On Rolls Royce and Iced Coffee
Legend has it that the engineers at Rolls Royce were once tasked with making the absolute smoothest ride possible in an automobile. They took the task to heart and completely eliminated all outside noises and sensations within the car’s cabin. Not even a hint of the wind whipping by. No vibrations from the car’s engine, no matter how aggressively one accelerated. Nary a tremor felt, regardless of the road conditions…even on streets like we have in Mira Mesa! (Seriously…what are we paying taxes for?? And yes, I said “nary.” I digress.)
Mission Accomplished! Except that’s where the trouble began. The driver and passengers felt an odd sense of disconnect from the outside world. They knew they were moving – they could see it happening – and yet, all of their other senses tried convincing them that they were just sitting on their couches at home. It was disconcerting, if not outright nauseating. Everyone hated it. In the end, the engineers had to undo some of their work and allow some small amount of noise and vibration to make it into the car. Too much noise = bad. No noise at all = worse.
So, what does cabin noise have to do with iced coffee? One of my chief considerations when deciding how to brew a coffee is the level of acidity I want in the final cup. “Brightness” or “acidity” is that slightly sharp, almost tangy sensation that you get in every cup of coffee, to some degree. (Please, please, please note that “bright” or “lively acidity” are good things, but your coffee should never be “sour.” At best, it’s a sign of an under-developed roast. I’ll leave you to imagine “at worst.”) Generally speaking, you get more acidity in the lighter roasts and more bitterness in the darker ones. Everyone’s tolerance for acidity may vary, but, like cabin noise, some is better than none.
That brings me to the Cold Brew method of making iced coffee. In a nutshell, to make a cold brew, a large amount of coarsely-ground coffee is brewed for a long period of time at room temperature or lower. I use a 10 : 1 ratio of water to coffee grounds, steeped for 20-30 hours in my refrigerator, for instance. This slower & colder brewing method depresses the coffee’s natural acidity, resulting in a smoother, mellower cup of iced coffee. However, if you start with a coffee that’s already low in acidity, you’ll wind up with something dull, flat, and lifeless. That brewing method would completely hollow out my Honduras COMSA, for instance. If I’m making cold brew, I’ll always reach for something on the lighter end of my roast spectrum or for a blend that has a nice pop of acidity to begin with. That way, the final cup should still retain some interesting brightness, while highlighting the darker, more chocolatey taste notes.
I designed my Lilo & Stitch’s Blend to be the perfect cold brew. This year’s blend is a mix of beans from Hawaii (Kona Extra-Fancy), Vietnam (Lotus – SHG Arabica), and Sumatra (Raja Batak Peaberry). Overall, it’s a solid medium roast – my City++. Vietnam makes up the bulk of the blend (~50%), and you definitely taste its milk chocolate and toasted nuts. The Sumatra’s a little darker than the other beans and adds depth, grounding the blend without adding earthiness. There’s enough Kona (~30%) to miss it if it wasn’t there. It adds bright fruitiness and silky creaminess and probably a few more -nesses I can’t think of or describe. Overall, no matter how you brew it, there’s just enough of a underlying mild acidity to add a little necessary noise to the final cup. I hope you get a chance to enjoy it as much as I do!