Monday, May 18, 2009

There WILL be sludge! (a coffee primer)

A few years ago, I had a life-changing experience at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza. I wandered into Frog Hollow Farm's shop looking for sustenance after shopping at the farmers' market, held every Tuesday and Saturday. There was an intriguing "New Orleans-style " iced coffee on the menu. One sip of this smooth, dark confection and I HAD to find out how to make it at home! I emailed the owner of Blue Bottle Coffee, James Freeman, and he kindly shared his recipe with me. Now that Blue Bottle has achieved national fame and has several retail outlets, more people are discovering the delights of this exceptional roaster. I've tried several of the blends, but my favorite is my first love, Bella Donovan. This coffee is available either by mail, at, or in 1/2 pound bags at several retail outlets including Fraiche Yogurt in Palo Alto (only from Thursday afternoons through Sundays). So, here is New Orleans-style iced coffee my way: for 1 pound of Blue Bottle's Bella Donavan beans:
Grind the coffee coarsely, either in a supermarket grinder set on Coarse, or in your home blender (do 1/2 pound at a time!). Pulse the coffee beans using the ice-grind or ice-crush setting until it's granular, but not powdered! DO NOT over-grind or THERE WILL BE SLUDGE! Actually, there will be sludge no matter how coarsely you grind, but that's part of the deal.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground coffee with 2 ounces of ground chicory and 2 liters of cold water. Chicory can be hard to find. My local Whole Foods used to carry it, but now I can only find it at a small health food store, Country Sun. Larger Whole Foods Markets may have chicory in the bulk herbs section.
Stir the mixture well, and let the whole brew soak for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
In the morning, strain the coffee several times, pressing firmly on the grounds to extract as much liquid as possible. Be sure to use a fine strainer. Don't discard the grounds! Use them to fertilize your acid-loving plants. Do strain the mixture a couple of times - each time you'll extract a bit more sludge!
Once you've completed this rather messy process, you will have enough coffee for about 10-14 tall iced coffees, depending on how strong you like your brew. To make your iced coffee, pour a few inches of the coffee extract into a tall glass, and add cold milk to taste. You might want some sugar, but I think this is smooth and sweet enough without any! There is absolutely no bitterness, just the most intense coffee flavor! You can, of course, add hot milk to the coffee extract, but I prefer it iced most of the time. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.