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Adding Coffee to your Homebrew

Coffee and stout go together like cake and ice cream. It just works. The roasty malt, big body, and in some cases sweetness of a stout lend themselves wonderfully to pairing with coffee additions. Let’s go over some methods to adding coffee into your beer.

Cold and Hot Brewed Coffee Primer

Cold Brew, it’s not just for hipster cafes anymore. Cold brew coffee is what it sounds like; coffee brewed using cold water instead of hot water. The bitter notes in coffee are a byproduct of brewing it with hot water. This means that coffee brewed cold will retain it’s roasty notes without nearly as much harsh bitterness. Coffee is typically brewed with hot water at home and in coffee shops as it releases its flavor significantly faster, at the cost of a cleaner flavor. Making your own cold brewed coffee is easy. You’ll need coffee (coarsely ground), water,  a container, and a fine mesh bag / strainer. A fine ground coffee can lead to grounds in your cold brew, and in extension of that, your beer. To create the cold brewed coffee, add your coffee and water to your (sanitized) container at a ratio of 1 cup of ground coffee for every 5 cups of cold water. Let the coffee and water sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Strain the coffee grounds out of the solution when done (using the fine mesh bag or strainer) and store cold. It will keep for up to two weeks, but making it close as possible to when you’re adding it will reduce the risk of any infections. When choosing whether to use hot or cold brewed coffee, one doesn’t need to look much further than their grain bill. Hot brewed coffee is harsher and more acidic, so grain bills with higher amounts of roasted malts (also lower PH) may want to use cold brewed coffee for more "coffee" flavor and less harsh characters. The inverse is true for grain bills with less roasted malt.

Adding Coffee Pre-Boil

One of the biggest benefits of adding brewed coffee before the boil is its oils will be volatilized, preserving the head retention in your beer. However, adding coffee grounds to the mash, or brewed coffee before the boil will drive it’s attractive aromatics away. You also get the benefit of knowing your coffee addition is completely free of contaminants, as any present will be killed off in the boil. Another option is to use your grain bill to influence coffee flavors without even using coffee. You can also achieve a great coffee aroma and flavor by using malt alone. It’s kind of like cheating, but all is fair in love and brewing. Amber malt has an exceptional coffee like flavor. There is also a coffee malt which adds the roasty coffee flavors and aromas.

Adding Coffee in Primary

Another time to add coffee is after the boil or during primary fermentation. Active fermentation will drive off some aromatics, but aroma loss won’t be as vigorous as during the boil. The downside of this is the oils that hurt head retention are still present in the beer. Stouts typically don’t call for extreme amounts of foamy lasting head, but it is something to keep in mind (oil + beer = reduced head).

Adding Coffee Post Fermentation

In addition to adding hot or cold brewed coffee post fermentation, there are several other methods that open up during post fermentation and bottling. After fermentation is done we have the option of “dry beaning”, which is like dry hopping, but with coffee beans.

Dry Beaning

When you dry bean your beer, there are two things to consider: exposure time and grind level. The finer the grind of your coffee, the faster you’ll extract coffee flavors and aromas into your beer. You can get plenty of coffee flavors in just two days of dry beaning with a finer grind, so it’s important to check often. A finer grind also increased the likelihood of coffee grounds being able to escape a mesh sack, and be pulled up through an auto siphon during bottling. A courser grind will release the flavors slower and decrease the risk of coffee grounds in your bottles. The reason a finer grind releases flavors faster is the much greater surface area (similar to to differences in oak aging between chips, cubes, 5 gallon, and 55 gallon barrels). You can also use whole beans. The flavor release takes even longer, and there is significantly less color released into your beer. This can be ideal for white stouts.

Tinctures

Another option is to create a coffee tincture using vodka. This tincture can be added after primary, individually measured out into bottles, or added into the bottling bucket. To create a coffee tincture, soak crushed beans in vodka. They only need to be crushed, as you don’t want any fine grounds sneaking into bottles. You’ll want to leave the beans in the vodka for seven days to ensure complete extraction. Next you’ll want to strain out the beans so you’re able to add the extract freely. There are three ways the extract to your beer. 1. The first way is to add extract right into your fermenter. This is a little unpredictable and you may need to brew the batch a few times to get it right. Instead, you can remove twelve ounces (or any volume) of beer, add a bit of measured extract to it until you have the flavor you’re looking for. Then multiply that amount by how many times that volume is in your beer. 2. The next option is to do a similar measurement, but use the volume in your bottling bucket to figure out how much to add. This helps better account for any volume loss due to a lot the trub in the primary. here’s an example. You find that 3ml for every 10 ozs of beer tastes the most balanced, and the batch is 500ozs. You would add 3 X (500/10) to get the amount of extract to add to the entire batch. In this case it would be 150ml. 3. The other alternative is similar, but you measure out 12 ounces, figure out how many drops from a pipet you want to get the ideal flavor/ aroma. Then you add that many drops to each bottle. If you are kegging you will need to use the first option. If you want to test how the beer ages with different amounts of coffee, you can bottle several bottles each with different levels of coffee tincture added (5 bottles with one drop, 5 bottles with three drops, 5 bottles with five drops etc.). Then you’re able to taste each one as they age to see which one ages best, has the most balanced flavor, and which ones fall short. Next time you make the beer, you’ll know how many drops to add to each bottle (and in turn how much to add to the bottling bucket instead). There are lots of ways to add coffee into your beer. Using one or several methods at once may be best for your beer, and it’s important to experiment and find what works for you.

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