Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

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Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby Peter G on Tue Jul 15, 2014 8:20 pm

Recently, I wrote an article for Fresh Cup which wound up titled "Discovering Japanese Iced Coffee". http://www.freshcup.com/discovering-japanese-iced-coffee/

One of the reasons I wrote it is because I wanted to tell the story of how I came to learn about this technique, to give credit to Mr. Hayashi, my teacher in this, and pay tribute to Japan which- along with many other places in Asia- has developed the cuisine of iced coffee much more than Europe or America has. But it was also to lay some of the groundwork to explain how I named the technique I adapted "Japanese Iced Coffee", and why I persist in calling it that.

I think I understand the reticence to call it "Japanese" iced coffee. I've had people tell me it seems fake, or misleadingly exotic, or inauthentic, kind of like Chinese Chicken Salad or English Muffins.

I don't agree, and here's why:

First, it's important to me that I acknowledge the origin of the technique. Although factoring ice meltage into the total brew volume while making iced coffee is simple and obvious, I am quite certain that the Japanese were the first to design brewers with this in mind. It was not until I visited Japan that I had anything like this kind of coffee, and it was a Japanese teacher who helped me figure out how to do it. I say "Japanese iced" out of respect and tribute to this tradition and my teachers.

Second, I think one of the great things about food is that we can explore cultural diversity. I think it's cool that we still call it "espresso" even though we've dramatically adapted the cuisine for American tastes. (can you imagine if we called it "expressed coffee"?) You might say: "why not call it aisu kohi then?" and you would have a good point. I've thought about that, and since "aisu kohi" is simply borrowed from "ice coffee", I think "Japanese Iced Coffee" is probably more descriptive and appropriate.

Third, we don't have a better word. "Flash brewing" sounds to me like someone is opening a raincoat just before making coffee. "Ice brew" is descriptive, but I feel like the beer guys kind of own that term. "Ice coffee" is generic. All of these feel like appropriation to me.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Good, thoughtful people disagree with me on this and I would love to hear from them to challenge my thinking.

Best, Peter
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby colecoffee on Wed Jul 16, 2014 3:24 am

Okay so here is the reason I will not call it Japanese Ice coffee.

For the past five years I've lived with Hiroko Ebizaki who is from Japan. During this time we have become friends with a large group of Japanese coffee professionals. They often visit the States and we show them around coffee shops, events and have become very close. They have been very eager to share what they know of coffee from their culture and are very eager to learn anything I'm willing to share with them.

So lets go back before this for a moment. The first time I personally made coffee over ice was 7 years ago and I did so with a good friend of mine who was not in coffee named Ben. It started out with him pouring hot coffee that was done brewing onto ice and by the end of the day I had made my first ice coffee brewing it in the flash brew method. At this point I had not heard of it although I'm certain it had been done before. It become my go to method for brewing ice coffee.

So now lets go back to brewing coffee with my Japanese coffee friends here in the states at Visions Espresso during coffee fest Seattle. During this time we brewed with many different types of brewers and coffees all with Hiroko translating. So at some I asked if they had brewed coffee in a flash brewing method and they had no idea what I was talking about. I knew many were calling it the Japanese style so I mentioned that and still they had no idea and seemed very confused about what Japanese Style ice coffee was. I decided to brew the coffee and explain what was happening. A few had never seen it before and 2 had. I asked the 2 that had what they called and they told me it had no name and it was just brewing ice coffee.

So after they left I was kinda confused about this and Hiroko and I contacted via Skype with many of our other friends in Japan to find out about this method. To not make this post longer the people we talked to seemed confused as to why it would be called Japanese Style instead of simply ice coffee. Hiroko having lived here for 9 years also found it very confusing.

It may be that it was first done in Japan or maybe not I doubt there is any solid evidence either way. It's a great brewing method and when I talk to customers I call ice coffee. I did not learn this is Japan and It really just does make any sense to me to call that.
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby scottlucey on Wed Jul 16, 2014 4:42 am

Because the subject line is a question, I am compelled to answer and my answer will be NO.
It is helpful though, to truly know Peter G and posses the ability to honestly tell his story in a way that should nearly be as good as hearing it from the man himself, which isn't easy for everyone. I've tried retelling a Peter G story before and it's just not a good idea to do if the goal is to do it as well as Peter himself can do.

However, it is valuable to name it in a way that's descriptive and clear. For a short while, I liked calling it "double strong over ice" to insinuate that the brew itself is approximately double the strength before dilution but I threw this out b/c it's not as accurate as it should be based on the fact that I actually prefer a 60/40 mix rather than 50/50... "on to ice" works for me.
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby Jason Haeger on Wed Jul 16, 2014 10:27 am

I first learned this method in 2005 at a Starbucks kiosk during my first 7 days in coffee.

Is it Japanese? I don't know. But I do know that it is NOT cold brew, or "Toddy". I've always referred to it as "iced coffee". I, too, prefer the 60/40 ratio.

Since the ratio is a matter of preference, and the order of assembly, while usually agreed on by the majority of serious coffee professionals (from what I can tell), is not a necessary attribute of the final product. Brewed then poured over ice, or brewed directly onto ice? Do we also need new names for these two approaches to what is effectively the same brew method?

On that note, is there another way that is appropriate for the production of quality iced coffee (note: not cold brewed coffee) that we are ignoring? If not, then why not simply call it "iced coffee?"

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with calling it "Japanese," but many thousands of people have enjoyed coffee prepared this way who are blissfully unaware of any affiliation with the island nation of Japan.

I agree with the mentioned notion: won't people just find it confusing?
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby stevelee on Wed Jul 16, 2014 2:31 pm

I also recall brewing this way back in the 90's, but never really had a name for the method.

I don't really have an opposition to calling it "flash-brewed" coffee, nor do I have an issue calling it "Japanese" style iced coffee, but just iced coffee seems to not differentiate between the perception of just using cold or left-over coffee which is what I think a lot of people would assume it is. In my opinion, some sort of differentiating descriptor seems to be in order. Maybe that is why people gravitate towards "cold-brewed" coffee, since it is obviously some other process than yesterday's coffee that has been saved, refrigerated and placed in a cup full of ice.

On another note-I have found some success training staff to offer this "Japanese-flash-brewed" method in smaller amounts using a Clever. That seems to alleviate some of the concerns of fussiness and difficulty...it also provides a good segue into selling a bunch of Clever brewers in the summertime after a quick tutorial in the shop----a relatively price sensitive impulse purchase.
Cheers-
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby jmc on Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:14 am

I like Ice Brewed! I don't think the Beer guys own it, IceHouse is not being aggressively marketed (good riddance!), and I'm not aware of an actual brewing process that's called that. I think it sounds rad and it's the most descriptive but you can call it whatever you'd like IMO. We Japanese/ChillFlashed/IceBrewed some Kenya this morning and it was really delicious, best iced coffee I've had in a long time.
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby nick on Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:41 pm

colecoffee wrote:Okay so here is the reason I will not call it Japanese Ice coffee.

(snip...)

To not make this post longer the people we talked to seemed confused as to why it would be called Japanese Style instead of simply ice coffee. Hiroko having lived here for 9 years also found it very confusing.

It may be that it was first done in Japan or maybe not I doubt there is any solid evidence either way. It's a great brewing method and when I talk to customers I call ice coffee. I did not learn this is Japan and It really just does make any sense to me to call that.


Well, I went to an Irish pub when I was in Dublin early this year. Do you know what they call Irish pubs in Ireland? "Pubs." :lol:

Seriously though, I like the attribution quality of calling it "Japanese iced coffee," but I dislike the inevitable exotic, Japanophileyness of it. I call it "ice brewed," and will be calling it that at Wrecking Ball.
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby colecoffee on Tue Jul 22, 2014 8:59 pm

Yeah to me it's just confusing and makes no sense.
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Re: Is "Japanese" iced coffee the wrong name?

Postby Jim Cleaves on Wed Jul 23, 2014 8:40 am

We made coffee this way in the cafe where I worked behind the bar in Eugene OR (Smeed Hotel) in the late 70's. We did not know the word "barista" at that time, and would certainly not have qualified by today's rarified standards.
I think one of the owners, Wanda, showed us how to do it in about five minutes (or maybe two- Wanda was long on action and short on words) . It didn't take a genius to figure out that you needed a lot of ice, and a lot of ground coffee. Tasted great then, still does. As I recall we called it something like "Coffee Over Ice".

Usually we used the Toddy to make cold water extract for iced coffee, but also we did it this other way for customers who preferred it.

Oh, and we made all our hot drip coffee one cup at a time using porcelain Melitta filter holders. You could get it made "light, medium, or strong" made with any of the dozen or so single origins we roasted, or any blend of them you wanted.

And the thing is, we never thought much about any of this, just did it. It all seemed so obvious.
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