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Iced Coffee 101: All Aboard the Polar Express

A simple how-to on iced coffee: the best beans, two great recipes, and our recommendations for easy, delicious cold brewed coffee.

Iced coffee could really use some better internet PR. Google “iced coffee” and the first few hits are recipes that utilize pre-ground coffee from a can or contain massive amounts of half-and-half, condensed milk, or sugar. An image search does no better, providing dozens of photos that look like something out of an ice cream parlor, complete with whipped cream toppings.

Yes, coffee can make a fantastic dessert drink (hello, frappuccino) but the problem with these iced-coffee concoctions is that they are all the same. And, prepared correctly, they’re going to taste the same, because any nuance of coffee flavor is hidden behind a wall of milk and sugar. And they’re based more around a sweet tooth than a love of coffee. One of the joys of learning about coffee is recognizing roasts as true individuals, and this goes for iced coffee, too. In fact, the same roast, prepared as iced coffee in different ways, can taste very different. Iced coffee can be rich and creamy, but it can also be as crisp and juicy as iced tea. It can be fruity or nutty. It can be comforting, refreshing, and surprising, all at once. There’s a ton to read about different iced coffee brew methods but here’s the basic idea: you can brew long and slow for a creamier, more full-bodied, bolder iced coffee; or you can brew quickly, over ice, for a snappier, crisper iced coffee that’s full of bright, fruity notes. The trick is choosing the right coffee for your method... or the right method to suit your favorite coffee.

“Traditional” coffees, like Colombias or Brazils; blends that list "chocolate", “cocoa”, or “nutty” in their tasting notes; medium or medium-dark roasts. These are great options for a longer, overnight cold brew method that results in a thick, syrupy coffee concentrate. The longer brewing process draws out that heavier, creamy texture to the coffee, and the concentrated form lends well to bolstering its creaminess with milk, condensed milk (for thai or vietnamese iced coffee variations), or even nitro gas.

“New wave” coffees, light roasts, African roasts: Ethiopias and Kenyas, coffees with tasting notes like “citrus”, “berry” or “jasmine”. These coffees do best with “flash brew” or “Japanese cold brew”, in which you brew them as normal, with half the normal amount of water, over ice. This results in a crisp coffee with a light mouthfeel, less creaminess, and emphasizes bright fruit and herbal notes. In fact, you may swear it’s iced tea.

Neither of these methods requires anything beyond basic equipment and great coffee beans. Luckily, we're here to help you out with that last one.

How to Make Iced Coffee
If you'd like to try your hand at long, slow, full-bodied cold brew, here's what you need to know: 

If you'd like to quickly make flash brew or Japanese cold brew

If you're ready to take the next step, have a look at some of our iced coffee recommendations:

Want to Learn More? Read the Iced Coffee, Master-Class: Frothy "nitro" cold brew
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