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Evaluating Iced Coffee Methods

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2014

We compared a new, pour-over iced coffee brewing technique against two classic methods.

A trendy new method for iced coffee based on the Japanese-developed pour-over brewing technique is making waves among coffee aficionados. It promises a complex brew in minutes, so we decided to try it. In the end, however, tasters preferred two classic methods. Both require planning ahead, but we think the results are worth it.

POUR-OVER METHOD: FAST BUT WEAK

A small amount of nearly boiling water is poured over ground coffee in a slow stream to make a double-strength brew, and by brewing directly over ice, the coffee is chilled and diluted to the proper strength. Cooling the coffee immediately after brewing is said to lock in volatile aroma compounds that would normally drift into the air if the coffee were allowed to cool naturally, in theory delivering more complexity. However, because only a small amount of water passes through the ground coffee, the flavors aren’t fully extracted, which we found led to weaker coffee.

Tasting Notes: Quite weak (albeit clean and fresh-tasting).

TRADITIONAL METHOD: BOLD, BRIGHT, AND ACIDIC

Coffee is brewed hot following any standard method and then allowed to cool naturally before being iced. We used our favorite drip coffee maker from Technivorm and let the coffee cool for 45 minutes before icing and serving.

Tasting Notes: Ample bitterness, acidity, and complexity because a hot brewing temperature (195 to 205 degrees is optimal) extracts the most flavor compounds.

COLD BREW METHOD: SMOOTH AND SUBTLE

Ground coffee is combined with cold or room-temperature water and allowed to sit for at least 8 hours (and up to several days); the infusion is strained and consumed as is, or diluted with additional water to a desired strength. (View our recipe for Cold-Brew Coffee Concentrate.)

Tasting Notes: Because the extraction is done at a much lower temperature (40 to 72 degrees), the coffee lacks the bitterness and acidity of a traditional hot brew. Instead, it boasts a more subtle, smooth flavor with hints of chocolate and fruit.