…(and a great iced coffee hack)
I always say I’m not a coffee drinker, but I love iced coffee. It’s one of my all-time favourite drinks, whatever the season. Having said that, there is something metonymic about iced coffee in the summer: it is summer, whether you’re drinking one in your back garden; whether you order it with your alfresco weekend brunch whilst soaking in the sunshine; whether you’re clutching it in your hand and sipping it with insouciance through a straw as you walk the happy, warm streets admiring how beautiful everything looks.
As we’re talking contrary, I love iced coffee, but I rarely buy it any more. It is one of the first things I stopped buying when I realised I could do better at home (and for a fraction of the price). It was more curiosity than the desire to save money, but I experimented with various ingredients and ratios of milk to ice to coffee to sometimes chocolate – and then I found it. The Iced Coffee that works for me. The proof that this is pretty good is that my family LOVE it. I can offer it any time of day, and I will hear a ‘yes please!’ from all corners of the house.
More than many things, coffee is personal. Some like it strong, some like it weak, some like it milky and sweet, some go sugar-free, some will only have it made with a Chemex. Personally, I have been through the frappe phase, the Starbucks and Costa phase, the Nescafé at home phase, the flavoured syrup phase – and where I have settled is that simple is best. I’m a single shot, au lait kind of coffee lover myself, so the best iced coffee is simply coffee, milk, ice, and sweetener. Not only is it made of purer ingredients and definitely less sugar than a frappe, but it celebrates the hero of the drink: the coffee. Because it’s so simple, the ingredients are key, so here is a little canter through the core components.
My coffee epiphany happened in Dublin, where the coffee scene is small but passionate. I discovered the difference in taste good coffee makes, and a lovely barista from Fallon & Byrne (which does excellent coffee) educated me on the difference in beans, and how to make my own at home. That weekend, I returned to London with a 3-cup Bialetti and a bag of freshly ground beans, and I have never looked back at the Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha I left behind. I think it was the discovery of good coffee that made my experimenting at home so successful. I have since bought a 2-cup Bialetti which chugs out two hefty shots in minutes, and fills the house with that amazing smell which means that iced coffee is on its way.
The only thing I can say here is buy the best beans you can, and get them freshly ground for the type of coffee maker you have (or grind them yourself). I’m not a coffee expert, I just know what I like. My favourite coffee in London is Caravan’s Daily Blend, which is just superb: mellow, smooth, and perfect with milk. They also do beans for filters, so pop in to the roastery at King’s Cross and ask them for a recommendation (the staff can be a bit surly and too cool for school, so find a friendly face at the coffee counter located at the very back of the restaurant and ask them). I’d also recommend Brooklyn Coffee on Commercial Street (E1) who have friendly, knowledgeable staff, and get a good stock of Caravan coffee beans. Obviously, if you already know what you like, stick to it.
Sounds daft, but the milk you use makes a difference.
– regular milk will be creamy (naturally) and will require more sweetening. My family prefer regular milk and sweeten with sugar syrup (see below)
– using nut milk results in a different flavour and consistency, and it’s a personal choice which you go for (unless you’re lactose intolerant). I personally use almond milk, coconut milk, or cashew milk in my iced coffee because they’re naturally sweeter, which means I don’t need to add any sugar syrup. When buying nut milks, I always read the ingredients to make sure there are no additives and preservatives in them – most brands contain them, sadly. I personally like Provamel and Rude Health nut milks because they have no additives, and taste great. Note that with nut milks, the iced coffee will be less creamy and therefore stronger.
I make a simple sugar syrup at home to sweeten the iced coffee – putting spoonfuls of sugar just leaves granules of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass/blender. Making a sugar syrup is simple: heat a cup of sugar with a cup of water over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, and that’s it. I use demerara sugar because I prefer the taste over white sugar, but it’s up to you. There’s no hard rule about the proportion of sugar to water, but the higher the ratio of sugar to water, the richer the syrup, and generally the darker the colour (especially if you’re using a ‘dark’ sugar) – just something to bear in mind as you sweeten your coffee.
Also, I store my syrup in clean plastic bottles in the fridge – leave them out and they’ll get mouldy.
I also use agave syrup which is a natural sweetener, and tastes almost exactly like sugar.
Recipe: Vietnamese-inspired Iced Coffee
The following is my take on Vietnamese iced coffee. Disclaimer: I have taken culinary licence to make this recipe my own, so if there are any die-hard purists, please don’t be annoyed that this is not the traditional ca phe sua da. It is the use of sweetened condensed milk that pushes this into the Vietnamese iced coffee category, and I’ll venture that it will be milder and creamier than the traditional version. If you try this as a departure from your normal brew, I’d love to hear what you think of it.
(read further for my favourite coffee hack…)
Serves 1 (in a latte-sized glass)
You will need:
– a blender
– an espresso maker
– good quality coffee beans
– cold milk (nut or regular)
– sugar/agave syrup
– ice cubes
– sweetened condensed milk (I find 1 tablespoon per glass is sufficient, but flex to taste)
1) Make an espresso with your espresso maker and coffee beans (one or two shots, as preferred)
2) Pour the shots into the latte glass while hot, and stir in the sweetened condensed milk to dissolve into the coffee
3) Add 2-3 cubes of ice to the sweetened coffee to cool it down. This shouldn’t take long, less than 5 mins
4) Top the glass up with cold milk
5) Pour the lot into the blender along, and add a few more ice cubes if desired. If you like, add some sugar syrup to sweeten further (you can always add this later if you’re not sure)
6) Blend until the ice is crushed
7) Pour and serve. Add sugar syrup to taste, and drop in more ice cubes if desired.
Make extra because you will want more, and when others see you drinking it, they’ll want one too.
If you’ve bought a coffee from outside and don’t like it, unless it’s completely unpalatable don’t throw it away! I hate throwing away something I have paid for but don’t like much, and if I can turn it into something useful I will. One of my favourite hacks is to use a coffee I’ve bought from outside as the base for a home-made iced coffee – just stick it in the fridge, and once it’s cool use it in the recipe above. The bonus is you can customise it however you like: add an extra shot of your favourite coffee, top it up with more milk, tailor the sweetness etc. I do this all the time, especially with the free Waitrose coffees I get every time I go and do a shop.