/ photo taken at Blue Bottle Coffee's newest outpost in Oakland, California
Celebrating the 4th with a barbecue, beach party or night at the fireworks? Chances are you're planning to stock the cooler with iced soda and beers. You may even be planning to set up a keg so you can serve cold brewskis on tap. The one thing beverage you're probably not planning to serve -- at least not in large quantities -- is coffee. We totally get it. Fact is, as much as we love coffee around here, it's not usually on the menu for barecues and picnics. Even iced coffee is just a little too fussy for your usual casual cookout gathering. Or at least, it didn't used to be. Then we discovered the art of icing coffee for a crowd and it changed everything.
How to Serve Killer Iced Coffee to a Crowd
Nitro coffee, or iced coffee on tap, started out with a few artisan roaster/cafes experimenting with ways to preserve the flavor of iced coffee. The thing about coffee is that it always tastes best when its brewed fresh to order, but that's not always the optimal way to serve iced coffee to a steady stream of customers. Brewing over ice is time-consuming. Icing coffee -- even cold-brewed coffee -- eventually dilutes the flavor. Storing brewed coffee in a pitcher in the fridge pretty much guarantees that you'll be drinking stale coffee within a very short time. The solution? Treat cold brewed coffee the same way you treat artisan-brewed beer: put it on tap and serve it up one glass at a time.
Nitro coffee, or coffee on draft, started gaining popularity around the hotter edges of the country, but it's quickly picked up steam and become a "thing" from Portland to Portland and Minneapolis to Dallas. What's so special about coffee on draft? It's not just the cool factor - though, honestly, it IS pretty cool. There are some very real reasons that iced coffee on draft - or even on tap - tastes different than cold coffee poured from a pitcher.
- Sealed-in freshness: we know that hot coffee goes stale if you leave it in the pot too long, but most people don't consider that cold coffee does the same. When you keg your cold-brew, you're protecting it from oxygen and light, the two things that kill those fresh, bright flavors. Even if you don't use nitrous oxide to draw your draft coffee, you'll still get this benefit. You'll even get it if you serve your iced coffee in vacuum airpot like the Eva Solo Pump Jug.
- Richer body: Pushing the coffee with nitrous oxide thickens its body and seems to acent the fruitier flavors and make them brigther. If you want a head, you can play with the adjustments until you get the degree of foam you want. Iced coffee with crema. How cool is that?
- Easy serving: Seriously, put the mug under the spout, pull the tap and get iced coffee, ready to drink. Does it get any easier than that?
DIY Iced Coffee on Tap
In most cases, you have to go into a cafe to get a nitro coffee, but a few roasters have started kegging up their coffee and selling it to coffee shops, cafes and, sometimes, individual customers. But what if you can't get the coffee you want in a keg? What if you can't find a keg of coffee at all? If you happen to own a party keg, it's surprisingly easy to DIY your own draft iced coffee. We played around with a bunch of different options and here's what we can tell you about kegging your own iced coffee.
- Iced Coffee on Tap
- You can buy a brand-new mini keg on Amazon for about $20. They hold 5 liters. Drop it in a bucket of ice and add a party tap and you're in business.
- If you're willing to lay out a bit more, you can get a complete mini-draft system for less than $200. Just add CO2 chargers for dispensing and drop the 2.5 gallon keg into a bucket of ice to keep it chilled. The CO2 is strictly for dispensing and won't carbonate your coffee.
- Happy with gravity-fed dispensing? Brew up your iced coffee and pour it into a cool lighted brew tender complete with an ice tube to keep your coffee cold without diluting it.
- Want to keep iced coffee on tap on your counter all the time but don't want to spend a small fortune? The Edgestar Mini Kegerator and conversion kit will hold up to 5 liters and keep it cold for you. It's designed for use with pressurized kegs, so if you want to use it with mini kegs of cold-brew, you'll need the conversion kit.
If you want to use nitro instead of CO2 for dispensing, you may have to switch pieces out here and there -- CO2 chargers and nitro chargers have different thread patterns, so they're not necessarily interchangeable.
Not ready to make a big investment in iced coffee? Check with your local party rental store for party pumps and nitro or CO2 tanks and add a pony pump to a $20 mini keg of coffee.
The Cold Brew Recipe
Start with a full pound of coarsely ground (French press grind) coffee of your choice. Add 1 gallon of filtered water. Cover and put it in the refrigerator overnight. Put a second gallon of spring water (not distilled!) in the refrigerator at the same time. Pour the coffee through a wire strainer or colander lined with a double layer of cheesecloth. Add the gallon of cold water. Pour it into your keg. Ice your keg or put it into your kegerator and serve it up.
4th of July Specials
We've tried cold brew on tap with a number of different coffees. So far, the new favorite is Crema Coffee's El Salvador Las Delicias Bourbon
. It's fruity and light, with a bright, refreshing edge that makes it perfect for serving on tap over ice. We like it so much as iced brew that it's our free shipping special this week just because we think everyone should try it. You'll also get free shipping on another coffee we'll be featuring later this week in the very best coffee ice cream recipe ever - Thrive Farmers Ortega Estate Guatemala
. It's got everything you want in an ice-cream coffee: rich body, intense flavors and a smooth, chocolate-y undertone that holds up beautifully to cream.