Hot Topic: Iced Coffee – Toddy, and How I Make It
Last week I had arrived to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus with one goal only: to bike to Giant Coffee, drink Giant-brewed Four-Barrel-roasted gold-in-a-cup, and gun it back to campus by my class which would start promptly at noon.
I ended up making it by 12:04 – which I dismiss as a reflection of my priorities.
However, it’s the experience that led up to class and not the effect of tardiness it had that makes this story noteworthy.
I walked in to Giant, home of Phoenix’s best air conditioning system which, perhaps, is by design in the way it reflects a cool bay-area breeze I might pick up if I were standing outside of San Fransisco’s very own Four Barrel Coffee.
Normally their a/c would talk me into hot-brewed coffee (an easy win anywhere and anyhow, anyways) but today my exercise of choice needed me to drink cold – dairy being out of the question. They don’t serve hot coffee over ice, which I’d come to heavily prefer over what I ended up ordering; a glass of toddy. But alas, to my surprise, it wasn’t just the “decent” grade I’d usually slap it with – it was delicious.
Toddy is coffee brewed cold – a process where coarse grounds sit fully immersed in water for 24 hours (though, times will vary based on who you’re talking to). A little bit of science: when brewed with hot water coffee becomes acidic (ever had a cup of coffee that’s being kept on a heat source after brewing? It’s called heart burn) and when it’s brewed cold for an extended length of time the end result is a neutral in acidity, aside from what’s inherent in the type of bean. It’s a full-bodied, smooth, and cold glass of coffee.
But what some call smooth and lacking in acidity, I thought, tasted that way because it had traded in acidity for a dull, astringent taste. It’s like the coffee had lost all of it’s juice. Or elbow grease. Or gas. Or It’s… -er, well yeah – chemically speaking it’s lost it’s gas.
But there was a severe scientific misstep in my toddy thinking – the toddy I was ordering at shops tasted such a way not because of the brew method itself, but because it was a blend of beans that were too old.
Let me explain: coffee shops across the nation have gotten into a mindset that they should use beans that are too far out from their roast dates for shop use (meaning they’ve chemically and preferably lost too much of the gas that’s built up in the bean from the roasting process) to create toddy that ends up being a blend of not only their de-gassed single origin (coming from the same farm) beans, but sometimes their slightly more darkly roasted espresso and their decaf beans as well. They do so for very smart reasons: because cold-brewing is less sensitive to gas build down, it dramatically cuts down on shop waste (saving them money in the form of revenue as well), it’s incredibly easy to make and serve, and because the general public seems to really like it.
However, I don’t think the average person, amazed by it’s smooth lack of acidity, knows any better. Yet. And how could they? Neither did I until very recently.
Just like our great nation itself, toddy cold-brew coffee started back East. Or, at least east of the West Coast – look no further than the Big Easy. Recipes for syrupy coffee concentrates, New York Times coffee journalist Oliver Strand says, run thick in the city’s history. A simple formula to follow: summer = toddy.
But iced coffee up until around 2007 in every other part of the country, says Scottsdale barista Alex Mason, was still just simply iced, strongly brewed hot coffee – sometimes now referred to as Japanese-style iced coffee.
Alex Mason, while raised in Phoenix and currently local in Scottsdale, – earned his coffee stripes and learned iced coffee in Our Nation’s Capital, working for Murky Coffee while schooling at Georgetown. “Being summer in a hot, humid, climate we were making iced coffee on the reg. The instructions were pretty simple: Use the amount of coffee you’d use for a full batch Fetco (urn) of coffee, fill the urn with ice, and brew it as a half batch over ice,” said Mason. “I absolutely loved it.”
And Strand (who in 2007 was still writing for the times under the surname Schwaner-Albright) would tell you the same; toddy was virtually unheard of in the big East Coast cities like New York.
“When Japanese Iced Coffee is done well (like all things, it too can be botched), I think it follows the guidelines of what specialty coffee is always aiming for: brightness, clarity, and individuality amongst coffees. A good, well brewed iced coffee can be as clear, bright, and unique and as a well as brewed hot coffee brought down to 90 degrees,” explained Mason. “These flavors are so pronounced I have often used the iced coffee to help me pick out the specific notes of a coffee I am having trouble cupping.”
Back to my toddy from Giant Coffee and why it was so delicious. When I’d sipped it I tasted fresh brightness and citrus fruit, rasberry flavors – in such a way that had been untainted by an aged, astringent taste I’d normally associate with toddy. It was their Guatemala Antigua Pompeya and I’d drank it hot at Giant just a few days beforehand. I asked the barista who was working if he knew what beans had been used in the current batch of toddy – he nonchalantly (perhaps not grasping the gravity of the situation) told me that it was probably mostly (if not all) the Guatemalan they’d had on drip just a few days ago and that they’d been going through toddy so quickly they were needed to use freshly roasted coffee they’d normally use for drip.
It was freshly roasted, freshly brewed, majorly single-origin toddy.
But, just to make sure, I set out to see if clarity and brightness and individuality could be attained through the cold-brew method. Here’s my process.
Bolivia Irupana: While it was brewed as a single-origin, and tasted like a vegetable medley like I’ve had it brewed hot, it lacked a pop – the brightness I’m assuming had been lost by the coffee which had sat for a month. The flavors were still there – but I’d rather turn a cold shoulder to this and strive for something better.
Nicaragua Finca La Vida Joven: Bright-ish, sweet, balanced how it should be. And it tastes like melon to me. However, being roughly two weeks past the roast date (the usual cut-off for selling single-origin coffee within a shop setting) it’s still dull, though it’s redeeming factor is it’s individual flavors. It’s good.
Guatemala La Perla: Straight up incredible. Having been roasted just a day before I bought it, I’d brewed it hot by drip V60 just recently and I tasted bright, vibrant and complex flavors of strawberry-kiwi, finishing with sweet tomato and even, as my house mate pointed out, avocado (again, to me. Taste is subjective). The toddy cold-brew I had made was every bit as bright, crisp, and delicious. I’d even say that the flavors – unmasked by heat, were concentrated and even easier to pick up on. No astringency, no oxidation, no foul taste. Just flavorful, cold coffee.
After my experiment was finished I sat with my delicious cold brew (even happier that there was more of my concentrate sitting in the fridge for later days) and sipped it slowly – how I might a shot of espresso (respectively with time) or a cappuccino, or a small brewed cup of coffee. I wanted it to last, and so I only drank it as quickly as the ice would let me, tilting the glass just enough.
I secretly wished toddy was always like this.
Now I suppose it’s not really a secret.