August 12, 2021

What is cold-pressed espresso?

Traditionally, espresso is defined as a small, concentrated drink extracted in 20 to 30 seconds, using 9 bars of pressure, and water heated to around 90.5 to 96.1°C (195 to 205°F). 

However, in recent years, baristas and home brewers alike have started to tinker with this formula. People are experimenting with longer pre-infusion times, pressure and flow profiling, and lower extraction temperatures. The boundaries of what constitutes a shot of espresso are being pushed. 

But what about cold espresso extraction?

Cold-pressed espresso has been around for a few years now. Home coffee consumers and some brands have experimented with extracting espresso at cold temperatures. But how do you do it? And how does it taste? To answer these questions, I spoke with two industry professionals on this topic. Read on to learn more.

You might enjoy reading our beginner’s guide to tasting espresso.

espresso on table

What is it?

Let’s start by defining what cold-pressed espresso is. At first glance, it seems straightforward enough: a cold-pressed espresso is simply a shot of coffee extracted using cold water.

So, what “counts” as cold-pressed espresso? Does a shot of cold brew fit the bill? How about a cold coffee made with an AeroPress? 

It’s not that straightforward. Randy Anderson is a coffee consultant and the founder of Cold Brew Consulting. He tells me that to qualify as a cold-pressed espresso, you still need to apply a similar amount of pressure. 

Randy describes cold-pressed espresso using the term “active cold extraction”. To make a cold-pressed espresso, active pressure has to be present to “press” the cold water through the coffee puck. However, he notes that a cold-pressed extraction method still needs “some sort of pre-infusion” to work correctly.

Ultimately, to qualify as cold-pressed espresso, your shot must be made with cold water and extracted under some kind of increased pressure. As Randy says, pre-infusion will also help extraction (much like with regular “hot” espresso).

The problem is, most espresso machines heat up the water in the boiler automatically when you switch it on. So how do we get this required pressure while keeping the water cool? 

man using espresso press

How do you make cold-pressed espresso?

For most home brewers, the answer is simple. You get that pressure minus the temperature by using a hand-operated or manual lever espresso machine. You can then simply pour chilled or room-temperature water into the reservoir chamber. 

Andrew Pernicano is the Head of Education and Community at Flair Espresso, a manufacturer of lever espresso machines. I asked him how he would pull a shot of cold-pressed espresso.

Andrew explains that cold water is less effective at extracting the flavours and aromas compared to hot water. As such, you have to make a few changes to compensate.

“It’ll be a lot harder to get the same level of extraction and solubles out because you’re missing a key component in temperature,” he says. “For that reason, I would updose [the amount of coffee grounds in the portafilter] to get a little bit more solubles available, and grind finer.”

For instance, if you typically use an 18g dose, you can bump that up to 20g. 

Andrew adds: “Give your coffee a good, long pre-infusion… from 120 seconds to 180 seconds.”

To do this on a manual machine, he says to pull the lever down slowly, and observe the bottom of the portafilter basket. 

He says: “When the first drops of espresso emerge, hold the lever where it’s at and pause it for your desired pre-infusion time, before ramping up to the full 9 bars of pressure.”

The longer pre-infusion results in increased permeability in the coffee puck, which will allow you to grind much finer without choking your espresso machine.

Andrew also recommends a smaller brew ratio. He says to go for a 1:1 dose-to-yield ratio, as opposed to a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio. He says this leads to a boost in intensity and flavour.

cup with espresso in garden

How does cold-pressed espresso taste?

Comparing cold-pressed espresso vs iced espresso

Let’s start by comparing cold-pressed espresso to iced espresso. The latter is made by extracting a shot of hot espresso, then pouring it over ice to rapidly cool it down. So how is cold-pressed espresso different?

Randy says the flavour is better. He tells me that the problem with extracting hot espresso and then letting it cool over ice is that it leads to an astringent flavour. This is because of the chlorogenic acid in the coffee, which develops during roasting.

“If you take iced coffee, where you start with hot [espresso], and you slowly chill it, there is an over-development of chlorogenic acid into quinic acid,” he says. “Quinic acid is bad. Anyone who has had an iced coffee made the traditional way or tasted coffee that has been sitting for hours knows that bitter, tannic flavour.”

Cold-pressed espresso vs cold brew

Randy tells me more about how the flavour of cold brew and cold-pressed espresso are different. For starters, he explains that the difference in the taste is related to how efficiently the flavour compounds and aromatics are extracted. 

Coffee beans contain hundreds of volatile chemical compounds which all affect flavour in different ways. These are created when the coffee is roasted, and extracted into your cup when you brew coffee.

“If we’re looking at the difference between cold-pressed and cold brew, there is the potential for more more VOCs present in cold-pressed espresso… which means it can have more aromatics, as long as you brew correctly.”

As a result, he says that with successful extraction, you can expect higher acidity, more intensity in the shot, and a more pronounced aroma in cold-pressed espresso. In comparison, cold brew would be mellower, smoother, and sweeter, with muted acidity (if any at all). 

barista pouring cold press coffee

Pairing with cold-pressed espresso

You don’t have to drink cold-pressed espresso alone. While you might not want to use it to prepare a cappuccino, for instance, there are plenty of drinks that go nicely with it.

“An affogato is a good choice,” Andrew says. The affogato is prepared by pouring a shot of espresso over a scoop of vanilla or fior di latte ice cream, which melts it into a slushy, sweet dessert. 

“It’s really nice [to have] the ice cream itself intact,” he adds. “So, a cold-pressed espresso allows you to enjoy the [combination] for what it is.”

Espresso tonics and iced lattes work well too, because you won’t need extra ice in the drink (which dilutes the beverage over time).

“Anything that you’d have iced or cold would suit it,” Andrew says.

Even if you’re not a typical espresso drinker, he notes that it’s worth giving it a try. After all, it can be smoother and sweeter than a regular espresso, and consumers who aren’t usually fond of them might be pleasantly surprised. 

There are some more unconventional ways of pairing the drink, too. In 2017, Starbucks briefly served cold-pressed espresso at their Reserve Roastery in Seattle. 

They utilised a patent-pending upwards-filtration system which first pre-infused the coffee grounds in cold water, before pressing the water upwards through the bed of coffee grounds to extract the espresso.

The menu they offered was a “Cold-Pressed Americano Exploration Flight”, which served a tasting tray of americanos made three ways: one with cold-pressed espresso, one as a traditional iced americano, and one as a sparkling cold-pressed americano. 

barista pressing out cold-press espresso

What does the future hold?

So, will cold-pressed espresso become a staple in specialty coffee cafes? Or is it merely a passing trend?

At the moment, Andrew says that it’s unlikely we’ll see cold-pressed espresso make its way into the mainstream cafés. This, he says, is because the commercial equipment needed to make cold-pressed espresso quickly and reliably just isn’t there yet. 

He suggests that cold-pressed espresso will remain an “underground” beverage for now, something popular with home baristas and those manual espresso machines.

However, in March 2021, CNBC reported that Starbucks are looking to reintroduce cold-pressed espresso into select stores by the end of the year. As more than 50% of the beverages on the chain’s menu are cold, there are thoughts that it could be yet another way to capitalise on warmer weather.

Randy has high hopes for the future of cold-pressed espresso. He tells me that cold coffee is already a significant part of the industry, and says cold-pressed espresso could be the next major step forward in the coffee scene.

He says: “[In the future], what I believe you’re going to see is espresso machines which have a [dedicated] grouphead for cold-pressed espresso on the same machine.”

serving a shot of espresso on table

The coffee industry is always evolving. Only time will tell if cold-pressed espresso is here to stay. 

However, irrespective of whether or not it becomes mainstream, don’t be afraid to experiment with it at home. Try extracting coffee with different water temperatures. Play with different pre-infusion times. Prepare a tasting tray at home yourself to sample different cold-pressed espressos side by side, and enjoy!

Enjoyed this? Check out our guide to making an espresso in 14 steps.

Photo credits: Flair Espresso

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