It wasn't too long ago that a cup of cold coffee wasn't worth a hill of beans. But these days iced coffee is one hot brew.
"Iced coffee has completely evolved in the past decade," says Buffy Maguire, who with her husband runs two Java Beach Cafés in San Francisco and is opening a third.
Last year, the restaurant industry served up 500 million orders of iced, frozen or what are categorized as "slushy" coffee drinks, says Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for NPD Group, a major market research firm.
That compares with 400 million in 2006, an impressive performance considering there has been an intervening recession, which typically nips at discretionary items like specialty coffee drinks.
Iced coffee drinks on today's menus involve more than just pouring regular coffee over rocks. The beans used are premium, just as with hot coffee, and there are special preparations taken to bring out the best of the flavor.
At Java Beach, coffee is steeped overnight or sometimes longer using a coarse grain and cold water, no heat. "What that process does is there's virtually no acidic quality to the coffee. It just brings out this really caramel-y, chocolate element of the coffee that's really divine," Maguire says.
Who's selling iced coffee?
Just about everyone, from big-timers like Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and McDonald's to most local shops, like Java Beach. Even 7-Eleven now offers an iced coffee beverage in two flavors.
Nearly 60 percent of iced coffee is consumed at breakfast, 20 percent is treated as a snack, 13 percent of sales are for lunch and 4 percent are for dinner. Consumption is heaviest in the Northeast.
At Dunkin' Donuts, iced coffee is "fast becoming as hot, pardon the pun, as our classic cup of hot coffee," says Scott Hudler, the company's vice president of brand marketing.
Dunkin' Donuts uses a double brewing process that keeps the flavor consistent. "It's never bitter, it's not watered down," Hudler says.