There and Back Again


Always Brew Your Own Brew

The quest for cold brew and praying to the gods.

The Lost Chapter

I hotly debated with my editing team whether this chapter would make the cut in Seasons of Strongman or not. In the end, it was cut from the main timeline of the book but I include it here in the appendix as a ‘lost chapter’ because I think you’ll like it and it also has useful instructions for making the very best cold brew coffee you can imagine.

Many of you may already know this but I consider cold brew a critical component of a correctly crafted competition concoction.

This has quickly become one of my favourite ritualistic practices in preparation for a competition, as I like to have a nice stable flow of caffeine in my system for the performance-boosting benefits versus the jacked up feeling of pre-workout and the equally dramatic crash that comes with it.

Lesson number 1 - Always brew your own brew.

Foolish of me. I thought I could zip into my local Starbucks and order the “youj” - a venti cold brew, no water, heavy cream. 

AKA Liquid Fire. 

The Starbucks cold brew, especially when it’s not diluted down, not only tastes like the nectar of the gods, it gives you the power to wield Mjolnir. You’ll feel like the only thing that can stop you is actual Kryptonite.  

(Yes, as a matter of fact, it is powerful enough to allow you to cross the boundaries of comic book universes).

My homemade cold brew, on the other hand, is some mighty fine shit but doesn’t have quite as much ‘oomph' as Starbies. It’s more like the backcountry cold brew that resembles a bottle of ‘shine and I even bottle it in a Mason jar to remain super sketchy looking as I take a long pull between events in the competition. Often other competitors look at me suspiciously as if I were drinking whiskey between competition events. But it gets the job done and I don’t have to go hunting for it. 

Back to my point, I went into my local Starbucks to get my cold brew. 

Venti cold brew, no water, heavy cream, please. (I don’t really need a venti, which has like a million migs of caffeine in it, but I like to enjoy it some more on my drive home and will still have some left over for the next day). 

The first store said they didn’t have any and to check down the road at the other location. So I get back in my car, squeal out of the parking lot, and shoot down the road to the next location. 

The sun hadn’t come up yet and I had a three-hour drive ahead of me. I wanted a little tasty taste of that 'good good' to make the drive a little more tolerable. 

I go into Starbucks number two:

Venti cold brew, no water, heavy cream, please. 

“Sorry we don’t have any, would you like an iced Americano or iced coffee instead?”

No, I don’t want an iced fucking Americano, don’t you know this is a dire situation and I need my COLD BREW?

Admittedly, this was the right thing for the barista to offer to any normal customer in normal circumstances, but my obsession with cold brew for competitions has become far from reasonable. I was damn well about ready to pack it up, head home, and call it a day. 


Back on the road. 

Now that the first city had been of no help to me I was on the highway, cold, miserable, and wondering if I would find my cold brew anywhere. The sun was coming up, at least for the time being, so I had that going my way because I absolutely hate driving on the highway in the dark. 

Athletes are on edge the morning of a competition as it is and my situation wasn’t helping me one bit. 

Don’t leave your pre-competition fuel up to chance. Always brew your own brew. 

Here’s exactly how to make your own batch of cold brew to ignite every cell in your body and have your energy levels humming perfectly for competition day:

Step 1: 
My preferred method includes using a French press that can hold at least 1 L of liquid. I’ve found this to be the easiest way to dispense with the coffee grounds once done. You can also use cheesecloth in a pitcher but I find it messier to work with. 

Step 2: 
Pick your favourite coffee to brew. I like a medium-to-dark roast for the flavour. I’ve found that blonde or light roasts do not make a very good-tasting cold brew, so don’t use that. My current favourite is the Sumatra dark roast from Starbucks and another good option are any of the organic coffee beans that are available at Costco. For maximal caffeine and flavour, you should buy whole bean coffee and grind it yourself. 

Step 3: 
I always like to make more than enough cold brew for competition day. Using a coffee scoop (they typically hold 7 grams of coffee beans), grind 4 scoops or about 1 oz total of coffee beans to a medium coarseness. This is important if you’re using the French press method so that you aren’t clogging your French press. If you’re going to use cheesecloth you can grind the beans a little finer. 

Step 4: 
Add the ground beans to the French press, fill the French press with 1 L of cold water, stir to allow all the beans to soak and put in the fridge. I like to press the plunger down to just above the water level so that all the ground coffee stays submerged throughout the brewing process. 

Step 5: 
Leave for 12-24 hours. 

If you’re behind schedule 12 hours works good enough but you’ll get a stronger brew from 24 hours which is what Starbucks uses for their process. The cold water combined with longer steeping time means that more caffeine is extracted from the ground coffee without heat damaging the caffeine or other volatile compounds. You get a very strong flavour of the coffee with less bitterness but it’s also going to fire you up from the jolt of caffeine. 

Once the brewing is done I like to pour the cold brew into a glass jar, although any sealed cup will work just fine as well. For competition purposes, I drink it straight up without any milk or cream because I don’t want to risk having any dairy sitting out all day if it’s not perfectly temperature controlled and also to avoid any feeling of heaviness or digestive issues from dairy during competition. If I'm picking it up from Starbucks the morning of the competition (which I won't be doing anymore) I would get it with cream because they always add ice to it and it stays cold. 


The Next Obstacle

Did I mention it was -40 out, and despite my car’s best intentions to keep me warm, it was either I stay warm or my windows stay clear from freezing up? So there I was driving down the highway, I couldn’t feel my toes in my boots, if I breathed too deeply my rearview mirror would fog up, and lo and behold, the sun blacks out and snow starts coming on. It’s so cold out that my windshield wipers won’t work properly and keep freezing in place, so I’m blasting the windshield defroster to keep the windshield clear as we are now driving down the highway in whiteout conditions. 

This stretch of highway is prone to the lake effect snow from Lake Ontario not far from where the highway runs through this area. I should have taken the other highway to get there. After a tense 100 km or so, the weather cleared up and I was able to redirect some valuable heat towards my frozen feet. 

Smooth sailing now, but would there be cold brew at the finish line? 

I wasn’t liking my odds of finding any at the one Starbucks location near my destination. 

Relaxing a bit more through the final hour of my journey to Brockville, my car screeched to a stop at the third and final attempt for Starbucks to come through for me on this day. 

It was still colder than a witches tit out. I was starting to fall behind schedule, so I ran inside.

Venti cold brew, no water, heavy cream, please…

“Sure, no problem, coming right up.”

Hallelujah, I’m not going to have to be without my cold brew after all. 

I took a satisfied swig as I went back out to my car to race down the street to the mall where the competition was being held.  

A brief intermission will be held now for you to go and read the competition recap. We will resume with the return trip when you’ve finished. 

So now that the competition was over and I knew that I had a delicious roast beef dinner waiting for me at home, I was ready to get back on the road for the return trip. It was still mid-afternoon and I hoped that I would make it back in good time because as I mentioned already, I hate driving on the highway at night. 

A couple sips of cold brew and I was on my way back home. 

Things were going well for the first hour or so but then the weather started to get uglier. Remember that other highway that I thought was supposed to be better to travel on?

Well, it wasn’t any better. 

It was so grey out that the sun had started to be blocked out by about four pee-em. Then the snow started coming down worse than my trip this morning. So not only was it pitch black out, but the roads had become slicker than goose shit.

Did I mention that I hate driving on the highway at night yet? I fucking hate driving on the highway at night. 

The glare of the oncoming cars, especially the assholes who don’t turn off their high beams as they pass you. The difficulty in seeing the lines on the road, which the snow was no help towards. No high beams - you could hardly see whether you were still on the road. High beams on - reflected off the snow and you could see even less. 

I was so stressed out that I could feel the cortisol eating away at my hippocampus. It was enough for me to want to cut ties with the old gods and pray for some higher power for divine intervention. 

“Uh, hello God, this is RJ. If you’re out there please help me get home safely. Thanks.”

I considered pulling over and stopping but the snow wasn’t letting up and the longer I waited to more likely I would be completely stuck. So I powered through with teeth clenched and a death grip on the steering wheel.

Fortunately, I made it home safely to enjoy the aforementioned delicious roast beef dinner.