The history of Cold Brew coffee


This article was first published in Southsea Lifestyle magazine. June 2016.


Every summer we see a bigger expansion of cold coffee products available in major coffee chains, as well as your local independents. Although seen as a modern invention, cold brewed coffee has a long history. 

Despite many theories as to the origin of cold brew coffee, with nations as diverse as the Netherlands, Japan, Guatemala and Peru cited; some of the earliest documented cold coffees originated as military rations. 

The French provide the earliest example of a drink called Mazagran; which consisted of coffee concentrate sweetened and mixed with cold water. This was enjoyed by French Foreign Legion solders at the Mazagran fortress in Algiers in the 1800s. According to William H. Ukers’ definitive 1922 coffee tome, All About Coffee, subsequent versions of the Mazagran began to sprout internationally once those soldiers returned to France and introduced the concept far and wide.  

However, many more years passed between those early coffee syrups and an actual ready-to-drink brewed coffee. The breakthrough happened in Japan, in the late 1960s. 

Canned flavoured milk was a popular item in Japan in the late 1960s, including coffee-flavoured milk. Thenbusinessman Tadao Ueshima had the idea of flipping the ratios and created a can of mostly coffee with a bit of milk and sugar. He invested heavily in advertising and product giveaways, overcame initial public resistance and finally in the 1970s it caught on.  

      Tadao Ueshima, known as 'The Father of Coffee in Japan' // The first branch of Ueshima Coffee Co opens in Tokyo in 1951 // The worlds first canned coffee from UCC

      Tadao Ueshima, known as 'The Father of Coffee in Japan' // The first branch of Ueshima Coffee Co opens in Tokyo in 1951 // The worlds first canned coffee from UCC

Also in the late 1960s a garden nursery owner with a degree in chemical engineering was served a delicious coffee concentrate whilst on a plant-gathering trip to Guatemala. His name was Todd Simpson, and soon after he created the Toddy cold-brew system 

Cold brew coffee from the Toddy system was initially conceived as a concentrate to mix with hot water as a low-acidity alternative to hot-brewed coffee for people with sensitive stomachs. However, the concept and the accompanying brewing system have since endured and been embraced by today’s coffee industry as an outstanding cold-brew method which produces a concentrate that is naturally smooth, sweet, and cold from its very beginning.  

This method of cold brewing now forms the basis for many cold coffee drinks, although in the speciality industry new methods and equipment are always being invented, so who knows what next year will bring. For now, when it gets hot outside you can make sure you get a cold brewed one.