Something New with Cold Brew

by Dan Catinella
Dan Catinella
December 2014


As the final days of the iced coffee season filtered right through joe drinkers’ fingers, and the caffeinated masses found themselves gingerly sipping lava-hot java once again, Roaster Chris Vigilante of Vigilante Coffee Companyjust outside Washington, D.C. in Hyattsville, Marlyandis opening eyes to a slight twist on a (c)old technique. 

“I learned about the Japanese pour-over method in Hawaii from my mentor Charles Nelson," says Vigilante. “Charles was heavily influenced by Japanese coffee culture, and I was taught this method in 2008, when not many people in the United States we’re doing it.” 

To create Japanese cold brew, the coffee establishment combined Kyoto-style iced coffee with the Japanese pour-over method. Kyoto style uses a contraption seemingly straight out of Breaking Bad. Iced water drips ever so slowly over ground beans at a rate of one drop every second and a half. Japanese pour-over involves (for 1 cup) the gentle pouring of 400 grams of 212°F-water over 28 grams medium-grind beans, which filters directly into a cup.  


To make Japanese cold brew, baristas start with a hot pour-over, dripping directly into an ice-filled carafe. The ice works to chill and dilute the coffee, which is brewed with less water than in hot preparations to maintain an ideal concentration.

When Vigilante moved from Hawaii to D.C., he learned the more common technique of steeped cold brew. “It’s a brewing process done with room temperature water, steeped for 16 to 18 hours, with a resulting rich, low acidity, hold-up-to-ice, delicious coffee. It’s my thinking that the ‘cream-and-sugar folk’ really enjoy the steeped cold brew, and that the black coffee drinkers really enjoy the Japanese cold brew,” he says.

At Vigilante the staff brews both types. The steeped version tends to have a gentler flavor profile and thinner body. The fruitier, almost astringent notes trapped inside the beans tend to come forward, and the more complex chocolaty, savory, spicy notes sit far in the background. The Japanese style is nearly the opposite, adding much more body and complexity to the cup of joe. Even as coffee drinkers grow more sophisticated, Vigilante believes he “can offer an iced coffee that appeals to anyone.” 

Having a coffee culture that has mainly been driven by chains and massed produced schlock, ice coffee brewing in the American market has mostly been adhoc and lacking in technique. By borrowing and mixing traditions at his shop, Vigilante is pushing coffee culture forward from the nation’s capital—one slow cool droplet at a time.