I recently received a great coffee question in my inbox from ZenKimchi reader Ron Handel:

…this past week at work a parent brought me a bottle of Dutch coffee. It is in what looks close to a wine bottle. The directions on how to enjoy it are written in Korean so I am out of luck. What is your recommendation on the best way to enjoy this coffee? A quick search on the internet brings up a ton of videos on the unique process to make this stuff, but I couldn’t find anything on how to drink it?

Oh, one more thing. Someone at work said there is no caffeine….something that peaked my curiousity as caffeine usually hits me hard…is this true?

Great question. In other words: I have no idea. While I’ve tasted Dutch coffee before, I’ve generally overlooked it and, to be honest, looked down on it as just a fad, probably brought started because of the rube goldberg-looking machines that instantly upgrades the appearance of any ol’ coffee shop to artisan status.

But, gee, considering I keep telling everyone they should experiment with all different types of coffee, that just makes me a big hypocrite, doesn’t it?

As I thought about Ron’s question, I realized that, while I do enjoy making cold brewed coffee at home in the summer months, and I know dutch coffee is also a cold brew method, I had no idea what the similarities and differences between the two methods are, other than one requires an expensive piece of artwork while my the equipment for my method cost me less than ten bucks.

I gave Ron my best guess about his answers: It’s probably served straight out of the bottle over ice and that I have also heard that dutch coffee has no caffeine, but that I was extremely skeptical as even decaf coffee still has a measurable amount of caffeine in it (about 5% of the caffeine in regular coffee). It is plausible, though, that it has less caffeine than normal coffee on account of cold water being less effective in general in extracting solubles from coffee grounds, but this was more of a gut feeling than anything else. I asked Ron if he would mind if I took some time to research his question and use it for a blog post here on ZenKimchi.

With all of these types of searches, the first stop was Wikipedia. Problem is, searching for ‘dutch coffee’ sends us directly to ‘Cannabis Coffee House’, which is not what we’re looking for. In fact, almost all of the google hits for dutch coffee referred directly to coffee shops in Amsterdam that sold (past tense, as it is now illegal) marijuana. I closed the google window and went directly to CoffeeGeek.com.

This is where things got interesting. There was no information whatsoever on ‘dutch’ coffee, but there was a picture of one of these large contraptions with the title “Japanese-style slow drip iced coffee using an iced coffee tower” and a link to this how to article. hmmmmmmmmmm 

I have a pretty strong theory that these contraptions, which look almost exactly the same, are, in fact, the same thing. It is also entirely possible that this brew method has a variety of names (just like the french press/press pot, vacuum/syphon and moka pot/stovetop espresso maker), so I wouldn’t draw any hasty conclusions about why this method goes by ‘dutch’ coffee in Korea.

Based on the article on CoffeeGeek (I couldn’t find anything on this type of coffee at all on the other site I commonly use, SweetMarias), we can confirm that the coffee is served with lots of ice, water if necessary and sweetened to taste.

So what about the question about the caffeine content? The very same article confirms something I’d suspected:

Iced water has a different extraction process than hot water. It reacts differently, down to a molecule level, with the ground coffee when compared to traditional hot water brewing. Some elements (including caffeine) are much more resistant to extraction with cold water than they are with hot (though the extended brewing times ensure most of the coffee’s caffeine will extract). Other elements that contribute to things like acidity react differently with iced water.

So, at best, caffeine is resistant to extraction via ice cold water. So unfortunately I can’t give a definitive answer to the caffeine content question, but I still find it extremely unlikely that the content is anything less than 15% of what it is in a normal cup of coffee. For all intents and purposes, a minimal amount for sure. But we still can’t say it has no  caffeine. But remember, I haven’t had a chemistry class since High School. I’m basing this entirely on what I know about decaf coffee and other cold brew methods.

So what is different about this type of coffee? The original CoffeeGeek article had a section discussing this very question.

Ice brew results in a pretty mellow cup of concentrated coffee elixir. The brews are usually concentrated and require water and ice to bring the resulting cup down to a normal-strength cold brew beverage. This brewing method usually results in very mellow, very muted acids (pretty much undetectable), and a nice rounded body taste. Unfortunately, this brewing method tends to obliterate most specific taste nuances in various types of single origin coffees: the resulting brew usually just tastes like “coffee”. That said, you still want to use a very good quality roasted coffee with this brewing method. We’ve found that using grocery-store whole beans or preground commodity coffee results in a pretty stinky brew. Using a good middle-of-the-road specialty coffee that is freshly roasted (within 10 days or less) always gives us the best cup.

So basically you won’t have the acidity that most of us are used to in our coffee. For those that don’t usually enjoy coffee, this can be a very good thing. For those that love a a strong, full bodied acidic brew, it might not be a good thing.

Later on, CoffeeGeek continued with this tidbit:

Because of the differences, ice drip brewers tend to produce a brew that is almost acid free (in terms of taste), with a very pleasing creamyness and good viscous body. Coffees that are particularly spicy or chocolatey tend to show well in iced drip brewers, but so do fruity natural coffees. It is hard to distinguish specific single-origin tastes in a brew of ice-drip coffee, but I can remember putting a super-fruit bomb Beloya through an ice drip process a few years ago, and getting a lot of the fruity characteristics in the brewed cup.

Conclusion: It’s certainly worth trying some dutch coffee. If you’re a fan of iced coffee in general though, I have a special treat for you in my next ZenKimchi post that will teach you how to make a cold brewed coffee in the comfort of your own home without any investment in expensive equipment. In fact, I’ll even show you how to tweak the cold brew method in a way that will allow you to extract more of those precious solubles (read: caffeine) into your iced brewed coffee for a sublime mid-afternoon summer pick-me-up.

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