French Press Cold-Brew Coffee Concentrate + Coffee Ice Cubes
All but silent in the summer, the blue jays are banding together in family units to (noisily) mark feeding territories and prepare for the lean months. The morning air is filled with their chorus of whirrs and whistles, jeers and gurgles. Some are put off by these yammering hoarders. I’m actually quite partial to their presence as a nod to our Midwest home and to the coming change of seasons.
To the less bird-aware, a more easily recognized sign is the later rise and earlier setting of the sun. These harbingers are more prevalent with every passing week, hinting that crisp, clear days are on the horizon. Though here, the hints are only in my dreams, and it’s still really hot. Really, annoyingly, hot.
Seeing that our temperatures aren’t Autumnal in the slightest, cold-brew coffee over ice is a must.
It’s a common misconception that iced and cold-brew coffees refer to the same beverage. Iced coffee is brewed hot then refrigerated until cool or poured over mountains of ice. Cold-brew involves a long, slow infusion of grounds in water done at room temperature (or sometimes chilled) — no heat.
Icing hot coffee is perfectly acceptable, but cold-brewing enhances the natural sweetness of the coffee beans, reduces the acidity and mellows the bitterness, resulting in a smooth, bright cup. The best part — its magic works while you sleep. And as an added bonus, cold-brews can keep up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Make a large batch to have when you want it, or freeze extra into delicious coffee ice cubes for drinks or smoothies!
A French press is the perfect one-tool steeping and filtration system. We use it year-round to stock the fridge with cold-brew concentrate, as my husband’s coffee preferences transcend what’s happening beyond these walls, but I also give in to its traditional hot-brewing methods in winter. A truly double-duty tool in our kitchen. If you don’t own a French press, a good basic model should cost no more than $25. Then again, all you really need for cold-brew are: two large jars, bowls, pitchers, or one of each; a sieve; and some cheesecloth, muslin cloth, or even paper towels.
It goes without saying that the most important ingredient in this technique is the coffee. Great coffee, whether it’s hot, cold, iced, or somewhere in between, begins with great beans. Any roast will work, but we prefer medium-dark to dark, and always grind, very coarsely, just before brewing.
Sources vary in terms of suggested water to coffee ratio (from as little as 3:1 to 12:1 or greater), and infusion times range from 10 to 24 hours — all depending on how high-octane you like your concentrate. Because the process generally uses a higher proportion of coffee grounds than hot-brewing methods, cold-brew contains, on average, slightly more caffeine. As you will see in the “recipe” below, our preference is a 4:1 water to coffee ratio, hovering between 12 and 16 hours at rest.
What’s in it for me?
For negligible calories (about 2 per 8 fl oz), coffee is surprisingly rich in antioxidants, and is considered one of the greatest sources in the American diet, given the amount many of us consume on a daily basis. Other perks of coffee, thanks mostly in part to that antioxidant abundance, include improved alertness, focus, mood and endurance, and potential benefits on a variety of conditions including migraines, gallstones, and diabetes.
Research shows that in addition to temporary boosts to brain function, regular coffee consumption throughout life may offer protection from age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. A recent National Cancer Institute study found that caffeine and certain antioxidant polyphenols in coffee may minimize growth of cancer cells caused by UVB radiation damage. Results of this trial linked daily intake of at least 4 cups of caffeinated coffee (compared to those who drank none) with an up to 20% decreased risk of the deadliest skin cancer, malignant melanoma.
Over ice with a generous slosh of milk helps beat the heat, and is my husband’s clear favorite. He often turns it into an on-the-go breakfast, whizzed up with a banana and some raw cashews or chia seeds in the blender. Once the temperatures actually dip, my go-to is equal parts concentrate and water heated in the microwave and topped with homemade nut or seed milk and a dusting of cinnamon.
Our cold-brew and cubes require planning ahead, but the smooth, rich concentrate amped up, not watered down, by coffee ice make the extra steps so worth it… and make our protracted summers much more bearable.
Sip slowly and enjoy, Heather
Tell me… What is your *perfect* cup of coffee?
- 16 Tbsp (roughly 85 grams, or 3 ounces) coarsely ground coffee (often referred to as a French press grind)
- 3 1/2 c (28 fluid ounces) cold water, preferably filtered
- Cold-Brew Coffee Ice Cubes (recipe below)
- COLD-BREW COFFEE CONCENTRATE: Add the ground coffee to the French press. Pour the water over top to fully saturate the grounds, until the mixture comes up to the metal ring, about 3 cups (24 fl oz).
- Place the lid on top, with the plunger in the up position so the grounds have freedom to move around and infuse the water. Set the French press aside on the counter for 12 to 15 hours; we generally prepare ours around supper time, then let it steep overnight.
- The next morning, gently push down on the plunger to separate the coffee from the grounds. You might have to press, release, then press again if the grind was too small -- DO NOT force it down if there is a lot of resistance, as this could send coffee shooting out of the spout, or worse, shatter the glass!
- In a mug or tall glass filled with coffee ice cubes (or regular ice), pour over cold-brew concentrate and water or milk at your desired ratio. I usually do 1:1 with water, splashing in a generous amount of homemade nut/seed milk or regular whole milk to top it off. To make a hot coffee, dilute the cold-brew concentrate 1:1 with water in a mug, and microwave on high for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes.
- Transfer any unused coffee concentrate to a carafe or large jar, and store in the refrigerator. Due to its lower acidity, the cold-brew will keep chilled for approximately 2-3 weeks.
- COLD-BREW ICE CUBES: Pour cold-brew coffee concentrate into plastic or silicone ice cube tray(s). Set the tray(s) inside a rimmed baking tray, and place in the freezer at least 3 to 4 hours or overnight. Remove the cubes from the ice cube trays, and serve with your cold-brew coffee or other favorite drink (see HGN Notes for ideas). Transfer any extras immediately to a large zipper-top plastic bag, and freeze up to 6 months.
To make the concentrate without a French press, add the grounds and water to a large jar, plastic container, or bowl with a pour spout. Cover loosely with a tea towel or piece of cheesecloth, and set aside to rest as indicated in the recipe. When ready, place a sieve lined with another piece of cheesecloth, a piece of muslin cloth, or even a paper towel, over a wide-mouthed jar or bowl, and decant the coffee through. Refrigerate in the jar, if using, or pour from bowl into a jar or carafe for storage.
+ Beyond iced cold-brew coffee, these cubes could play well in cold white or chocolate milk, or in a caffeinated morning smoothie with banana and a protein like milk, yogurt, nuts or seeds.
+ Feeling spirited? Place in a glass and pour over some Bailey's or Egg Nog, serve with a chilled cocktail like a White Russian, or blend into a spiked milkshake or ice cream shake.
+ Mix the cold-brew concentrate to taste with a dash of pure vanilla, pure almond or pure maple extract, or whisk in some unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon or nutmeg, before pouring into the ice cube trays and freezing.
+ Or make adult ice cubes by adding a splash of your favorite liqueur to the concentrate before freezing!
Recipe adapted from The New York Times.
*Note: Research shows that women who are planning to become pregnant, are currently pregnant, or are nursing can safely consume up to 300 mg caffeine (about 24 fl oz brewed coffee or 7 espresso shots) per day without negative effects to fertility, to an ongoing pregnancy, or to breastmilk supply. The same goes for men and fertility.
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