Once upon a time last week hot coffee was my lifeblood, my winter raison d’etre. All it takes is one morning where it’s 70 degrees at 7 a.m. and it loses its appeal. I need to wake up, but I don’t want to get sweaty in the process.
That’s when the mug steps aside for a tall glass with ice cubes and eye-opening java on the rocks with 1 percent milk. I like the feel of the cold condensation on my hand despite the puddle it makes on the table.
This is iced coffee. The over-sweetened, coffee-flavored half and half, Slurpee-like liquid you get at chain coffee, doughnut and fast food joints is really an odd coffee dessert, especially when they put whipped cream on top. It’s not café snobbery — just look at the ingredients in one of those beverages.
At a good coffee place you can customize iced coffee components until you hit the just-right Goldilocks taste, but it’s easier and cheaper to do at home.
Strong philosophical differences exist among iced coffee aficionados about the poured-over, nitrogen-infused and cold-filtered variations, but one truth is self-evident: Iced coffee is never just coffee and ice.
Consider the following variables and hacks in achieving personal iced coffee bliss.
The water: Boulder’s city water is decent for making coffee but avoid filtered water: It tastes blah. If you must, go with a spring water like Eldorado that has some minerals in it.
The beans: First, buy green coffee beans and roast them in a hot air popcorn popper. Just kidding… although roasting your own beans is ridiculously easy. As with hot coffee, better coffee beans make a better tasting glass of iced coffee. However, the cold temperature numbs your taste buds and makes it harder to taste the coffee. That’s why iced coffee is often made from darkly roasted beans.
Hot or cold brew? I make iced coffee from hot- and cold-brewed coffee and each has its advantages. Take hot drip coffee and chill immediately after brewing and pour over ice. However, that still starts to dilute the drink. One solution is to double the amount of ground coffee, which produces a coffee concentrate.
Cold-brewed coffee is a hot trend and fans say it is noticeably less bitter. Depending on your taste buds, it can also taste flatter. In any case it’s easy to make: Combine a quarter pound of ground coffee with a half gallon of water. Any supermarket coffee brand, including 8 O’Clock, will work. Let it sit for 24 hours and filter through a double layer of paper filters and keep refrigerated.
The ice: Big cubes are always better because they tend to melt more slowly. Using a pre-chilled glass also helps. To increase the caffeine and flavor oomph, make ice cubes using black coffee and pour your brew over them. If that causes heart palpitations, try pouring cold milk over the double strength coffee ice cubes. Likewise, coffee can be poured over frozen half and half cubes.
Milk or cream: I’m a fan of 1 percent milk but it’s hard to turn down the Vietnamese variation using sweetened condensed milk.
Sweeteners: A drift of sugar crystals piled in the bottom of your glass is a waste (unless you add hot coffee to dissolve them). Some use sugar syrup instead or make a sweet coffee syrup. I use Grade B dark maple syrup to add some character along with the sweetness.
Dessert variation: Crush coffee ice cubes and top with a scoop of vanilla bean gelato.
When I was a kid I would watch my Aunt Muni make iced coffee at restaurants where she directed dubious servers to bring her hot black coffee, a glass of cubes (not crushed ice) and milk, (not cream).
Muni, a child psychologist who lived in Manhattan, said that iced coffee had been invented in her hometown, Vienna, a city that got very hot in the summer. She also showed me that perfect iced coffee is a state that only lasts a minute or two but the conversations that take place during that quest can stay with you the rest of your life.
From nuts to SPAM
Boulder’s Justin’s Nut Butter was recently sold to Minnesota-based Hormel but Justin’s offices will remain in Boulder. “Justin’s naturally delicious, high-quality nut butters, nut butter snacks and organic peanut butter cups align perfectly with our goal of complementing our existing brands with new offerings that resonate with younger, on-the-go and more health-conscious consumers,” said Jeffrey Ettinger, CEO of Hormel, whose most famous product is SPAM. No word yet whether squeezable packets of SPAM are in the product development pipeline. Before you get too sentimental, Justin’s is just the latest local natural foods company in a long line of byouts that includes White Wave tofu, Celestial Seasonings teas, Rudi’s breads, Larabar and Izzie.
Prepare for the coming cidery boom
Forget craft ales and artisan spirits. The coolest new tasting rooms in Colorado are cideries. The inaugural Pressed Conference, 2-5 p.m. Saturday, May 28 at the Highlands Masonic Event Center in Denver is Colorado’s first festival to focus strictly on hard cider. Like the early Great American Beer Festivals in Boulder, this is an opportunity to taste what the hubbub is all about before everyone else, with ciders from Colorado and across the West. (thepressedconference.com)
Taste of the week
While I love the chicharron gorditas and the roasted poblano and cheese tamales, the La Cubana torta at Sancho’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant in Boulder is a comfort food icon. Imagine a soft bollilo roll middled with ham, breaded pan-fried fried steak, hot dog and melted cheese. Now add heat and crunch from the salsa bar. Very nice.
Words to chew on
“Apple pie. Apple fritters. Apple puffs, Southern style. Peach cobbler, Southern style. Peach pie. American mince pie. Pumpkin pie. Squash pie. All sorts of American pastry.” – Mark Twain writing about what he missed from America in Europe in A Tramp Abroad.
John Lehndorff is the former dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News. Like his Facebook page at facebook.com/uspie. He hosts Radio Nibbles, 8:25 a.m. Thursdays, on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, kgnu.org). Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.