During his college days in Boston, Benjamin Lee fueled up with caffeine while studying poetry, photography and doing IT work. Unwilling to give up his morning jolt due to acid reflux, he began to experiment with cold brewing. Lee perfected his technique over the course of a decade, and in August of 2014 he started the Northern Bayou Cold Brew Company out of Charlotte.
Cold brewed coffee is brewed over a period of 24 hours in water that is room temperature or cooler. The process creates a less acidic beverage. This also increases the amount of coffee grounds that can be used without changing the flavor profile. The result is a strong brew with more caffeine. Lee enjoys explaining the process to coffee lovers and hopes in the future his brew space will be opened to the public for tours.
Northern Bayou Cold Brew’s first retail account was Growler Garage. It’s the only non-alcoholic beverage sold there. “Cold brewed coffee as a market trend has become popular in the past few years and it seems to go hand in hand with craft beer,” Lee said. “I think it’s because it’s a craft beverage that requires a lot of care and attention and has a slightly higher price point. It’s not a mass-produced coffee.”
Coffee beans are frequently used as an ingredient for stouts and porters but of late, brewers have been using cold brew instead, he said. The 14th Star Brewery was the first local brewery to use Lee’s product but others are now using Northern Bayou Cold Brew in their beverages.
Lee uses only organic, farm-direct, Ethiopian beans for his product, describing them as bright, fruity and citrusy. He said many cold brewers like dark roast but he prefers a lightly roasted bean. In addition to his original product, Lee produces Hopped Cold Brew which uses a dry-hop process for the beans. “The dry hop process is more aromatic,” he said. “The coffee picks up some beer-like qualities but no alcohol. It feels like you’re about to sip a hoppy IPA. It almost feels herbal.”
Northern Bayou Cold Brew is currently sold at Growler Garage, City Market, Healthy Living, Burlington Beer Company and to employees at Dealer.com. In the summer, the product is available at Lake Champlain Chocolates and at the Burlington Farmers’ Market. Lee hopes to be part of other farmers’ markets this summer because he enjoys the face-to-face interaction with customers.
Lee is happy with how his coffee has been embraced by Vermont caffeine lovers. “I was drinking a ton of coffee and cold brew was a way to eliminate my acid reflux without giving up caffeine,” he said.
He’s hoping others will also discover and enjoy the benefits of his new, local product.