I am sitting at Primo Passo Coffee Co. in sunny Santa Monica, CA1 sipping on some cold brew, pondering the current state of this caffeinated beverage here in the southlands. A year ago, were I writing this post, I would have needed to spend a paragraph explaining what cold brew is. Today, however, cold brew is as ubiquitous bubble tea (i.e. boba), and craft beer. 2
The proliferation of this upgraded iced-coffee, makes it difficult for a particular coffee shop to stand out in regards to their cold brew. Walk into any hip cafe, and I betcha a cold brew that they will have $5 cold brew.3 This does not mean there are not all-stars when it comes to cold-brew. Demitasse and Balconi — two elite L.A. coffee shops — are evidence that when it comes to cold brew, all the glitter and gold comes not from the beans or grind size, but from the Kyoto drip system.
Kyoto drip is a way of brewing cold brew that embodies everything people hate about coffee snobs. It also yields the best cup of cold coffee you’ll ever have. In most cold brew methods, coffee grounds are immersed in water for 12-14 hours before filtration to create a concentrate. Kyoto drip, however, employs a slow drip system. An egg-timer like contraption (as seen in the photo below) allows water, one drop at a time, to filter through coffee grounds. Initially, it seems like no coffee is being brewed, but after an hour or so the drops of water begin to make their way through the coffee grounds, yielding a coffee concentrate that is sweet, complex and bold.
Because of the precision of this drip system, high-quality batches of cold brew can consistently be produced (provided good beans are being used). It is this consistency that in my opinion justifies the $6 price tag. At a place like Primo Passo, that employ traditional cold brew methods, you may spend a dollar or two less, but the coffee will be hit on miss. For example, this cold brew I am currently sipping on, while made with quality beans, is too bitter for my palate to enjoy. But just last week I had a cold brew here that was excellent. At Demitasse, however, I know that in return for my $6, I will be given a Kyoto drip that taste like perfection. So if you have a hankering for coffee, but don’t want a hot beverage, a cup of Kyoto drip is exactly what you want. And after one sip, you’ll understand how one could write 543 of words about it.
1. Note: at the time of writing it is in fact not sunny here in Santa Monica.↩
2. This is a topic I explored in great depth a few months ago in “The Summer of Cold Brew.” If you have literally nothing else to do and want to catch up on the state of cold brew, this is the post for you. ↩
3. If you have indeed found a hip coffee shop not offering $5 cold brew, let me know. If you are in L.A., coffee is on me. If you are not in L.A., coffee is still on me, but you provide the plane ticket. ↩