Cold Brew Comparison: The Tasting and the Conclusions
Archived in 2022
Originally posted on 16 Sep 2013
Please see yesterday’s post, Cold Brew Comparison: The Madness and the Method, for the introduction to this cold brew coffee experiment.
I successfully enlisted three other coffee-loving friends—Eric, Jen, and Josh—to come over and be taste testers, bribing them with promises of brunch and abundant coffee. Two other friends (Chrissy and Kris) attended as non-coffee-drinking spectators.
Once the tasters arrived they were given a choice: Taste blind? Or would they prefer to know what they’re drinking? It’s a testament to the culinary adventureness of my friends (my Culinauts!) that they unanimously agreed to the blind tasting. To make it a little more interesting, I told them that whoever guessed the most secret ingredients would win a bag of BrewPony coffee.
All coffees were tasted at room temperature and undiluted. There are far too many ways to enjoy cold brew and there was no way we could (or should) try them all. Instead we would taste them in as pure and unadulterated a state as possible. We all agreed that several of the brews would likely perform significantly differently if served hot.
Here are the tasters’ comments for each brew, summarized:
- (cinnamon) What is this flavor? We know this one. What is it? Whatever it is, there’s too much of it. It’s way too strong and almost overwhelms the coffee.
- (orange peel) There’s nothing else in this. It tastes like it’s just a different coffee variety, something brighter and more acidic. If there’s anything else in here it’s subtle. It’s like bitter hiding behind sour.
- (mint) Toothpastey! BAD! HULK SMASH! It’s like there’s an evolution of flavors here.
- (lemon peel) This one’s really nice. It’s balanced. Whatever this is really softens the bittnerness. It’s the only one I like more than the plain coffee. It tastes like Lemon Pledge.
- (vanilla) Can’t place this one. What is this? There’s way too much of whatever it is. Not subtle or balanced. It’s overwhelming the coffee. Is this molasses? This flavor isn’t integrated with the coffee at all. This really needs some sugar.
- (soy sauce) This tastes really good. Tones down the bitterness. It’s a little over-done, whatever it is, but it’s nice. Tastes very roasty. Chickory-esque. Cocoa nibs? Kinda smokey-ish. Slightly nutty.
When asked which was their favorite, three out of four tasters selected Brew #4 (lemon peel). The fourth taster selected Brew #3 (mint). Everyone agreed that Brew #6 (soy sauce) was a solid second place.
Oh, and Eric successfully guessed four of the six ingredients. As he’s already a happy BrewPony subscriber he gifted his prize coffee to Josh.
So, what have I learned? Well, for one thing mint is a very polarizing flavor where coffee is concerned. My tasters either (predominantly) loathed it or (one) loved it, saying it was very refreshing. Despite that, I think it’s safe to say that the blanket statement that the addition of mint makes for the best cup of cold brew is a busted myth.
Regardless, this experiment has opened up new horizons of cold brew. Some of the brews (vanilla, for instance) could be improved by altering the amount of flavoring ingredient. Others, like the lemon peel, were quite lovely as is. After the tasting we brainstormed additional ingredients we could try. Cardamom was a popular suggestion. Buddha’s Hand Citron was another. One taster suggested doing a vertical of brews made with several different kinds of soy sauce, just to see what happens. Frankly, I’m stunned that no one suggested bacon. That one kinda seems like a no brainer to me. There’s really no limit to the options we could try.
This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that after the official tasting we did try several of the brews diluted with boiling water. I’ve since tried the remaining ones the same way. I learned that:
- Heat super-activates the Lemon Pledge-ness of the lemon peel brew. It should only be served cold.
- Diluting the soy sauce brew did lovely things. It opened up the coffee nicely, making it more, um, coffee-like. It also enhanced the chickory-ness of the cup.
- I personally think the cinnamon is quite pleasant when hot. It’s a very warming brew.
- The orange peel does as much hot as it did cold: Diddly squat.
- Too much vanilla is too much vanilla, even when diluted.
- The mint is somehow nastier when hot.
As you can see, serving method can have a large effect on the end result.