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Let us sing of cold-brewed nectar...
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jducoeur
My relationship with coffee is long-standing.

I'm a second-generation programmer, and Dad has been a foodie since long before anybody used that term. The consequence is that, when I started working for him at age 14 or so, one of the first things I learned was to appreciate (and properly make) good Columbian coffee. It wasn't as fancy as the stuff we get routinely nowadays, but it was the best you could get at the time, strong and tasty: coffee as beverage, rather than simply as a tool.

I never got truly addicted to the stuff as some of my friends did (one of my more vivid memories of Judy in college was of her building a line of coffee cups around the edge of her breakfast tray), but I certainly drank it regularly enough, and thought little of it. I was a programmer, and coffee was practically a ritual requirement. That continued through my 20s and into my 30s without my really thinking about it. But before I was 25, the problems started.

The first time, I was probably all of 23 -- we were in our first apartment, so certainly not more than 25 -- when chest pain sent me to the ER. It was pretty terrifying at the time, not much less so because the doctors could find absolutely nothing wrong. This pattern recurred, once every year or two, for at least ten years: there were a bunch of EKGs that came back utterly normal, and a lot of stress for me.

Finally, we changed insurance companies, and got a new (and vastly more competent) PCP by the name of Mary Brogan. The next time it happened, Dr. Brogan's response was basically, "You've got reflux. This isn't exactly surprising, given your habits. Let's see if some Prilosec deals with this." *Poof*, the problem went away. At which point, she started trying to get me to change my habits. The three likely triggers she identified were orange juice, overeating, and coffee. Of course, I promised myself that I'd work on all three -- but of course, changing habit is hard, and it took years to even start on the OJ.

As for the coffee, it probably took me ten years to really take that seriously, but once I started to experiment, it was screamingly obvious: any coffee at all was taking a significant chance, and anything after noon almost guaranteed me a painful night. Grumpily, I began turning myself into a tea geek, and weaning myself off the stuff.

This year, however, two things have changed. First, I started a serious (and probably permanent) diet -- everything else aside, I need to lose a good deal of weight and keep it off. Monitoring my food has finally gotten my eating under control -- and Dr. Brogan has again been proven correct, in that the reflux (and my need for Prilosec) mostly vanished within a week. This has pretty much given me a new gold standard for the concept of self-inflicted "first world problem".

Second, in idle conversation the other month, dsrtao (I think it was) mentioned the idea of cold-brewed coffee. The concept was very surprising, mostly because I had proven from experience that trying to brew tea with no heat input simply fails. But a little research came up with lots of agreement: you can brew coffee by simply soaking it at room temperature for 10-24 hours. The resulting coffee is very different -- significantly less bitter, but more relevantly to me, 70% less acidic.

Mind, I have no idea if that 70% number has any scientific basis. (It is oft-parroted online, but that proves nothing.) But anecdotally, the important finding is that cold-brewed coffee just plain doesn't set off my reflux, at least in moderation. The results come out super-strong, flavorful but mellow -- it demands dilution, so it makes fabulous iced coffee. And while the process requires a lot of patience, that helps reinforce the moderation: I can't just whip out a batch in ten minutes, so I make about one pot a week and dole it out slowly. It almost becomes a meditation exercise, tending the french press for a day, stirring occasionally as the coffee strengthens.

It's going to supplement the tea, rather than replacing it -- a few cups of coffee a week pales next to the quart of tea a day. But it is delightful to be able to rediscover an old favorite, in a new form that, aside from the patience required, is better in pretty much every respect...

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Hmm... I regularly cold-brew tea, but I tend to drink it cold also when I do it that way. The key factor seems to be presence of light.

Interesting -- I've never found light alone to be sufficient. My experience is that sun tea works quite well in the summer (and I'm quite fond of that), but just plain fails in the winter: I've never succeeded in getting anywhere with it...

It never gets overly dark, but that may be a function of how much I'm using. I tend to make it by the gallon, as at least one of my kids likes it and it is far better for them (and me) than soda or even juices. What are the characteristics you see in the failures?

Simply that not much happens. Mind, I like my tea pretty strong -- my preference for iced is a powerful Hoji-cha, and I like it about the color of a brown ale. With summer sun, I can get that in about three hours, but otherwise I've never had much luck getting anywhere near enough flavor, even with quite a lot of tea used...

It may be, then, that I'm not going for as strong a cup as you.

Could be. But this is why the cold-brewed coffee was a surprise for me -- it comes out *crazy* strong after 10 hours, enough so that I typically dilute it 50%...

There may be more per teaspoon/ounce to extract in coffee. With the tea I let it go for 5-6 hours maximum.

Alas, my source for hoji-cha quit manufacturing it (or distributing it) in bottled form and more annoyingly, they discontinued the leaf form, too. They do have a dark green tea from ITOEN that is close to what you describe, but the roasted flavor of the hoji-cha was a passable substitute for coffee when I changed my caffeine intake from coffee to green tea.

I actually started with Ito-En -- specifically, the Tea's Teas version of Hoji-Cha was what got me into green tea in the first place. (Before they cut the Hoji and Genmai from their line, and replaced them with more Americanized blends.) Their dark green is good, and is one of my stand-bys, but it's a far cry from the smoky flavor of good Hoji.

And nowadays I prefer to make my own, both for economic and environmental reasons. Drinking bottled tea wastes a *ton* of plastic, and it costs OMG a lot in the quantities I like the stuff. So I buy a bottle if I'm buying it with lunch, but I stock homemade at home.

My standard source for Hoji these days is Amazon, frankly -- I buy it pretty much by the pound there. I've found that Yamamotoyama makes several quite credible varieties, and I always have some on hand. (The link is to the stuff I usually buy nowadays.) But I use a lot less of it in the cold months, when sun tea doesn't work...

Cool. Thanks for the link. I've cut back on the bottled tea for the same reasons you describe, but I still pick up the occasional bottle for the sake of convenience.

And thanks to this post on cold-brewed coffee, I picked up a bag of coffee beans as part of my last store run. I probably shouldn't have done it, because I am supposed to be lowering my caffeine intake on general principles.

Yeah, I have no idea what the caffeine content of cold-brewed is, but there's certainly some kick to it. (I'm sensitive to this point, because my lady has a severe physical intolerance of caffeine...)

This is wonderful information. I'm going to try making some.

I'm a little surprised that cold-brewed coffee was news to you so recently, as I've been evangelizing for it for 25 years now. Including making it at Pennsic: Crooked Cat, back when Tibicen and I were running it, has to have been one of few camps that drew many morning visitors.

Yeah, I can see that it would be great for Pennsic use. My experience with coffee at Pennsic was mostly pre-made and frozen solid, pouring it off each morning as it melted...

I am a current denizen of Crook'd Cat, and the only coffee drinker as far as I can tell. How exactly did you cold-brew coffee at Pennsic? I currently walk two blocks to the Beast and Boar every morning to get my free refill. I add my own creamer: Irish. It would be nice if I could get coffee without having to leave camp.

It's easy stuff to make, and would work well at Pennsic. The key, I would guess, is a french press -- while not required, it makes it much easier.

Start with pre-ground coffee, which is easy to bring to Pennsic. How much coffee you use depends on the size of the press: I use about half a cup of grounds for a bit less than 32 oz of water, so it wants a good deal of grounds. (Still a lot cheaper than buying coffee made, though.)

Combine the water and coffee in the carafe, stir to mix, and cover. (I just cover it with the press itself, unpressed.)

Let sit 10-24 hours, stirring occasionally.

Press out the grounds. You now have a goodly amount of essentially coffee concentrate, which can be diluted to taste, and either add ice or heat over the fire depending on the weather.

It keeps quite well -- certainly at least a week in the fridge, and I'd expect at least a few days unrefrigerated. (But obviously, very tightly sealed to keep the ants out.)

Happy to have been of service!

Having similar issues to yours, I tried the cold-brewed coffee trick this summer, and I'm sorry to report that while it tasted less bitter than it usually would, it still messed up my guts just as badly as regular coffee. I'm thinking that my problem is a combination of acids with caffeine; sometimes I can drink decaf, but usually I just stick with tea. YMMV, of course, and it sounds as if it does. (Sensitive digestive tracts suck sometimes...)

Time to break out the litmus strips and see if we can better quantify the reduction in acidity....


What, that wasn't your first reaction?

Heh. Yes, in fact, I did turn to Kate the next day and say something like, "Hmm. I could get myself a home chemistry set and actually compare the acidity properly!" Which garnered a patient, "Yes, dear", and a pat on the head...

It may please you to know that when I suggested getting litmus strips for measuring the acidity of various beverages, I was similarly patted on the head by lifecollage.

That's an excellent bit of info! Thank you! I've got a reflux sufferer in the house.

(Like you, I discovered that once I lost weight, my reflux problems pretty much vanished. But my man's 150 pounds soaking wet, so I doubt weight's at the root of his problem.)

Yeah, I know a fair number of folks who have much more genuine digestive issues. It was ruefully amusing to discover how utterly self-inflicted mine were, though...

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