Lately, everywhere I go in Venice to order an iced coffee, I’m now being asked if I’d rather have cold brew. This has happened at Starbucks and also Coffee Bean, and it seems to be taking hold at the more bespoke coffee-slingers as well. I don’t know exactly why this pitch is happening now when cold brew has been around for a while, but it’s clear cold brew is slowly surpassing iced coffee as the cold coffee beverage du jour, or at least today’s hottest (coldest) upsell.
Cold brew was around in the 1600s in Japan, but for ignorant westerners, it only really started to explode commercially in the last couple of years. I asked a clerk at a Coffee Bean the other day what the difference was with cold brew, and he said, “It has more caffeine.” That appears to be debatable, though it’s usually considered to be true. It’s definitely more expensive than hot coffee, possibly due to labor and ice.
Starbucks, now hawking a variety of cold-brew related products, recently blogged about the differences between iced coffee and cold brew. They write:
Cold Brew is made without heat, which creates lower acidity for a smoother, naturally sweet taste. Iced Coffee is brewed double strength then cooled, which creates a refreshing, lighter body.
Okay, but I still don’t know why I should care. Though cold brew is only trickling down to me personally in Los Angeles, it had already peaked in New York in 2016, according to some people. Late last year, Alison Spiegel wrote at Tasting Table that cold brew already needed to chill out already. Spiegel writes:
Cold brew isn’t exactly the enemy, but this summer more than any other, it felt unavoidable. I found it nearly impossible to walk into a coffee shop without the following assault occurring on my caffeine-deficient senses:
“Can I have an iced coffee, please?”
“Cold brew OK?”
In mere seconds, a cup of cold brew would slide across the counter, and I’d be handing over my money before I even knew what happened.
Out on the streets of Manhattan, I’d join all the other cold-brew victims, buzzing on caffeine levels unsafe for crowded, high-stress situations, like squeezing into a subway car full of commuters.
I follow a comedian on Twitter, Chris Crofton, who is such a devotee of cold brew that he routinely tweets some graphical iteration of the notion “Cold brew got me like” almost every day:
I asked him what the deal was, and why he likes it so much more than iced coffee. He said iced coffee is too acidic, and cold brew offers a caffeine jolt he describes as “Cocaine Jr.”
“It feels like a real smooth burst of optimism,” he said. “It feels like the possibilities are endless. It makes you want to write a play, run for governor. Go back to school, become a social worker.”
No one has ever said this about iced coffee. Cold brew, the victory is yours.
Tracy Moore is a staff writer at MEL. She last wrote about all the ways to drink without getting wasted.