Like a gleeful cannonball into the pool on a hot day, iced coffee delivers a bracing, cooling pick-me-up all summer long. But even though it’s great at the coffee shop, trying to replicate the same bevvie by yourself can often lead to disappointing results. If you’re wondering why your at-home iced coffee never tastes quite as good as the stuff you wait in line for, check out what these baristas told us about the most common mistakes people make when preparing drinks at home.
If you want delicious iced coffee — not just yesterday’s leftovers you stored in the fridge — a foolproof method is to drink it brewed hot, cooled and served over ice. (That’s not the same thing as cold brew, which steeps grounds in cold water over several hours.) The best iced coffee is made with the best beans, the correct grind and a precise ratio that will allow it to remain flavorful when poured over ice.
Start With Great Beans
Tuan Huynh is the owner of Chicago’s Vietfive Coffee, which serves the authentic Vietnamese coffee he remembers from his youth. The Vietnamese have become famous around the world for their cà phê sữa đá, which is iced coffee served with sweetened condensed milk.
For Huynh, beans are a key factor that sets Vietnamese iced coffee apart. He uses only lower-acidity robusta beans, which contain more than twice as much caffeine as arabica beans. “Robusta beans are bold, not strong, and they’re known around the world for their nutty, earthy tones,” he said.
While he’s a fan of robusta, you may want to experiment with other blends. But the experts were clear that whatever type you prefer, it’s best to get beans from a specialty coffee roaster and use them when they’re at peak flavor. “Roasted coffee beans are best between one to three weeks after their roast date,” explained Jimmy Evans, brand and sales manager at Artisti Coffee Roasters.
Grind Them Right
Never use pre-ground coffee, the experts told us. Instead, grind beans using a superfine grinder setting right before you’re ready to brew. Don’t have a good at-home grinder? It might be a good time to start shopping for one. “Investing in quality equipment for home is a must,” Evans said. “For the best grind, a high-quality flat burr grinder will give you the ability to get the best acidity and sweetness out of the coffee.”
Check out this highly recommended grinder below.
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Measure Carefully And Take Time To ‘Bloom’
Huynh thinks that inattention to correct ratios is a key issue behind many at-home iced coffee failures. “You can’t just use the spoon you eat cereal with to measure out your coffee,” he said. “Here at the shop, we’re very precise with everything we serve, and our ‘secret ratio’ [for cold brew] is one part coffee to 12 parts water.” (Check out HuffPost’s guide to making cold brew for more instructions.)
While he said that a French coffee press or other drip coffee methods will also work, he recommended trying the authentic Vietnamese method with a stainless steel phin coffee filter placed over a cup. Add ground coffee and then pour over a splash of hot water and wait for the 30-second “bloom.”
“This bloom time is super important, but a lot of people at home skip that step,” Huynh said. “It makes a difference.” Once the coffee has bloomed, add the rest of the hot water, cover and allow a four- to five-minute brew time.
Here’s Huynh’s recipe and a step-by-step video to help you get started.
Shake It Up
Milk and ice come next, according to your preferences. Vietfive offers sweetened condensed milk (the Vietnamese Ong Tho brand), oat milk and coconut milk. And its baristas put in lots and lots of ice. Here’s why: “Iced coffee is meant to be sipped, not chugged,” Huynh said. “Our recipe was created by factoring in the presence of ice that will melt as you drink. You might think ice will dilute it too much, but it actually adds to the flavor.” So if you’re asking for “light ice” for your iced coffee and thinking you’re getting more value, you might be negatively affecting the quality of your drink.
Finally, you need to do a bit of drink maintenance as you sip. “In Vietnam, you’ll notice people shaking their cup to distribute the ice, then taking a drink,” Huynh said. “That shake keeps everything mixed as you go, so don’t forget to shake before you sip.”
Fresh Every Time? You Decide.
While some baristas are fine with keeping leftover coffee liquid in the fridge, others are adamant that only fresh will do. Sandra Ventura, a member of the Barista Guild Leadership Council, prefers to make each cup fresh as she goes. “If you store coffee in the fridge, especially if the container is not airtight, there could be oxidization, and the coffee could trap other odors like fish or raw food,” she said. “I make it fresh because it always tastes better that way.”
Evans said it’s possible to keep your drink refrigerated if you have some left over, but to try to enjoy it as soon as possible. “Cold drip or cold brew can be stored in the fridge up to five days and still taste great,” he said. “But the sooner you drink it, the better it will be.”