A history of cold brew coffee
Despite its recent accolades, and new found fame over the last decade, cold brew coffee is anything but new. In fact, there is hefty heritage behind the brew, which is probably going to make it an even cooler coffee than it already is.
Cold brew coffee: a more recent history
Of course, if you love coffee, you will have heard the beat of the cold brew coffee drum dancing across the Atlantic, some time ago. However, whilst the U.S seemed to have conquered cold brew, in the UK, it has not yet taken off.
Eventually, once the U.S revealed its annual cold brew growth figures, (+370% growth in 2017, according to Statista), the UK decided to accommodate the cold brew trend into its own coffee climate.
It wasn’t just the hard hitting stats which prompted a push for cold brew; its versatility also played a part. The ability to serve it stand alone, nitro or as a mixer in a cocktail opened up new avenues for businesses. Plus, cold brew’s obvious health benefits were an instant hit with its consumers, often selecting it as an alternative to sugary, fizzy drinks.
Today, the UK coffee culture is booming. Thanks to technology and speciality coffees, coffee has become a socialising tool and is the reason why many pubs, bars and restaurants have begun to expand their coffee operations. These modern factors gave cold brew coffee more opportunities to grow in popularity…and it has. But it’s still not a new thing.
Cold brew coffee has been brewing for centuries
First and foremost, cold brew coffee is not iced coffee. There is a difference.
The above confusion is probably why there’s varying arguments about the history of cold brew coffee. Although there are multiple references to cold coffee in the archives, it’s the methodology behind it which quantifies it as cold brew coffee – not just the temperature.
Throughout the history books, the claim to the cold brew coffee crown produces two main, yet very different, suspects: the Dutch and the Japanese.
Who brewed it first?
During your research, you may have uncovered a style called Kyoto from Japan. Originating back to the 1600s, evidence suggests that the Japanese were well versed in Kyoto; creating super-concentrated, turbo-charged coffee by taking ground coffee, submerging it in cold water and leaving it to distill for hours on end.
Despite this, the Dutch may disagree. They believe their sailors influenced the Japanese in the realm of cold brew, as they used it as a way to preserve and store caffeine during their long journeys.
Either way, cold brew coffee became a creative concept, and the fascination in how it could be made encapsulated each culture it came across.
What happened next?
Kyoto style cold brew became admirably artistic; not in its presentation but its process. Elegant towers were built using various materials and design, intriguing observers. The idea was to meticulously allow each bead of water to drip down the tower and pass through coffee grounds creating a spectacle and aura around the cold brew.
Like many things in the 17th and 18th centuries, they were overly designed, somewhat unnecessary, but extremely desirable. With passing trade, cold brew eventually reached wider shores, spreading to the Americas. The Peruvians, in particular, are said to have set the bar for cold brew coffee brewing methods.
When more pressing times arrived, in the 19th century, cold brew coffee became less of a luxury and more of a provision. It was used in the military and experimented with all over the world. The Americans, Brits & Scots were all championing Camp Coffee (a concentrated down coffee ready to add water and consume.)
However, it wasn’t until the swinging sixties that cold brew broke through on a consumer level and became more commercialised.
Cold Brew Coffee – Commercialised.
Todd Simpson was inspired by a botanical trip to Peru and quickly became an advocate for the less acidic, sweeter flavours cold brew produced. It was this that resulted in the birth of the Toddy (a device adapted for cold brewing coffee at home.)
Intriguingly, it’s only been over the last decade in which cold brew coffee has dramatically enhanced its profile. In 2015, when Starbucks added cold brew to their menu, across thousands of its stores, it cemented that cold brew had officially become cool in the eyes of coffee connoisseurs – and that’s without knowing the heritage. Did they think cold brew coffee had come out of nowhere? It’s not like it was a new thing, just because Starbucks added it to their menu.
Cold brew coffee today
The truth is, today’s cold brew coffee obsession, is a culmination of an experimental history, modern technology and a new-age society who like to try new things. Although, As we’ve discovered, cold brew coffee is not a new invention; it’s just been upcycled. For all we know, before a time of electricity, and when making a fire was too much to ask, cold brewing may have been the standard.
Of course, we’re just delighted that people are re-discovering the joys of cold brew coffee in different forms. Whether that’s once again drip fed through a Kyoto tower, pressurised through a nitro tap, or brewed in oxygen-free conditions, the preparation and serving of it is open to interpretation. This interpretation is clear, with so many variations on the methodology and final product
Cold brew coffee competition
Cold brew coffee companies are cropping up as frequently as coffee plants are being cropped, making the cold brew coffee market red hot but crowded. So, to survive, you’re going to have to stand out.
It has to be said, the themes and concepts, along with their packaging, are testing the creative elite and churning out some great results. Although it’s not just the brewing companies who are in competition, as they are contending with coffee enthusiasts searching the term ‘how to make cold brew’. However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, just ask Todd Simpson.
How cool is cold brew coffee?
Ask a millennial or a GenZ-er and they’ll tell you it’s bang on trend. And it is. But imagine being able to arm yourself with the knowledge from this article as to why cold brew coffee is so cool.
Surely, everybody’s cold brew coffee experience would be even more enjoyable knowing that the roots of it can be traced back through history to Japan, Latin America and Europe?
By all means, embrace the new cold brew coffee craze but embrace it with the knowledge that it’s not new thing and indulge it the heritage. Everybody likes a know-it-all, after all!