentrate

Over the years, Maggie and I have tried to make iced coffee drinks that would satisfy our craving without the expensive trips to coffee shops, and where we had more control over the calories. But I was never really satisfied with the flavor, texture or richness with any of my homemade concoctions. Until we learned about cold-brewed coffee, which only seems to be a secret to a now-shrinking number ofyankees.

This method is said to produce a smoother iced coffee, with less acid and a little less caffeine. That means you can enjoy it more if you’re sensitive to either the acid or caffeine. And if you like caffeine, no problem — it produces a concentrate, so you can adjust the strength to your needs.

Coffee Concentrate Recipe

  • 1/2 lb of ground coffee (I’ve been using coffee that says it’s for espresso, which usually means it’s a dark roast and a very fine grind, but use whatever you like. Cafedu Monde coffee with chickory came out really great. A regular or coarse brew is easier to filter and decant later. YMMV)
  • 5 cups of cool water (if your tap water is drinkable, that should be fine. If not, filter it.)
  • A covered container that will hold both comfortably
  • A mesh strainer of some kind
  • A container which will hold 3 + cups of liquid

Put 1/2 pound of ground coffee into your container. Pour the water over the coffee. Stir to moisten all the coffee.

Let it sit 8-12 hours.

Pour your mixture through the strainer and reserve the liquid2. Discard the grounds. There still may be some fine particles in the concentrate. You can decant it a few times to remove this gunk, according to your preference. This produces 3 cups of concentrate, which you store in the fridge.

To drink, you will need to dilute this concentrate to a desired strength. In my estimation, this stuff is somewhat more concentrated than espresso. About 1 part concentrate to 2 parts water or milk is good, but this will vary wildly by your preference.

This method made me realize that cooked coffee with ice in it is a complete blasphemy. And once you’ve got this fresh concentrate on hand, you can whip up an iced coffee any time. Ir a coffee smoothie. Or back coffee-flavored pastries. Or whatever.


part 2 - coming soon

If you like coffee (and why would you read this far if you didn’t) you owe it to yourself to give this a shot, since it’s so damned easy.

The great news for me is that now I can enjoy iced coffee all the time, cheaply. The better news is that with less acid this stuff is easier on the tummy. But the bad news is that now I’m addicted to coffee again. It only got worse when I got my AeroPress, which I’ll discuss in Part 2.


  • Real Iced Coffee; WaPo
    • I linked to this before; this is where I first discovered cold brew.
  • Coffee Without the Heat; MSNBC
    • Author claims cold brew has less acid and caffeine, and indeed their cold brew tested at a higher pH than hot brew.
  • Cold Brew On The Cheap
    • This guy has built a cheap system to make cold brewing easier. You can buy cold brew gadgets, but why pay?
  • Coffee Concentrator; How To Brew
    • Here’s a negative opinion. This guy hates the cold brew, and he’s using a gadget designed for the process. I don’t know what he did wrong, but just using a bowl works great for us.
  • Recipe; NYT
    • This recipe has slightly different amounts, but the same result. And they claim you can use the concentrate to make hot coffee. I don’t doubt it. Since the stuff wasn’t ruined by cooking it the first time, I think a quick heating up to 160 degrees in the microwave won’t damage it.

1 Say you spend $4/day on your favorite menu item at Starbucks or wherever (you’ll pay more than that for some selections) by the end of the year you’ll have spent $1,460. You’re drinking two laptops per year. Even if I buy somewhat-expensive beans at the supermarket at $8/lb, using the concentrate method I got a pound to last me 2 weeks. That’s $416, or less than a third of the cost. And I’ve made my coffee concentrate with $5 coffee on sale for $2.50 and it tasted great.

2 You might be thinking at this point “Why not use a French Press to filter the coffee?” That’s what I thought, too. But it just didn’t work that well for me (especially trying to prepare so much concentrate at once) and then I had to clean the press, which is not as easy as cleaning a strainer and a metal bowl. Feel free to try this yourself, though and let me know how it goes.

Posted by James at November 29, 2007 1:08 PM
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I genrally brew my coffee every day. My favorite way to have coffee is plain hot coffee so no need to cold brew. The only time I do iced coffee is if I have some left over brewed or if I'm out and happen to need a drink on a hot summer day. I did try the cold brewed coffee last summer and it was good but for me not worth the trouble.

Your example of the costs of coffee shop coffee is a favorite of mine when people tell me their drugs cost too much. I ask if they go to Starbuck/DD/etc every day and ask how much they spend on a cup of coffee. Most often they are complaining about a maintenance drug that they have to take everyday. I generally use a coffee cost of $2 since that would be more in line with plain coffee as opposed to what I like to call a "foofy" coffee drink. That equates to about $40 a month (assuming workdays only). Most people's copays are lower than that for a month's supply of drugs or at least in the same ballpark.

Then I ask which do they think is harder to make a drug or a cup of coffee. If I hand someone the raw materials for coffee (beans/water) almost anybody can make it. If I hand someone the raw materials for something as simple as asprin they are going to be lost without specialize training.

Finally I ask which one is more important to them their coffee or their health.

Whoops, I just realized I kind of hijaked this topic and considered not posting it but hell I spent too long writing it so I'll just apologize.

Sorry :(

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 29, 2007 1:38 PM

by the way, I too used a french press and found it left a lot of sediment (it does this for hot coffee too). you are supposed to use a very coarse grind in the french press and I tend to grind for drip so it goes through the screen. I'd probably try to set up a funnel with a coffee filter if i did the cold brew again.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 29, 2007 1:41 PM

Even easier than using a bowl - get a cylidrical tupperware container with a pour lid or a tupperware pitcher. Put the concentrate and water in the container. Put the top on. Shake.

Later you can easily pour it through the filter into another tupperware cylidrical shaker or pitcher to put in the fridge. Less muss than I picture a bowl process would be, but then I'm not very coordinated. As a plus, if you use a lidded container nothing will get into the coffee while it's "brewing" like dust or fruit flies or whatever.


Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at November 29, 2007 2:26 PM

Bob, you need your own blog. ;-) "Frustrations of a pharmaceutical chemist." The other day somebody was kind of trolling for me to help her with her website. "I looked into professionals, but it's so expensive." Grrrr.

MJ, our bowls have lids, and I'm not very coordinated either, and sometimes I spill. Thanks for the suggestion.

Posted by: Maggie at November 29, 2007 5:06 PM

I agree with you but I need computer access at home 1st. I don't think blogging at work would go over too well. It's bad enough I spend as much time as I do reading them.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at November 30, 2007 8:12 AM

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