Welcome to What’s The Ish, Trish?—a new occasionally occurring advice column on Sprudge.com, featuring Trish Rothgeb of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, the Third Wave, and more. 

trishDear Trish,

Sometimes cold brew tastes rotten and gives me a sore throat. Why? It seems harmless enough, and in fact I’ve been told it has less acid than a freshly brewed cup. I just don’t understand why I can’t get into it like everyone else. What’s wrong with me and how can I improve as a coffee taster?

—Ms. Sensitive
Toronto, Canada

Dear Sensie,

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Hey I’m sorry about the rotten taste and sore throat, but look, you’re not a bad taster by any stretch. It might just be that the taste of the old coffee just bugs you that much more than other folks. I am the same, and I walk the earth a little sad that I can’t just open up a bottle of something from the cold case, throw it over ice and knock it back on a hot day.

Lots of people out there love a cold brew. And if there were anything in the coffee world where we could say, “There is no wrong or right!” it would be this cold brew thing. It is most assuredly a matter of taste and preference. Now that I’ve appeased the cold brew lovers out there by not bashing their preference, I will break it down on your side, because you’re not wrong for disliking it.

Brewed coffee is pretty damned delicate stuff. The compounds that make up the flavors we love and hate are many and diverse! Chlorogenic acid is a major player in coffee flavor. It’s where we get our antioxidants and sometimes the bitter flavors. When brewed coffee is exposed to heat (like a hot plate) the chlorogenic acid breaks down and begins to taste like some other acids that weren’t there when it was fresh, (quinic and caffeic) and those are not the yummy ones.

But cold brew is COLD, I hear you saying. Well yeah, but the breakdown happens with time as well, even if there is no heat applied. As time passes, no matter if it’s bottled or canned or other, coffee will deteriorate. It’s not even really about oxidation, but then there is also oxidation. The compounds that contribute to the flavors you (because you have self-identified as a cold brew disliker) have grown to love, do not accept these basic deteriorations of the coffee liquor. They may show themselves to you by attacking your throat, (acid is wicked like that) or acting rotten (sulfur notes from a flabby and age-y brew).

You may decide you can’t accept that, and that you want to learn to accept cold brew. In that case, you can develop a taste for it by drinking it more often. It is very much an acquired taste. If you are a coffee professional, consider the idea that you may be asked to drink this for quality control work someday. With that in mind, try to stay focused and objective. Learn how to discern well-crafted from refrigerator-tainted cold brew, for example. Taste everything! Even the coffee you dislike. It’s your job, you know!

Bonus Question, straight from the DMs!

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Got a coffee ish? Ask Trish: whatstheish@sprudge.com

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