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Coffee Any Way You Like It

Austin's cold-brewed coffee market heats up with the help of local retailers

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Chameleon Cold Brew
Chameleon Cold-Brew concentrate is available at Whole Foods, Central Market, Whip In and more.  Courtesy of Chameleon Cold Brew/Facebook

The Austin coffee scene has been hot for years (pun intended) but the latest trend goes cold. Cold-brewed, that is.

Most of us make coffee by pouring boiling water over ground beans. “You get coffee almost instantly,” says Steve Wiliams, owner of Chameleon Cold-Brew. “But you also get all the oils and tannins in the beans, and the drink instantly starts to oxidize; half an hour later it tastes bad. In cold brew, you don’t mix the tannins and the drink, so it’s less acidic and more stable. You can let it sit a while and it tastes the same. You can freeze it, reheat, even cook with it.”

Williams has impressive coffee cred. He started working at MoJo’s Daily Grind on the Drag in the late 1990s — where he was first introduced to suppliers who had been cold-brewing since the '70s — and was one of the founders of Epoch Coffee on North Loop. In 2009, Williams started Bennu Coffee, a 24-hour establishment on East Martin Luther King Boulevard. All along the way, he cold-brewed coffee. About a year after Bennu opened, Williams and friend Chris Campbell decided to start making a bottled cold-brew coffee concentrate.  

Coffee aficionados can buy Chameleon Cold-Brew concentrate at the store, keep it in the refrigerator, and make it the way they like it, Williams says. “You can add cream and sugar and drink it cold, heat it up, make popsicles with it, or put it in a canteen or backpack bladder and take it hiking. The idea started partly because I travel a lot, and you show up in a town and have no idea where the good stuff is. So now you take your coffee with you.”

The Chameleon formula is a blend, which Williams points out makes it possible to get the same flavor profile every time. “Coffee is a crop, so weather conditions, drying treatment, all those things affect how it tastes. The same farm can produce a wide range of coffee, so you’re never going to have a consistent flavor unless you blend. We’re looking for a flavor instead of a farm.” His coffees come from Central and South America and the blend is smooth with a chocolate note and a bit of sweetness.

“We’re still building a language of coffee flavors, but we have a person who determines the blend much like a wine taster does,” says Williams. “We have cuppings weekly, like a wine tasting, to determine the flavor profile.”

Williams says Chameleon is the only Austin producer doing cold brew exclusively and not adding any heat to speed up the process. “Our product has to sit on the production line for 16 or 18 hours and that’s rare. Someone always wants to raise the temperature and speed up the process, but the time is what makes it delicious.”

Chameleon has five different bottled flavors available at Whole Foods, Central Market, Vitamin Cottage, Whip In and an ever-growing list of other local retailers. Next up is a ready-to-drink version for convenience and grocery stores.

“Our tag line is 'Coffee Evolved',” says Williams. “This is a complete change in how coffee has been done. We’re conscious of the flavor, how the coffee is grown, that the people who grow it are getting paid well, and that the package that respects the product — a glass bottle, not a plastic one.”

Coffee on tap, beer style, is the approach at Cuvee Black & Blue Cold Coffee, which puts its product in kegs. Founder Mike McKim first ran into coffee on tap back in 2005 in Colorado. Black & Blue Cold Coffee starts with a quick (one minute or so) “bloom” with hot water to extract easily dissolved volatile compounds, which pulls out fruits and florals, then adds very cold water immediately to trap the volatiles into the brew, followed by a 12-hour steep time.  

Cuvee’s cold-brew is currently tapped at various retail locations, including Alta’s Café, Bee Cave Coffee Company, Salt & Time and some Whole Foods locations. The company rents kegs for offices and events, and is working on canning its brew. A Cuvée Coffee retail space will open this summer on East Sixth Street.

Other cold choices in the Austin area include Strange Brew Coffee, a 24-hour coffee shop on Manchaca, which serves cold-brewed coffee by the cup and in 64-ounce growlers to take home.

Fair Bean Coffee shop on South First has an iced coffee that is cold-brewed for 12 hours using a Guatemalan medium roast with a unique fruity flavor. Its Steamed Toddy is iced coffee served with steamed milk.  

Kohana Cold Brew Organic Coffee makes a Kohana Cold Brew coffee concentrate, which is available at a variety of Austin locations, including Central Market, Whole Foods, Blue Dahlia, Galaxy Café and Juiceland.

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