by Dr. Will Cole
Coffee is crazy popular – over half of Americans (62 percent of us!) have enjoyed a cup of joe within the last 24 hours. A recent trend in the world of coffee is cold brew. Many people make this favorite of coffee aficionados at home, and it is now widely available in coffee houses and supermarkets.
Cold-brew sales have grown 115 percent in the last year, and all signs point to increased growth. Millennials seem particularly fond of cold brew, with 66 percent of American millennials choosing cold brew concoctions, compared to just 34 percent of generation Xers.
Just what is cold brew? It’s not the same as iced coffee, which is just regular coffee poured over ice. Cold brew is the result of a process in which ground coffee beans are steeped in cold or room-temperature water for 12 to 24 hours. No brewing, no percolating, no French-pressing – just steeping, like tea. The resulting beverage is a concentrate, which can be diluted with water and enjoyed either cold or heated. It is apparently less acidic and many believe it tastes better. Some fans brag that their magical caffeinated elixir is healthier, too.
Are the rumors true? Are the millennials on to something?
Cold brew’s coffee-to-water ratio is around 1:6, compared with the drip-coffee ratio of about 1:20. Dang, that’s a lot of caffeine. But remember, cold brew is a concentrate and you are supposed to dilute it. Also the caffeine level is higher the longer you steep it, and also depends on what beans you use, so all these factors will affect the final caffeine content.
For those of you who want to limit the jitters or want more caffeine to boost your workout, could adjust your cold brew accordingly. A 16-ounce coffee contains roughly 200 mg of caffeine, while a hot 16-ounce coffee contains anywhere from 260 to 375 mg, depending on the beans. Clover and blonde roasts tend towards the higher range and dark roasts tend to be on the lower range, relatively speaking. The verdict? OTC cold brew tends to have slightly less caffeine than drip coffee.
Since the process of brewing cold-brew doesn’t involve heat, and heat extracts more bitter compounds and acid, cold brew does tend to be less bitter and less acidic. So yes, granted, cold brew has a relatively smoother, less acidic taste. Because of this, people with more sensitive stomachs or acid reflux tend to tolerate cold brew better than the hot-brewed stuff.
Coffee itself, no matter how you make it, contains some interesting health benefits. There is a lot of exciting research about how coffee can increase insulin sensitivity, fat burning, and even lifespan, as well as how it can decrease the signs of dementia and neurodegeneration. Most of this research focuses on coffee’s inflammation-busting antioxidant content. Coffee compounds like chlorogenic acid are disease-fighting superstars. So how does cold brew measure up? Since it’s a relatively new phenomenon to baristas, and even newer to researchers, there isn’t really any solid evidence comparing cold brew to hot brew when it comes to antioxidant levels. However, logic suggests that because more coffee acid and oils are left behind during the cold brewing process, it may actually contain fewer antioxidants. Either way, you are probably getting good benefits, however, and it’s probably more important, for health reasons, to stick to organic beans, no matter how you brew them, since conventional coffee crops tend to be heavily sprayed with pesticides.
As a functional medicine practitioner, before I give the go-ahead for any coffee consumption, I suggest that my patients get a gene test to see if they have the variant that codes for the enzyme CYP1A2, which causes them to metabolize caffeine more slowly. These slow metabolizers don’t do well with any caffeine, including the slightly lower amount in cold brew. Even a small cup will leave them feeling jittery and with a racing heart.
For those who tolerate caffeine and want the longevity and other benefits of coffee, cold brew is your cup of joe if you are looking to minimize stomach symptoms from coffee. If regular coffee doesn’t bother your stomach, then choose the taste you prefer, as people do tend to prefer one or the other. And if you’re looking for a ton of nutrients other not found in regular coffee? Then cold brew isn’t your cup of tea.
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