The Dish | Endangered List Iced Storm
Unless you're familiar with coffee concentrate, New Orleans iced coffee is a puzzling ritual. The first time I had it, I watched skeptically as a friend's mother filled a plastic Mardi Gras cup with ice, poured in an inch of inky coffee from a mayonnaise jar, then topped it off with milk. It was as smooth as a milkshake but had a rich coffee flavor and packed a caffeinated punch. It was easily the best iced coffee I'd ever had, yet another thing that tastes better in New Orleans.
The secret was in the jar: coffee concentrate made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water. It may not be as famous as jambalaya — there are no rollicking songs about coffee concentrate — but it's part of the culinary culture of New Orleans: go to the Rue de la Course cafe and the paperback-and-sketchbook crowd is sipping iced coffee from concentrate; stand in line at a CC's Coffee House, Louisiana's alternative to Starbucks, and you can have a cool jolt on a day so humid that the sidewalks puddle even though it hasn't rained. You can get store-bought concentrate like CoolBrew, N. O. Brew and French Market not just at Langenstein's, the Uptown supermarket, but also at the local Whole Foods. And if you're from there, you could do what my friend did and bring home a jar of concentrate from her grandmother.
Or you can make it yourself. On one visit, I bought a Toddy, a cold-drip coffee maker that costs about $35 and is by far the homeliest gadget in my kitchen. It consists of a glass carafe that looks like a hardware-store iced-tea jug and a one-gallon white plastic tub fitted with a thick fabric filter and a rubber stopper (available at www.coldbrewed.com). You fill the tub with coarsely ground coffee, like French Market C&C City roast, a chicory blend, and add cold water; in the morning you pull the stopper and the carafe fills with coffee so dark that you can't shine a light through the glass.
It's a mystery how cold drip has remained a regional specialty, especially after you taste it against conventional iced coffee, which is brewed and then chilled. Heat brewing releases acids and oils, and as the coffee sits in the refrigerator, the bitterness intensifies. Cold-drip coffee, according to Brett Holmes, a partner at the family-owned Toddy company, has 67 percent less acid, and it's so smooth that it lets milk's natural sweetness come through, making sugar almost unnecessary.
Store-bought, Toddy-made or soaked and strained, concentrate is always in my refrigerator during iced-coffee season. And often, after making it for friends for the first time, I'll send them off with a jar of their own.