Japan has a serious love affair with coffee. Ice coffee, especially during the putrid summer months, is one of the top favorites. You have ice coffee, and then there’s Japanese ice coffee – otherwise known as アイスコーヒー. This much taken for granted drink only made the world stage in 1994 when an international coffee dignitary visited Japan and realized how delicious aisu kohi really is. So what makes Japanese ice coffee so special, and how easy is it to make your own at home?
What Exactly is Japanese Ice Coffee
Japanese ice coffee is hot brewed coffee delivered directly over ice and in the process flash chilled. Flash chilling supposedly locks in specific flavors, prevents oxidation, and in doing so creates a fresher tasting coffee.
Japanese ice coffee has a light bodied, refreshingly crisp taste, complex in floral and fruity flavors, but perfectly balanced all the same. The addition of sugar syrup or milk is left to your discretion.
Make Japanese Ice Coffee With a Coffee Dripper
There are a number of ways to make Japanese ice coffee. Essentially, if you already have a coffee maker, an aeropress, or a pour over dripper, you can make Japanese ice coffee. Chemex brewers are a popular choice and their thicker filter produces a lighter coffee. Good local drip brewers are the Kalita Wave and the Hario v60.
Make Japanese Ice Coffee with a Coffee Machine
The faster and more convenient way is the simple ‘conbeni’ method where the coffee making machine will dispense hot coffee directly into your ice filled cup. Either way, the best Japanese ice coffee can easily be made at home with little effort.
For a coffee making machine, you just add the ice into the carafe. Some machines, such as the Cuisinart, have a special setting for over ice coffee. Kalita ET-102 and Apix Drip Meister are two inexpensive coffee machines that mimic the external look of the traditional hand pour coffee maker.
The Kalita will heat up the water like a usual coffee machine. The Apix uses an AC adapter to power a swivel head that sprays the water more evenly over the coffee grind. You have to fill the reservoir with hot water first.
Essentially, these are more rustic minimalist coffee machines. Like a standard coffee machine, they operate a spray or shower mechanism above the filter basket for a more gentle distribution of water at the ideal temperature.
Supposedly, this helps to foster a better bloom and extraction of flavor and aroma. It certainly takes a lot of work out the equation, but a goose neck kettle in a well practiced hand can arguably produce a better brew.
Japanese Ice Coffee in 7 Easy Steps
Different recipes will suggest varying ratios of water to ice and grind size depending on the brewing device you use, and the strength and the volume of coffee desired.
Because ice already accounts for final liquid volume, you generally need to use a finer than usual grind – generally a medium to a medium fine grind. A uniformly even grind is best achieved with a hand grinder.
Another trick is to use large ice cubes which melt slower and remain above the rising liquid level.
Time needed: 3 minutes.
How to Make Japanese Ice Coffee
- Prep the filter
Always pre wet and damp out the paper before placing it in the dripper or machine. Do not pre wet the delicate Kalita filter paper.
- Grind the beans
Use 20 g for a Hario v60 or Kalita Wave, and 40g for a Chimex. Add more or less coffee to adjust the strength.
- Place the grinds in the filter paper
Shake the pour over filter to even out the grounds, but do not tamp anything down.
- Put the ice in the collector
For a weaker brew increase the ratio of the ice. A medium average is 1.3 times more water than ice. If you want to follow a recipe to the tee, then brew on a kitchen scale.
- Start the pour
Pour around 50 to 70 grams of water, or enough to fully wet the grinds, and allow to bloom for 30 seconds.
- Finish the pour
In a slow circular motion, gently pour the remainder of the hot water. Some people like to do a second pause, but the total brew time is around 3 to 4 minutes.
- Decant the coffee
Pour into that special glass and serve vivaciously.
Japanese vs Other Ice Coffees
Different versions of iced or cold coffee have been around since perhaps the late 19th century. In Japan, ice coffee has been popular since the 1920s emerging in the Taisho period.
Mixing coffee with ice, or drinking it chilled, is pretty much a no-brainer, but how you do it will have discernibly different results.
In some countries, like Canada, there is an ice cappuccino version. Chileans prefers an espresso shot mixed with ice cream. Many places have chilled coffee mixed up in different ways, sweetened, and often prepackaged.
The Japanese method, however, is decidedly more gourmet than gourmand as it brings out subtle differences and distinct flavors from different types of beans.
Cold Brew Coffee
The experience and sensation of cold brew coffee is once again completely different. Cold brew, as the name implies, means that the coffee is not procured using heat. Instead, it’s brewed by full immersion over an extended period of time – usually at least 12 hours or more.
With no heat or pressure, the more complex flavors of the coffee grounds are missing. It’s a much smoother coffee more focused on sweet and nutty flavors, and less acidic and bitter. It’s much more difficult to procure a good cold brew, and it requires a more coarse ground of coffee, and the ratios of beans to water can be temperamental.
With Dutch coffee, ice water drips over the coffee ground slowly bringing the aromas and flavors to bloom. However, unlike cold brew, it only takes about three to four hours to completely brew and not half a day. Back in Holland in the 17th century, they discovered that his style of coffee lasted longer on voyages. The reason being potentially rancid fats and oils in coffee grounds are insoluble in cold water.
Whereas cold brew is a rather crass show of dumping a bag of coffee into water, cold drip brew gradually wets the grounds until fully saturated, and they have more air to ‘breathe’.
The liquid gold then percolates one drop at a time into the collection beaker. This method produces a darker, stronger, and more full bodied flavor than cold brew. Yet, it’s still lighter, sweeter, and less acidic than flash chilled coffee.
Kyoto coffee is really just a modern redo of the old Dutch method, but touched up with some real Kyoto elegance. Stylish wooden brew towers drip water from the top into a middle section with the grounds, and then drips into the collection beaker at the bottom.
The top bowl sometimes contains just ice cubes which slowly melt, or you can also use a solution of ice and water. These contraptions can be a little pricey for the home and are more for the real connoisseur. Famous brands are Yama, Hario, and Kalita.
Japanese ice coffee is arguably the best way to make a cold coffee beverage. Whether you like it straight up, with a dash or syrup, or with milk – it will always delight you with its refreshing taste. Never too bitter nor acidic, neither too mild nor indistinct. Just perfectly right and easily customized to your taste.