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High-tech iced coffee cools the summer heat

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

As the Japanese summer reaches its sweltering zenith, a steamy cup of coffee in the morning no longer seems quite so inviting. It’s time to drop your inhibitions, and reach for some ice.

Contrary to popular belief, iced coffee wasn’t invented in Japan — it originated in 1840s Algeria, where French soldiers developed a fondness for a mixture of coffee syrup and cold water known as mazagran.

But Japan was certainly an early adopter: Fashionable cafes started serving iced coffee here in the 1920s, and the drink became widespread during the postwar years.

Japanese kissaten (traditional coffeehouses) have since developed a variety of preparation methods, many of them time-consuming: mizudashi (cold-brew) coffee is made by steeping fresh grounds in water for 12 hours; Kyoto-style cold-drip coffee — also known as Dutch Coffee — requires specialist equipment and the patience of a Zen monk.

If you’re seeking a quick fix, though, there are faster methods. At Roast Works, a modern roastery in the Tomigaya neighborhood of Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, roaster Keisuke Narusawa talks me through the basics of simple, home-brewed iced coffee.

Whether you’re using a filter, French press or Aerobie’s AeroPress to make your brew, the general principle is the same: halve the amount of water you’d normally use and pour the coffee over an equivalent volume of ice. And there’s no need to change your beans, either.

“I wouldn’t choose a specific variety just because I was making iced coffee,” Narusawa says. “The characteristics of the beans come out in the same way: Ethiopian produces a fruitier iced coffee; with Brazilian beans, you’ll get something richer.”

This means that the variations in flavor profile produced by using different extraction methods are also apparent with iced coffee.

While French press tends to yield a milder flavor, it’s possible to draw out a range of notes when using a filter or AeroPress. Roast Works and its Daikanyama-based sibling, The Coffeeshop, tweak things further by using stainless steel filters rather than paper ones, to retain more of the coffee’s flavorsome natural oils.

While Narusawa and his colleagues put the emphasis on methods that customers can re-create at home, the shop’s star attraction will be out of most people’s league. Roast Works was the first place in Tokyo to get a Steampunk — a high-tech update of the traditional siphon brewer made by American manufacturer Alpha Dominche, which is operated with a touchscreen tablet.

Narusawa can’t suppress a smile while he’s using it.

“You can control everything precisely: the temperature, the water volume, the amount it agitates the coffee,” he says. “If you want to get the fullest flavor and aroma, this is the way to go.”

And the resulting iced coffee?

Let’s just say the drink has come a long way since the 1840s.