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A fresh — and refreshing — take on ice coffee

| Friday, July 5, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Simply put, I love coffee. My morning coffee is my favorite part of the day. I even travel with a mini espresso maker ,so that all my mornings can start with a steaming shot of rich, dark coffee.

And last summer I became obsessed with a fresh approach to my favorite beverage — cold brewing. It's no more complicated than it sounds. Instead of running hot water through ground coffee, you use cold. And instead of straining the water through it quickly, you steep the grounds in it for longer, as much as 8 to 12 hours.

The result is a rich coffee concentrate that is so worth the wait. You then dilute the concentrate with either hot or cold water (more on that later) to produce a cup of coffee that is light, yet rich and virtually acid-free. This is because the grounds steep slowly, which is a gentler extraction process than traditional brewing. And it, quite naturally, makes the most amazing iced coffee, one of my favorite summer drinks.

When I started experimenting with making it at home, I made it in canning jars and old milk jugs. But straining the grounds at the end was always a bit of a hassle. A light went off in my caffeine-charged brain when I thought of my somewhat-abandoned French press. The coffee press could brew and filter the coffee in one piece!

Of course, I'm hardly the first person to think of it. In fact, French press-maker Bodum even has a model designed for cold brewing. That version comes with a lid for the overnight brew and the plunger part has a locking pourer “spout,” which allows you to keep the cold brew in the refrigerator for as long as it lasts. You just clean it and get rid of the coffee grounds when you are ready to make a new batch.

There are a few points to consider when making your perfect brew. For cold-brewed coffee, you must use coarsely ground coffee. If you use a fine grind, it will be difficult to strain the coffee and your iced coffee will be filled with sediment. I use a 4-to-1 ratio of water to coffee. It is easy to remember and makes a good, strong coffee “concentrate,” but not too strong.

One of the reasons I love to use cold-brewed coffee for my iced coffee is that it doesn't get watered down when poured over ice. Traditionally, brewed coffee loses its punch when the ice melts. But if you use the cold-brewed concentrate straight up, it can handle the ice without losing its flavor.

Another iced-coffee tip along those lines — whenever you have leftover coffee (no matter how you make it), pour it into ice-cube trays and freeze. Then when you make iced coffee, use those cubes instead regular ice. This way as the ice melts, your coffee just gets better and better rather than watered down.

A final note about sweeteners. Anyone who loves iced coffee surely has noticed that granulated sugar doesn't dissolve well in cold beverages. So instead use simple syrup (sugar and water mixed at a 2-to-1 ratio, simmered, then cooled), agave syrup or even maple syrup.

Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and a contributing writer to the Associated Press.

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