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Is cold brew right for you?

  • Kendra Gaulin, manager at Greenfield Coffee, with a glass of their cold brew coffee. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • A glass of Greenfield Coffee’s cold brew coffee. Try making your own at home using today’s recipe. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt



Recorder Staff
Friday, July 14, 2017

By JOSHUA SOLOMON

Nearly a century ago, a Boston doctor briefly explained the benefits of coffee in a New England Journal of Medicine article.

“Caffeine, the alkaloid of coffee, stimulates brain activity,” J.W. Courtney said in the 1924 article. “We are all aware of its power to create undue wakefulness when coffee is drunk at night.”

Thousands of studies have since then searched the benefits of the bean. But the newest phenomenon sweeping the caffeine-crazed country — cold-brewed coffee — doesn’t have much established researched behind it yet. 

First though, what is it? Cold-brewed coffee, often served as an iced-drink, is essentially made by taking coffee grounds and pouring room temperature or cold water over them and then letting it sit for hours or even days. This coffee is then often poured over ice as a less acidic version of traditional iced-coffee, which is made by taking typical drip coffee and pouring it over ice. 

The colloquial conversation behind cold-brewed coffee, which has been picked up by franchises like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, is that it has several sought-after qualities: more powerful, less acidic and better tasting. 

In terms of quality of taste, that’s partially up to the drinker, of course, but there are scientific reasons why it is argued to be better. Since the drink is made with cool-water, it is more likely to preserve certain fruity or nutty notes from the bean that might be muted in usual coffee production with hot or boiling water. 

In terms of its health benefits, well, the science world is not ready to endorse cold-brewed coffee as the paramount way to drink your iced-coffee. Nonetheless there are certainly some benefits to this style that are worth trying out to see how you tolerate (and enjoy) it, versus your usual iced-coffee.

Dr. Rose Cesar, a gastroenterologist at Baystate Franklin Medical Center, said that the literature specifically on cold-brewed is sparse, but there are certain things that can be understood about the cold-brewed coffee, which can be found at local shops like Greenfield Coffee and Shelburne Falls Coffee Roasters.

Cold-brewed coffee is said to have less acidity based on the way it is made, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily better for people who have acid-reflux, Cesar said.

“So far, GI-wise, we can’t say that drinking cold brew coffee is better for the GI tract,” Cesar said. “We need more studies to determine that. Nevertheless, there may be some other benefits of cold brew coffee with respect to the liver.”

When roasted, coffee forms the compound N-methylpyridinium, which inhibits gastric acid in the stomach. By cold-brewing coffee, this compound is better preserved, Cesar said. 

“When you put coffee in a pot and start heating it up, it loses some of those antioxidant effects,” Cesar said. Rather with cold-brewed, those qualities are retained and can provide benefits to a person’s liver.

It’s possible the pH, or acidity, levels may be “altered by this compound so you get less heartburn,” Cesar added, although she cautioned that it doesn’t mean it will work that way for everyone. 

In terms of its potency, the verdict is still out. Some argue cold-brewed coffee is stronger than its counterparts, while others say it may be less intense. Regardless, the style has surged as of late, and seems like it’s here to stay. For now, at least.

Lately, when people walk into Greenfield Coffee, they are asking for cold-brewed coffee. Ironically, that’s the only kind of iced coffee that the Bank Row cafe offers up.

Manager Kendra Gaulin says it’s always been about quality for the coffee shop, which she’s worked at for the last 3 and a half years.

“For us, we’ve been doing only cold brew for several years,” Gaulin said. “That has always been our standard.”

Sister shops Amherst Coffee and Northampton Coffee do not make cold-brewed coffee, though. Since those shops have more foot traffic in denser towns, they can’t afford to partake in the time consuming process. Instead, the two cafes each do their own thing: nitro, which is served on tap; and flash brew, which is more along the lines of traditional iced coffee, pouring hot coffee over ice.

For Greenfield Coffee, they stick to what is often chalked up as the artisan process to making iced-coffee. The brewing takes between 18 to 22 hours. Typically, the shop will make the coffee toward the end of the day and let it brew overnight.

The shop uses 5-gallon buckets made to hold all of the coffee. Coffee grounds are poured into the bucket, room temperature water is added — at a roughly 7-1 ratio. The employee will then stir for five to 10 minutes before placing a lid on — but not pressed — onto the bucket.

After the coffee is brewed, it can be poured over ice. Water can be added if it’s too concentrated.

When milk is added to cold-brewed coffee, Gaulin says it mixes better, since the drink is less acidic.

With a lighter roast, the coffee’s fruity or nutty notes will come out stronger than in traditionally brewed coffee, while with a darker roast, the flavor will likely come out bolder.

“Whether it’s black or with milk, it just tastes better,” Gaulin said.

Have a Franklin County health story you would like Joshua Solomon to cover? You can reach him at: jsolomon@recorder.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264.