Cold-water process system brews coffee with lots of flavor, but low acidity

Coffee: Will it be perked, dripped, boiled, reconstituted or pressed?

Or cold-brewed? Odds are, you aren't familiar with this last one, an old process that is making news.

A cold-process coffee system is a no-tech, non-electrical extraction method that uses cold water and coarsely ground coffee beans. Cold brewing extracts the flavor of the coffee beans, but leaves behind bitter compounds and fatty oils, which means there is a whole lot less acid (about 50 to 67 percent less) than coffee brewed by conventional hot water methods. This is good news to people who get heartburn.

If you have a sensitive stomach, one of the first things the doctor will tell you to lose on the road to relief is coffee. For my personal gastric comfort, I had to give it up. I stowed my collection of coffee makers on an upper shelf in the pantry - French press, vacuum and drip contraptions from a single serve filter to a classic Chemex.

For the last few months, I've been drinking coffee again but with no heartburn and no problem. The reason is the cold-brew system.

You do need a special "pot." Mine is a Toddy cold brew coffee system. Think of a drip maker where time replaces heat. The process is deceptively simple. Steep a full pound of coarsely ground coffee in 9 cups of cold water in a sort of plastic pail and allow the "mulch" to soak for 12 hours. With the pull of a plug, thickish coffee syrup drains through a filter into a glass carafe, which you then store in the refrigerator. When you want coffee, you measure some into your mug and add hot water or milk.

The result is a smooth, full-flavored cuppa that's easy on the stomach. Give bonus points for these additional pluses:

There's about 15 to 25 percent less caffeine than in hot brew, and no oil slick.

The concentrate may be refrigerated for up to 14 days without any deterioration in taste or freshness.

Coffee can be made to any desired strength, weak, normal or buzz.

The concentrate is unbeatable in recipes and iced or frozen drinks.

Think of the potential uses as frozen ice cubes and as "instant coffee" on camping trips.

If there's a downside, it's in the amount of coffee required to make the concentrate. You do use a little more coffee, but you probably throw out less. How many times have you made a traditional pot of coffee only to toss leftover brew down the drain? With the concentrate, you make only what you will drink, 1 cup at a time.

The back story

Todd Simpson, a chemical engineer, was traveling on business in Guatemala in 1962. He stepped into a restaurant and ordered coffee. The counter man placed in front of him a pitcher of black extract and a pot of water just off the boil. The man poured a little extract into a cup and added water. Simpson was amazed at the smoothness, strength and flavor of the drink.

Curious, he stuck around long enough to get a handle on how the extract was made.

What Simpson witnessed was a method popular among Dutch settlers in Java in the 19th century. It has also been a staple of Central American coffee brewers.

Back in Houston, Simpson experimented until he discovered a good approximation of the brew he first tasted. His wife, who had a delicate stomach and hadn't had coffee in years, was seduced by the aroma and took a few tentative sips. After no ill effects, she was hooked. The business was born.

The Toddy cold-brew system developed by Simpson, conveniently named after his given name, was patented in 1964. When he retired in 1987, his son Strother took over the business. At first, the company sold only the brewing system. Now sales are in the coffee extract itself and the company sells to the big league.

"Our wholesale customers include Seattle's Best Coffee and Gloria Jean Coffee Beans," says Strother Simpson. "They use cold-brewed coffee extract for their iced coffee drinks. Seattle's Best Coffee was one of the first to advertise that they use cold-brewed coffee."

Simpson says that 80 percent of in-the-home users are hot coffee drinkers. On the wholesale side, however, most customers use the extract for iced coffee drinks. Seattle's Best has announced it will take over cafe operations at more than 400 Borders locations, so Toddy concentrate could soon appear across the nation - though you might not know you're drinking it. The Naughty Toddy and Java Kula iced drinks, among others, feature it.

Do try this at home

For cold-process coffee, you need two ingredients, coffee beans and water. Buy quality beans, and make sure they are Arabica (not Robusta). It's easiest to grind them at the store since you'll be doing a whole pound at one time. Grind them on a "coarse" setting. Do not use a grind that would work in a drip maker or you will clog the filter and end up with a mess.

Since coffee is 98 percent to 99 percent water, it pays to use good water. Use tap, filtered or bottled water. Avoid distilled water because the absence of minerals will leave the coffee tasting flat.

You do need a special cold-process coffee maker. For a Toddy, order from their Web site, www.toddycafe.com. The decanter and brew container, plug and two filters cost $34.95.

To recap, place the "brewing" container with the plug and filter in place over the carafe. Add a specified amount of water and coffee. Elapsed time, 6 minutes. The coffee "brews" for 12 hours. Pull the plug and coffee concentrate streams into the carafe.

A good ratio is one part coffee concentrate to three parts water, milk or cream. In recipe form, add 1/4 cup concentrate to a mug and add 3/4 cup of hot water just off the boil for an 8-ounce mug.

The concentrate is especially good for iced and frozen drinks and desserts. It really shines in iced coffee that is notorious for being watered down and weak. For parties, make up coffee ahead and store it in a pre-heated thermos carafe. It also can be frozen in ice cube trays and used as needed.

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