I’ve never really liked coffee. I find it too bitter, dark and almost murky. Despite trying the range of brewing methods, roasting techniques and carefully sourced beans that have captured the palates of most people I know, to the point of addiction, tea has always been my preferred beverage.
But earlier this year, I had an excellent 12-course meal at Ox, one of the newest restaurants in Reykjavik, Iceland. The meal finished with chocolates and coffee made sous vide, and I couldn’t believe the difference produced by this unusual brewing method. The flavours were textured, fruity and smooth, with no bitterness at all.
Owing to my disinterest in coffee, I haven’t had much experience in formulating the perfect brew, so I consulted Javaid Shah at Phil & Sebastian in Calgary, one of the best roasters in Canada. Phil & Sebastian’s head trainer and last year’s Canadian Brewers Cup champion, Shah has made a living out of tinkering with coffee.
Hot water can very easily over-extract flavours in coffee. “The difference between ‘sweet and balanced’ and ‘bitter and unpleasant’ is sometimes only a matter of seconds,” Shah says.
In contrast, sous vide is more forgiving. “It allows enough heat to extract rich, sweet complex flavours from the coffee, but keeps the temperature below the point of introducing bitterness.”
To make sous vide coffee, follow Shah’s method: Combine ⅔ cup (52 grams) of coarsely ground coffee with 3 cups (750 grams) of room-temperature, filtered water in a one-litre Mason jar and stir to mix. Screw on the lid until snug. This allows hot air to escape without letting water in, preventing the jar from cracking or even exploding. Brew in a 68 C (154 F) hot water bath for two hours (we used both a Sansaire immersion circulator and a Sous Vide Supreme machine for the trials), then strain through a coffee filter. The conclusion for me, the non-coffee drinker, was that I preferred a medium-roast coffee rather than a dark one, as I found the dark still a bit bitter. The medium roast allowed for more flavours to come through. My testers (who do drink coffee regularly) loved both kinds.
Would you go to this trouble? It certainly is a talking point at a dinner party, and it is interesting to see people’s reactions. Most people say they would never do it, preferring the French press method. But if you have a sous vide, you might find it addictive.
Reheat on top of the stove when you need it or serve over ice or with cream. It keeps sealed in the Mason jar in the fridge for up to one week.
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