25 May 2009

slinging hash: iced coffee

I love coffee in any form, but as weather has warmed, my thoughts, and my palate, have turned to iced coffee.

Last summer, we took a real vacation, all five of us, and went to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Portland, Oregon. How I loved that city. Although surprisingly (to my younger self), I am quite happy living in New Jersey, were the opportunity to arise, I would jump at the chance to move there.

Within minutes of stepping foot in the city, my children needed to use the bathroom, and we were all hungry, so we wandered into one of the first places we passed. It was a strange amalgam of cafe/video arcade (whose name I can't remember) in the Pearl District, that seems to thrive in a city like Portland.

This place looked like a perpetual work in progress, but in a good way. It was a large, cavernous space, part of which was cordoned off with drop cloths, behind which carpenters were noisily working. A bank of bloggers were huddled in one area doing their thing. There was good work by local painters and photographers for sale on the walls. There was a gaming room in the back, but instead of housing arcade games, there was a bank of ancient computers, where people came to play old-school video games. Oh, and they also had a computer repair shop, which if memory serves, (and this would make sense), specialized in fixing outmoded computers. As I said, only in Portland.

They served a combination of hippie food, pizza, and this being Portland, coffee. And here, I had one of the most delicious cups of iced coffee in my life. It was so good, I had to ask how they made it. First, they used Stumptown Coffee, but, they told me, it was Toddy coffee. Which meant it was cold-brewed.

Cold-brewed coffee results in a concentrate, which you dilute to your taste. The reason it is so delicious, apparently, is that cold-brewing produces a brew with significantly less acid. The coffee is smooth, and slightly sweet, with smoky, chocolaty nuances. (It also results in coffee with less caffeine, which, as David asked as he set up a pot last night, Why would anybody want to do that?)

If you really love the taste of coffee, as I do, you will be happy drinking this black. It does not need any cream, or sugar.

I'd forgotten about cold-brewed coffee, something I'd made myself in years past after reading about it in the dining section of the New York Times. I'd abandoned it because although it truly made the most delicious coffee I'd ever had, and it was not hard to make, was messy, and slightly fussy.

All you do is mix coarsely ground coffee and water and let it sit in a large vessel overnight. The next day, you filter, and voila!

Only, the voila, is not so-simple a dramatic flourish. It is a real pain in the ass. In my case, I used a large Pyrex measuring cup. You filter twice through a coffee filter, or a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. I found there was no way to keep this neat, and although I ended up with a delicious coffee concentrate, my kitchen counter, and sometimes the floor as well, always ended up covered in a slush of wet coffee grounds. That I was willing to do this, even for a short while, shows you the lengths to which an addict will go to get their fix.

But our trip reminded me that cold-brewed coffee is so very good, and I did not want to be without it ever again. When we came home from Portland, although I tend to eschew single-use kitchen appliances, I ordered a Toddy coffee maker. To call the Toddy an appliance is slightly misleading, because it is merely a giant filter basket with a large drip hole in the bottom. You place the dampened filter, which is something like a coarse sponge, in the bottom of the basket, plug the underside with the rubber stopper, fill it with a mixture of coffee and water, and let it sit. The Toddy also comes with a carafe, and in the morning, you simply place the (heavy) filter basket on the carafe, remove the plug, and let it rip.

And while it is a bit slow to drain, the voila, while still not dramatic, is infinitely neater.

So coffee lovers, go forth and cold-brew! Buy yourself a Toddy, or grab a large glass vessel and brace yourself for a mess. (Here is the link to the recipe from the New York Times.) You will be the most-popular girl on the block, the hostess with the mostest, because, in my experience, very few people will refuse a delicious cup of iced-coffee.


  1. hmmmm. i remember reading that article in the times and wanting to try it.

    i am sure to make a mess first and buy the toddy-maker later.


  2. Nixie: And now, I know what to get you for your wedding!