What Is Sous Vide Coffee and Should I Try It?
Seems like a lot of fuss for a cup of coffee, but it's fantastic.
Between the third wave coffee boom and baristas treating coffee drinks like craft cocktails, it’s an exciting time for the caffeinated-obsessed. At Chicago’s Band of Bohemia, the only Michelin-starred brewpub in the world, my amazing experience ended with a sous vide coffee.
My initial thoughts were: Why would you ever sous vide coffee? Is this a new “trend” for the sake of a trend? It seems like a daunting task for a cup of coffee. But after sipping my very first cup of sous vide coffee, with its elegant presentation and all, the difference in flavor was strikingly obvious: a flavorful cup with natural sweetness and fruity flavors via spices added to grounds during the process.
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The most fun fact about sous vide coffee is that you can legit play around with aromas and flavor profiles to suit your taste buds. “For the winter we are using deep, dark spices like tarragon, black cherry, and rosemary,” says Band of Bohemia’s Head of Coffee and Tea, Tom Santelle. “In the summer it was gooseberry, grape, and yarrow.”
Let’s back up. Sous vide is merely a cooking technique used to raise the temperature of food by way of water without air. “Generally, the longer coffee is extracted—without being over extracted—the more the natural sweetness and fruit character of the coffee is expressed,” Santelle says. “By ‘cooking’ coffee in a vacuum with tarragon, rosemary oleo saccharum, black cherry, and pomegranate we can create an integrated, comforting, and intriguing beverage that doesn't taste flavored,” he tells me.
“I get more questions about this method than the rest of the menu combined,” Santelle says. “I’m always happy to see our guests get excited about our beverage program. About a quarter of the time I end up talking a curious guest through a recipe to replicate the technique at home. It’s fantastic."
Plus, if you’re a fan of the French press, sous vide coffee will be your favorite. While it’s not for the impatient coffee drinker, think two hours in the circulator at 65 degrees centigrade, sous viding coffee will keep you from over-brewing a bitter pot of coffee. French press is relatively stable—there is no real turbulence—and can yield sweet and full bodied coffee,” he says, while the sous vide method is taking that idea a bit further with a propeller and heating element—you can have coffee brewing longer, but cooler for a sweeter and bigger coffee.”
How to Make Sous Vide Coffee
Here’s everything you need to know about sous vide coffee, plus pro tips from Santelle on how to do this at home. The only hassle here, in addition to time, is that a sous vide machine or immersion circulator is required. Once you have one, though, you can toss in the grounds and spices and let it do its thing without constant supervision.
Choose quality beans: “We use a natural processed coffee from San Jose, El Salvador farmed by Frederico Pacas and roasted by Dark Matter Coffee here in Chicago. At home use any coffee made in a process that lends the coffee concentrated fruit character, like honey or natural process.”
Coffee to water ratio: “For our drink called the Old Norse Charm, we start with about 70 grams of coffee for 1,000 milliliters of water, which is a lot of coffee but it’s very impactful,” he says.
Course grind. For sous vide method, aim for medium coffee grounds. “Just like knife work and wok cooking, having a good grinder is important—we are dealing with so much time, small particles of coffee can over extract before the rest gets brewed.”
Add spices and seal the bag: “Add the aromats, the water and coffee (again at a brew ratio of about 1:14), seal the bag, and put it in a water bath at 65 degrees Celsius for two hours.” Santelle reiterates to not worry so much about time but more so temperature, as sous vide is very “forgiving,” however, results will vary.
Filter and serve: “When it’s done, we’ll filter it through a fine stock filter and reserve it for service. This is the tricky part—you can serve it at this temperature, but it’ll likely be unpleasantly cool. We portion it out and bring it back up to 175 (Fahrenheit) degrees—a very comfortable hot feeling—to serve. At home, I recommend slowly heating it up to comfortable temperature on a stove, but get it away from the stove and into a well heated cup as soon as possible. If you intend to circulate coffee and drink it immediately, consider using a higher temperature bath so you don’t have to worry about warming up coffee to drink it.”
Bonus cold brew tool: For cold brew fans, the sous vide method is a solid winner and works faster than a Toddy. “It really excels with more linear, fruitier coffee with defined acid,” Santelle notes. We are more sensitive to texture and aroma than anything else, and the genius of the Toddy system is the little felt filter that doesn’t clog. We use big conical stock filters, but at home the brew basket from a Mr. Coffee can work with some care.”