Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer survival: The best iced coffee

Hot weather and I have a special relationship. I hate it. It hates me.

That's what happens when you grow up in a sub-tropical zone like South Florida without air conditioning. Yes, without air conditioning. Didn't have it in my parents' house. Didn't have it in the cheap apartments I could afford when I moved out on my own.

Remember that scene in "Body Heat," where Kathleen Turner and William Hurt loll in a bathtub floating with ice cubes? Been there (truly -- I lived in Lake Worth, where it was filmed) and done that. The ice cubes in the bathtub part, not the William Hurt part.

I learned a lot of ways to survive in those days: Always keep the vodka bottle in the freezer. Hold a plastic bag of ice cubes on your neck if you get really desperate.

And iced coffee. Learn to love iced coffee. I still have a passion for the stuff.

Sadly, though, good iced coffee can be hard to find. Hot-brewed coffee that sits out until it's cold doesn't cut it. It's bitter, or it sits on the burner too long and gets that rank old-coffee taste. Iced coffee deserves more respect.

Last year, the Internet world popped a new one up for me: Cold-brewed coffee, based on a recipe that started several years ago in the New York Times Sunday magazine. It's coffee that is specifically made for iced coffee. Not bitter, not watered-down.

It's easy to make enough to last several days, it takes practically no work -- and it's a whole lot cheaper than daily coffeeshop stops. Sweetening it might be a problem, since sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold water. Since I drink all coffee unsweetened, I can't really say. If you keep simple syrup around, that would probably do the trick.

I discovered it late last summer, too late to share here. Now that warm water has returned with such a vengeance, it's time. You're going to need it.

Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

With thanks to the New York Times and a bunch of web sites.

2/3 cup ground coffee
3 cups cold water, plus more for finishing
Ice cubes
Whatever you take in your coffee

Place the ground coffee in a pitcher or bowl. Cover with 3 cups water. Let stand at room temperature for 12 hours or overnight.
Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the coffee into a small bottle or pitcher. (Here is where I split with the other sources. Some suggest a double-straining method, using a sieve and then a coffee filter or cheesecloth to get the last bits of ground coffee. A single straining works fine for me, because any ground coffee left in the mix will settle to the bottom and can be avoided. Up to you.)
Refrigerate the mix until you need it. To use it, pour equal amounts coffee and water over ice. (Use less water if you like, but remember that the coffee mixture is very strong.) If you really want to get fancy, you could also make a batch of ice cubes out of it, but that's more trouble than I can handle in summer.
Add whatever you need (while I usually drink coffee black, I do like a little skim milk in iced coffee).
Drink. Feel cooler.


Tony DiCorpo said...

Hot water can cause over extraction, which in turn can cause coffee to become bitter when it sits too long so by the time is is ready for iced coffee it tastes like $h*t! You are right to cold brew with a coarse grind, works perfect all the time! Salud!

Julie said...

Kathleen, I could not agree more with you about hot weather. I have a hate/hate relationship with it as well. THANK YOU for posting this potentially life-saving recipe!