From Grub Street NY:
Do you drink this stuff? Why?
All this week, Jonathan Rubinstein, the owner of the Joe mini-chain, has gone into work wondering whether today will be The Day. “Each year, there is one day when the world changes,” he says. It’s the day when the entire population it seems switches from hot coffee to cold, served from plastic pitchers into cups full of ice.” When that happens, Rubinstein says, “my whole business changes for the next four months.”
That’s in a normal year, though, when his customers typically switch to iced from May through October. But with this year’s already steamy temperatures, Rubinstein is facing the possibility that what his baristas call The Iced Season could stretch a full six months. And, given the economics of cold-brewed iced coffee, that could cause vexing problems for high-end coffee shops.
Bodegas and diners and coffee carts still serve iced coffee by chilling their hot java, resulting in a watered-down and bitter swill that follows the same economics as hot coffee. But the best coffee shops — shops like Joe, and Stumptown, and La Colombe — use cold-brewed coffee. Cold brew (or Toddy, as connoisseurs call it, named after a particular brewing machine) is a relatively new phenomenon in New York. Think Coffee began serving it in 2006 and now, Rubinstein deadpans, “It’s no longer a trend. It’s mandatory.”
Let’s consider the numbers for a sixteen-ounce cold-brewed coffee versus a twelve-ounce hot coffee — the best comparison, as ice displaces about four ounces of liquid. The cold one will cost anywhere from a quarter to a dollar more. But the café will hardly claim the entire difference as profit.
Like the hot stuff, cold-brewing involves mixing pulverized beans with water, but the latter process requires about twice as much ground coffee. Those grounds infuse filtered water for 12 to 24 hours, creating iced-coffee concentrate. That liquid is cut with water to taste, at a ratio of about one to one. Yet even after all this dilution, a cup of cold-brewed joe can include 62 cents worth of ground coffee. A hot cup might include 35 cents’ worth of beans.