At its most simple, iced coffee is just that. Coffee over ice.
But it's really more complicated, as seemingly simple things often are, especially if you want a perfectly balanced drink. Homemade iced coffee just isn't as satisfying for those of us with a taste for coffeehouse concoctions made by a barista who knows us by name.
Watery. Weak. Wan.
Some aficionados favor cold brew coffee for iced drinks (more on that later). There's talk of a Japanese method where you weigh the ice to ensure that it equals half the total liquid. I don't know about you, but if making iced coffee requires math and a scale, I'll gladly plunk down $4-plus at Starbucks (which I do a lot anyway). Others suggest brewing coffee extra strong so that the melting ice cubes don't weaken the coffee flavor.
Still, there's got to be a little something different about coffee destined to be enjoyed cold. Starbucks, Seattle's Best and Keurig have all recently launched instant products designed for people who want their homemade iced coffee to be as good as what they can get at a cafe. Seems like you don't even need a coffeemaker to "brew" a Tervis Tumbler of iced coffee these days.
Some iced coffee drinks are more like desserts than beverage. It's hard to convince anyone that you're sipping a Double Double Chocolate Chipity Frapp-amazing because you're thirsty. A sturdy blender that makes short order of ice can help you turn out meal-replacement coffee drinks at home. Vietnamese or Thai iced coffee, made thick with sweetened condensed milk, is another once-in-a-while splurge.
Make like a barista at home
If you want to save a few bucks and give your coffeemaker a workout, here are some tips gleaned from several sources on how to turn hot coffee into a cold and delicious delight.
Don't use lousy coffee for iced coffee. If it doesn't taste good hot, it's not going to be miraculously mouthwatering over ice. Milk and sweetener can only do so much. Let the coffee you drink hot get cold without any embellishment, then taste it. If you like it, start experimenting.
Leftover coffee makes good iced coffee. Don't leave it in the pot or the carafe, though. Store it in a container with a lid in the fridge. Letting coffee sit in the pot all day creates oxidation and increases acids, which can make it bitter. Bacteria can also grow there.
Put freshly brewed coffee in the freezer for about 30 minutes in the morning to chill it quickly if you want an a.m. iced coffee. Transfer coffee from hot carafe to a plastic container so you don't risk cracking glass and a big mess in the freezer.
Make coffee ice cubes. As they melt, they won't dilute the flavor of the drink. Make them in an old-school ice tray and when they are frozen, remove and store in a zipper-closed bag. Want to make them even more luxe? Fill the trays halfway with half-and-half, cream or milk and freeze. Then fill tray the rest of the way with cold coffee. Freeze and store. You'll get an extra jolt of coffee and creamer in your drink.
If you use regular ice cubes, brew the coffee about 25 percent stronger (some say 50 percent). Also, make sure that the ice cubes aren't old, because it's not just the coffee that's flavoring the drink. Is the water in your icemaker good enough to drink? Melt a few cubes and see what you think of the taste of them as water.
Try a cold brew. Put ¾ cup ground coffee in a quart container, fill with water and stir. Cap it and put it in the fridge for 12 hours. Strain the grounds through cheesecloth or a coffee filter. The coffee will be quite strong, but ice cubes and creamers dilute it. You may need to add water.
To make a latte at home, use espresso or extra strong coffee and lots of milk or cream. Since you are drinking it cold, you don't need to steam the milk, so you won't need additional equipment. To flavor, add about ½ teaspoon of extract (vanilla, peppermint, etc.) for each serving.
Obviously, the amount and type of "whitener" and sweetener is up to your tastes and dietary predilections. Make your drink skinny by using non- or low-fat milk, sugar-free syrups and artificial sweeteners. You know how to make it more caloric and carb-laden: full-throttle cream or milk and sugar.
Like any attempt at making something at home that you often buy out, it might take some experimenting to get the taste you want. And if it all fails, there's still that friendly barista.
Information from the Chicago Tribune, Eight O'Clock coffee and Muddy Dog Roasting Co. of North Carolina was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.