16 May 2016 / 09:05

The best places for cold brew coffee in Italy and some brewing tips from the pros

Among the different coffee-making methods available, cold brew is definitely the lesser known in Italy. As summer approaches, this popular beverage could finally get the attention it deserves. We asked the experts tips on how to brew it and drink it.

The best places for cold brew coffee in Italy and some brewing tips from the pros

Among the different coffee-making methods available, cold brew is definitely the lesser known in Italy. As summer approaches, this popular beverage could finally get the attention it deserves. We asked the experts tips on how to brew it and drink it.

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Caffè freddo: homestyle tradition

We all, at least once in our life, have tasted iced coffee. Methods to make the caffè freddocaffeinated beverage in Italy vary according to region, and each country has its own tradition. Caffè freddo ranges from the curious Lecce method for example, where iced coffee is made by adding ice and almond milk to piping hot espresso. On the opposite of the spectrum is classic espresso made with a stovetop moka and left to chill in the fridge. Some like to whir ice cubes and espresso in the blender, some leave it on the counter until it reaches room temperature, others use a shaker to incorporate air, flavoring it with syrups and topping it with whipped cream. Then there is the vast majority of Italian coffee bars that prepare it by pouring cups of espresso into a big glass bottle that rests for days in a fridge. However espresso (whether homespun or brewed by a barista) is intended to be enjoyed in the moment, and piping hot. What happens to this sublime brew after refrigeration and lengthy storing? Correct or incorrect traditions aside, a professional method for good quality iced coffee exists, but as it often happens, very few baristas (especially in Italy) know of this technique, even fewer are those who commit to popularizing it.

Definitions: cold brew and cold drip

The method in question is cold brew, a cold extraction that requires a long procedure that lasts about 7-8 hours. The implement used is called Toddy, is rather extravagant and is made up of three parts: a top section made of glass contains the cold water; a central body holds the coffee powder; and a bottom carafe collects the final product. The water drips one drop at a time through the ground coffee beans in an 8 drop percolation every 10 seconds. The drops passing through the ground coffee capture the characteristics and fall colored and rich in flavor and aromatic compounds. Much like the moka pot developed by Bialetti, the espresso is obtained through the filter, minus the temperature and the pressure involved. Only gravity and time. Besides being a great summer alternative, the advantage of this brew is its shelf life. It’s in fact possible to cold brew large volumes at the one time which will keep for as much as 2-3 days in the refrigerator.


Before learning the history and the development of this technique, it’s important to consider the following: by cold brew we intend the extraction method and not the obtained beverage.The term cold brew generally indicates a cold extracted coffee, when actually cold brew is a maceration process of coffee with ice and water”, specifies Matteo Beluffi, expert barista and Italian aeropress champion. “The compound needs to macerate overnight and then is filtered the next day”.

Technically, then, the best definition for the extraction utilizing the Toddy should be cold drip. Maurizio Valli of Bugan Coffee Lab in Bergamo confirms this, adding: “the distinction between cold brew and cold drip is very subtle. The same applies to how many call the variety robusta, when it is actually named coffea canephora, but we’re talking minutiae. Let’s go ahead and call it cold brew, as long as we start talking about it and inform the public of this method”.

Origins of caffè freddo: facts, legends, tales

One thing is for sure: the name of the implement is Toddy and for good reason. It was the American Todd Simpson, owner of a garden nursery with a chemical engineering degree, to set the first parameters for the cold brew method as we know it today. Passionate for good food and an enthusiast of good taste, during a journey in Guatemala in the early '60s Todd first tasted filtered coffee, and decided to reproduce it back home. His wife who suffered stomach issues, was intolerant to the acidity of coffee and Todd – with his baggage of chemistry notions – sought a solution. After several experiments, he realized that the acidity levels dropped considerably as the water temperature diminished.

In this way the engineer created the extraction system that goes by his name. Yet some variations of cold coffee already existed. For example the “coffee syrup” a molasses coffee drink popular with the military, described in the book Civil War Recipes: Recipes from the Pages of Godey Lady's Book. Another theory maintains that it was the French to first serve iced coffee, a beverage called Mazagran after the French legions in Algeria. The 1922 volume All About Coffee by William H. Ukers narrates that the later versions of Mazagran spread internationally when the French cavalrymen returned home and introduced the concept in thier coffee shops.


In Scotland in the mid-Twentieth century is Camp Coffee, a beverage made with coffee concentrate, water, sugar and chicory essence. At the end of the '60s, Japan developed a canned aromatic milk which was later added with coffee extract.

Camp Coffee

But back to cold brew and the coffee we can now obtain with this method. We have asked coffee connoisseurs and pros to explain how to make it and what its characteristics should be.

Tecnique: coffee of choice, timing and temperature

Naturally the first step is selecting the right coffee” Maurizio explains. “For cold brew it’s best to choose aromatic grinds, with floral and fruity notes, like the African beans from Kenya and Ethiopia”. The barista from Bergamo utilizes 48 grams of coarsely ground coffee for each liter of filtered water with ice. “With these proportions I obtain a percolation of 6 droplets every 10 seconds, for a total extraction that lasts between 6 to 10 hours”. There are 2 filters, a paper one positioned above the Toddy containing the ground coffee, and a lower, metal one; “There are several experiments being done, testing new materials. I find the paper filter to work very well”.

As far as water temperature, there are many schools of thought” adds Matteo, “and pinpointing a single parameter is not easy. My advice is using only water, without ice, to avoid thermal shock. Not hitting the correct temperature makes the extracted coffee very bitter. Another must is constantly checking the ambient temperature during the entire process”.

Degustation: aromas and scents

I like the beverage because it is completely different from anything else” comments Andrej Godina, certified SCAE sensory trainer. He has tasted lots of coffee in his career, “but cold brew is one of a kind”. The scent in the final cup “is not particularly exciting, but considering how substances extracted are fewer than in regularly brewed hot coffee, a lower aromatic profile is understandable. It is in any case an interesting beverage exactly because of its uniqueness”. During the tasting the aromatic component is therefore less relevant, while the flavor is, as always, of major importance. “It’s possible to detect the balance between the scents and the tactile body of the beverage. If well extracted, cold brew may present nuances of tobacco leaf that confer the beverage a pleasant and very particular taste”.

Coffee in Good Spirits

An original way of enjoying cold brew coffee is using it as a base for cocktails according to the Coffee in Good Spirits SCAE competition parameters. The contest requires creating a cocktail whose base is coffee.  

What distilled liqueur works best? Cold extraction lowers the acidity and the bitterness of coffee, this allows to experiment pairings with aromatic and acidic distilled products”, explains Davide Spinelli, AST barista and brewing master. Davide is always behind the counter, first as bartender, then as barista. Currently he is employed at the Workup training school in Cagliari. Davide likes coffee paired with gin, “I usually utilize a delicate gin so as not to cover the flavor of the coffee”.For the coffee he relies on roasters like Rubens Gardelli, Paolo Scimone, Francesco Sanapo and Edoardo Quarta. In addition to this is then technique, which completes this cocktail born out of reconditioning: “I was making filtered coffee in large quantities and then I was drinking the cold leftovers. In order to not waste it I transformed it into a kind of aperitif. Hence the idea of starting with a chilled coffee to begin with”.

Coffee In Good Spirits

Also Gian Andrea Sala, barman of Bugan Coffee Lab in Bergamo is partial to gin as a distilled base for his drinks, “in particular Hendrick's gin, rich in botanicals, or Bulldog, which has a simpler aromatica profile, and adapts better to less challenging cocktails”. And for those not into gin Gian Andrea suggests substituting it with vodka or Cointreau, “mixed with fruit syrups and non-acidic coffees like Kenya or Ethiopia beans”.

Only for the patient folk

Back to coffee as is and not as a base for mixology, Leonardo Santetti – mastermind with Alberto Polojac of the ergonomic spoon adapted for coffee tasting – continues on long timed cold extraction coffees. “I was recently in South Korea, where attention towards this method is extremely high. Considering how Asian countries were among the first to cold-extract beverages, starting with tea and then coffee, the waiting times there are 24 hours before enjoying a cup”. Attention though, there is no direct relation between drip time and quality. The flavor of the coffee depends always on different factors, starting with the quality of the raw beans, roasting, grinding and other production phases. For Italian bars however, it’s unthinkable to embark in an 8-10 hour process, imagine 24-hour. What’s for sure is that the more people will taste a well executed cold brew and more bar customers will finally be asking for a quality caffè freddo in their neighborhood coffee bars, thus stimulating baristas to align to higher offer standards. Try it and spread the word. 

Finding cold brew in Italy

Bugan Coffee Lab | Bergamo | via Quarenghi, 32 | tel. 347 870 4719 | www.facebook.com/Bugan-Coffee-Lab

Ditta Artigianale | Florence | via de' Neri, 32 R | tel. 0552741541 | www.dittaartigianale.it/it/catalogo.aspx

Ditta Artigianale Oltrarno | Florence | via dello Sprone, 3 | www.facebook.com/pages/Ditta-Artigianale-Oltrarno

Little Bean | Rivanazzano (PV) | Via Baracca, 6 | www.facebook.com/little.bean.

Orso Laboratorio Caffè | Turin | via Berthollet, 30 g | www.facebook.com/ORSO-Laboratorio-Caff

Pierre Café | Gravina in Puglia (BA) | piazza Cavour, 26 | tel. 080 3253541, 334 1089937 | www.pierrecafe.com

Tazze Pazze | Genova | via Faliero Vezzani, 60 r | tel. 320 0774683 | www.facebook.com/Bar.Tazze.Pazze


by Michela Becchi
translated by Eleonora Baldwin


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