THERE MAY BE no more fitting avatar for Seattle coffee geekdom than Sebastian Simsch, roasting and brewing impresario at Seattle Coffee Works (seattlecoffeeworks.com) at First and Pike. Rail thin and nearly always in a black turtleneck, Simsch flaps around his shop excitingly testing new ways to wring flavor from a coffee bean.
Through round eyeglasses so tight-fitting they seem seared to his peepers, the German native with a PhD in history studies grounds as they brew via the cafe’s collection of contraptions. A Bunsen burner flickers beneath glass beakers for a method known as vacuum brewing. French presses gurgle with a particularly potent potion. Nearby, an orange Diedrich roaster nicknamed “Anna” tumbles experimental Colombian and Ethiopian blends. “The idea always, always is to discover the best cup of coffee you can,” he said.
But nothing in the imaginarium of Dr. Simsch is more striking than the cold brewer, a four-foot-tall apparatus that looks like an elaborate hourglass.
Unlike traditional iced coffee, where drip or espresso is simply poured over ice, releasing bitter acids locked in the beans, the cold-brew (also called “cold press”) method reduces acidity by nearly 70 percent, producing an uncommonly smooth drink. Developed nearly 50 years ago, the technique is on the verge of replacing espresso as Seattle’s—and therefore the nation’s—in-vogue process for creating the perfect cup of joe.
To make the coffee, Simsch soaks coarse grounds in cold water for half a day, then pours a pot of the resulting mixture into the top of the cold brewer. The sludge takes its sweet time winding through glass coils as the grounds are filtered from the H2O, which, four hours later, empties into a vacant pot placed at the bottom.
The dense, mahogany-colored liquid can be added to water and cubes for iced coffee, or it can be refrigerated—for up to two weeks—and used as a concentrate for hot and cold coffee drinks. Victrola Café and Stumptown Coffee on Capitol Hill also serve cold-press coffee, though neither employs a device as elegant as Simsch’s.
Cold brew asks nothing of modern technology. No electricity required. Just gravity and time. It’s a technique that could survive an apocalypse. And if the brewer at Seattle Coffee Works were to emerge intact after the Day of Reckoning it might look to a neo–Stone Age civilization like an apparatus fit for a wizard. A diviner of coffee. A sorcerer of the sacred bean. Like Sebastian Simsch.