Isn’t a good recipe the only thing better than a good recipe? When you don’t need one since something is so simple to produce. It’s That Simple is a column where we walk you through the steps of creating foods and drinks that we can create with our eyes closed.
Years ago, when I was living in Japan, I developed an obsession with a dish known as katsuobushi (coffee jelly). It was a glass dessert cup filled with jiggly cubes of sweetened, gelatinized coffee topped with a dollop of soft whipped cream that my friend Yuko ordered for me at a small café that specialised in trendy desserts, and I was delighted when our server brought it to the table: a glass dessert cup filled with jiggly cubes of sweetened, gelatinized coffee topped with a dollop of soft whipped cream. The first mouthful was love at first sight. The coffee tasted unexpectedly robust, complex, and natural, as if someone had transformed a very well-brewed cup of rich, chocolatey dark roast coffee into Jell-O (which isn’t far off the mark!). With only a little chew, each cube was surprisingly solid. My preferred method of consumption is to melt each block in my mouth, allowing the coffee taste to gently wash over my tongue. (Fun fact: I used to think coffee jelly was a Japanese delicacy, but I recently heard that it was invented in England in the early 1800s.)
I ultimately discovered how to make it at home using hot canned coffee and agar-agar after spending too much money attempting as many variants as I could. Although it wasn’t nearly as wonderful as the first bite, 21-year-old me was pleased with himself for having figured it out.
I intended to add a variation of coffee jelly in my cookbook, The Comic Kitchen, when I was writing dessert dishes. My old recipe wouldn’t work since canned coffee isn’t as common in the United States as it is in Japan. After a few weeks of high-caffeine experimentation with various brewing methods, I determined that cold brew was my favourite. It brings out the coffee’s subtler flavours while allowing me to use less sugar because I’m not fighting the bitterness that other hot-brewing methods produce. The end product is a rich, not-too-sweet coffee jelly with a strong coffee taste.
I make my own cold-brew concentrate at home (any kind of coffee will do—rich, toasty dark roasts, fruity and floral light roasts), but store-bought concentrate works just as well. I use a 1:1 ratio of concentrate to water because that’s what most commercially available brands utilise. Not all brands are the same, though, so check the serving instructions and adjust as necessary.