The Science Behind the Cold Brew Craze

With the weather here in Pittsburgh finally heating up, we have been flying through cold brew here at Crazy Mocha! We’re so glad you love the refreshing taste of our Three Rivers Cold Brew, but have you noticed just how different it is from hot coffee, or even iced coffee? There is a scientific reason behind cold brew’s distinctly smooth taste!

If you’re new to cold brew and confused by the craze, let’s start with the basics. Cold brew is not the same as an iced coffee. Iced coffee is coffee that was brewed in a few minutes with hot water, then quickly iced. It will usually taste similarly to the same coffee served hot, because it is simply served with ice. 

However, cold brew is a completely different process. Cold brew coffee is usually ground more coarsely than the grounds used for hot coffee, and is steeped like tea, usually for 12-24 hours. The result is a smooth, concentrated coffee that will feel, smell, and taste different than coffee brewed with hot water.

According to Science and Food, the different is in how the chemical compounds in coffee are broken down during the brewing process. When coffee grounds come in contact with water, the water pulls certain components, called “coffee solubles,” out of the grounds. These solubles are what give the coffee beverage its distinct taste and caffeine content. Hot water pulls most of the coffee's solubles out quickly, while cold water pulls less, and much more slowly. That is why a pot of hot coffee can be made in less than five minutes, while cold brew takes hours. When this process happens with hot water, the hot water degrades and oxidizes the chemical compounds in the coffee, which leads to the bitter, sour, or acidic taste that is often associated with hot coffee. Brewing coffee with cold or room temperature water does not cause as much degradation and oxidation, which is why cold brew coffee often tastes sweeter, smoother, and more subtle than hot brew. This article from Business Insider mentions that the breakdown of the coffee’s compounds is what gives hot coffee its classic, room-filling aroma, which is also why cold brew will not have much of a scent compared to hot brew.

Because of the lower extraction rate in cold brew coffee, another major difference between the brews is the amount of coffee used in the brewing process. Since cold water extracts less solubles from the coffee than hot water does, most people will use twice or more of the amount of coffee grounds to make a batch of cold brew than they would for hot brew. This leads to cold brew being more of a concentrated flavor, and is also why most cold brew is served with some kind of diluent, like milk or cream. You might hear people say that this means that cold brew is also more caffeinated than hot brew, but according to Coffee Chemistry, caffeine level is an incredibly tricky variable to measure that depends on the bean, grind, brewing method, temperature, and amount of grinds used, so that is not always true.

So, now that you know the science behind cold brew coffee, next time you stop in a Crazy Mocha Coffee shop to order a refreshing cup of our Three Rivers Cold Brew, try sipping it slowly to truly take note of its unique taste and mouthfeel as compared to a cup of hot coffee. Enjoy!

California, Coffee, and Cancer

About a month ago, coffee drinkers fretted over headlines about a California judge’s ruling that coffee shops must post warnings disclosing the beverage’s cancer risk. However, many experts have weighed in on this ruling, saying that it is incredibly misleading to consumers.

Of course, we take health guidelines seriously, and want our consumers to be informed if a product is risky. So, let us examine this ruling more closely.

According to this article from the New York Times, a nonprofit called the Council for Education and Research on Toxics filed a lawsuit in 2010, claiming that companies must warn consumers about the presence of a chemical called acrylamide in coffee. The case grew to include defendants such as Starbucks, Peets, and many smaller coffee chains. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle ruled that businesses that sold coffee without warning consumers of the cancer risk were in violation of Proposition 65, a law that requires businesses larger than nine total employees to disclose any carcinogens or toxins in their products. Coffee shops in California must now post these misleading warnings, or pay hefty fines.

Acrylamide is a chemical that forms when some foods are prepared in specific ways, including frying and roasting, at a high temperature. The chemical is found in foods such as French fries, potato chips, and yes, coffee. But is it as dangerous as the lawsuit may lead consumers to believe?

The American Cancer Society states that it is not yet clear if acrylamide actually affects cancer risk in humans. There have been studies in which lab animals are given huge doses of acrylamide, and these studies did show a link between that dosage of acrylamide and cancer development in those animals. However, there have been no studies on the chemical’s effects in humans, and the amount that the animals were given was thousands of times more than humans would ever encounter in foods, including coffee. According to Accountable Science, brewed coffee only contains 3 to 13 parts per billion of acrylamide. This is an infinitesimal amount, and would not increase one’s risk of cancer whether one had one or five cups of coffee per day.

Acrylamide is still only listed as a “probable human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. But whether or not acrylamide is truly a carcinogen to humans, it does not mean that the tiny amount found in coffee would ever cause an increase in cancer risk. In fact, coffee has recently been linked to a decreased risk of certain cancers, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

It is true that coffee does contain an incredibly small amount of acrylamide, so if this chemical is a concern to you, then you should take whatever precautions that you feel are necessary. However, most health and coffee authorities would say that for businesses to post warnings that coffee is a carcinogen is a misinterpretation of data that could be incredibly misleading to consumers. Acrylamide is not yet listed as a known carcinogen to humans, and its presence of coffee has not been scientifically linked to an increased cancer risk. As always, make sure to do your own research and make the choices that are right for you!

Monin's "Clean Label"

We have recently received some questions regarding our syrup selection in the Crazy Mocha stores, especially the meaning of “clean label” and whether or not it is vegan, gluten free, or adhering to other dietary restrictions.

We already use Monin products in almost every store, and will soon be transitioning to Monin products in all stores for our syrups and sauces. Monin has recently been moving their product lines to what they refer to as “clean label.” But what exactly does this distinction mean?

According to a representative from Monin, “clean label” simply means that a product contains no artificial ingredients. You could think of it as “natural,” but the specific definition is “no artificial ingredients,” including colors, preservatives, or flavors.

As for other dietary restrictions, are these products vegan? No animal products are used to make the Monin syrups, so yes, they are considered vegan. They are also all gluten-free, halal, and kosher. The only exception would be the syrups with names that reference an alcohol, such as “Grenadine” or “Mojito Mix,” because even though these do not contain any actual alcohol, they would not be considered halal. We do not currently stock these flavors in our stores.

Most of the Monin syrup flavors that we carry in the Crazy Mocha stores meet the clean label standards. Here are the exceptions:

·         Blackberry

·         Cherry

·         Hazelnut

·         Lemon

·         Macadamia Nut

·         Toasted Marshmallow

·         All Sugar-Free syrups

Eventually all of the syrups will be clean label, but as of now they are still transitioning some of the older flavors to this updated production process. We will be happy to provide an update when all Monin syrups are made without any artificial ingredients!

If you’d like to do your own research, you can click here to see which syrups are “clean label” using the advanced search function on the Monin website.

The Legend of Kaldi

If you’ve ever visited a Crazy Mocha store, you’ve certainly been greeted by the smiling goat on our logo. Upon seeing this, you might have asked yourself: what does a goat have to do with coffee?

When Ken Zeff purchased the first store that would become Crazy Mocha, it was called “The Dancing Goats Coffee.” While many people do not see the connection between goats and coffee, the story of the dancing goats is integral to the history of our favorite drink. The popular Ethiopian legend is that a goat herder named Kaldi was tending to his flock in the mountains when he began to notice that some of the goats were dancing with excess energy – even the old ones! He looked around to find what might be causing his goats to act so “crazy,” and discovered little red berries growing from a certain shrub. He tried one of the berries himself, and instantly felt renewed energy course through his body, just like his goats! By eating these berries, Kaldi and his goats discovered the benefits of the Coffea plant for the very first time.

When Kaldi returned to his village, he shared the berries and their power with the local monastery. The abbot made a tea-like beverage with the leaves of the shrub, and the monks found that this brew kept them awake during their long evening prayers, through which they were often caught snoozing. This discovery is heralded as the very beginning of the beverage we now call “coffee.”

Kaldi’s story is only a legend, but because no one truly knows how the coffee plant was discovered, it is a popular explanation. Most historians agree that the drink originated in Ethiopia, so the legend of the dancing goats helps us imagine how people might have learned to use the coffee plant to make beverages, even if they didn’t originally begin with roasting the beans. So, next time you see the goat on our Crazy Mocha logo, you can feel connected to the history of our favorite brew while sipping on a cup of your own!