A master barista's guide to everything from caffe fredo to cold steeping and cold brewing—with an emphasis on proper technique and how to preserve true coffee flavor
With seemingly little thought, or plan, our beverage choices naturally evolve with the seasons. Full-bodied cabernets give way to light-hearted spritzers. Dark, malty ales yield to blonder lagers. For coffee, the iced kind takes a supporting role, if not a leading one.
Iced coffee is a global phenomenon with some good local color. In Greece, where per capita coffee consumption ranks among the world's highest, one-third of coffee is consumed as the iced coffee Greeks call frappe. Simple and refreshing: just combine ice, espresso, and simple syrup in a blender until it thickens like a smoothie, then pour over ice from your freezer. (Ice from a freezer tray is better to use than ice from a refrigerator's ice machine, which is usually less dense and therefore less effective at keeping frosty beverages cool.)
Why hot shots and not espresso cooled to room temperature? Because the nearly instantaneous cooling of the hot liquid preserves aromatic integrity—and aroma is the gateway to taste.
Moving along the Mediterranean, we land in Italy, where the trend now is cooling a single or double espresso in a cocktail shaker, with a lot of ice and maybe a little simple syrup (50 percent sugar, 50 percent water, boiled for five minutes and then cooled). Milk, Baileys, and coffee or vanilla liqueur are often added to create coffee cocktails. The Italians strain out the ice for a smooth coffee drink. This method yields far better results than the old-style caffe freddo, a cold coffee drink still served in many bars across Italy—a lot of espresso shots mixed with water and sugar, refrigerated for a couple of hours, then served straight in the glass.
Among the country's traditional cold coffee preparations are the Sicilian granita al caffe, espresso with sugar, quick-frozen until semi solid, and mixed several times during the freezing (for a recipe, see Corby's The Joy of Coffee); espressino, originally from Puglia, with one shot of espresso poured over three ice cubes in a glass; and Northern Italy's affogato ("drowned"), a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Simple and delicious. To the east, Germany's Eiskaffe is considered the inspiration for affogato: espresso with milk, over a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped by whipped cream and shaved chocolate.
Whereby Israel's café kar gets down to basics—coffee, milk, and ice—South America's café helado is complex. Chile's version mixes no less than espresso, Chantilly cream, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate ice cream, dulce de leche, and ground almonds.
Japan's aisu kohi is a mix of coffee, gum syrup, and milk, commonly found in cans. Ready-to-drink coffee and tea are Japanese staples, found in about every corner store and vending machine. Thailand's iced coffee contains cardamom, and in the Philippines, condensed milk lightens and sweetens things up.
Purist that I am, I stick with the hot stuff year round, for the aroma, the taste, the elixir-like qualities that only a freshly pulled espresso provides. And while iced may be the natural summertime call, hot beverages do a better job governing temperature perception under sultry conditions—in effect, producing a better cooling effect. The African Tuareg tribe, for one, travels camel-top across the Sahara sipping tea for mile upon sand-swept mile.
But the people have spoken. The time is right. Let's talk iced coffee technique.
Pour hot coffee over ice and you get diluted coffee. So logically, the idea is to melt as little ice as possible, making espresso ideal for iced coffee, owing to its relatively low volume and higher concentration. Rapid cooling is your goal, so pour just-pulled shots right over ice in a cocktail shaker (the glass and metal kind, not all metal), shake, and strain.
Why hot shots and not espresso cooled to room temperature? Because the nearly instantaneous cooling of the hot liquid preserves aromatic integrity—and aroma is the gateway to taste. Bottom line, you get the most "coffee-like" iced coffee experience with espresso. Sweeten and lighten to suit your taste. Use simple syrup or a liquid sugar substitute like blue agave instead of granulated sweeteners, which don't dissolve well in cold beverages.