Iced coffee can, technically, be consumed year-round and there are those ice-veined people who do it. But, for many of us, iced coffee is the essential drink of summer,
even more so than rosé. After all, a nice glass of chilled wine is a good way to end the day, but teeth-shatteringly-cold coffee is the actual armor we need to get through it.
The only problem with iced coffee season? It gets expensive, especially if your local coffee shop sells cold-brew. Then it gets
really expensive. In an attempt to avoid spending all my pocket money before 10 a.m., I decided to taste-test at-home iced coffee methods to see if I could find a suitable, less expensive substitute.
Buy Concentrate First, I let someone else do the heavy lifting for me and bought a cold brew concentrate. There are plenty of brands on the market currently, but I chose Chameleon cold brew for it's size –around 8 servings a bottle. It cost me $11.99, and, in reality, I was able to get around 5 servings out of it, since I drink closer to 10-12 ounces of coffee a day, requiring 5 ounces of concentrate. That came out to just around $2 a serving — about half of what I fork over for cold brew from a coffee shop — and was still incredibly delicious. The only problem? When I kept it in the work fridge, people were always begging for a cup, too.
Hot Coffee Over Ice Perhaps the cheapest and fastest method I tried, this involves just pouring hot coffee over ice. I make pour-over coffee at home, and the cost of a cup of hot coffee from my Chemex works out to about 30¢ using the, admittedly very inexpensive, beans I buy — a Whole Foods light roast blend that costs $4.99. But even an expensive, single-origin grind is around 60¢ a serving. Sadly, that's the only good thing I can say about this version of iced coffee. I like my coffee black, but poured over ice it just tasted watered down. If you are someone who adds milk, you'd only dilute the coffee further. Even on the hottest day, if this was my only way to drink coffee I'd rather just drink it hot and deal with the consequences.
Let Hot Coffee Cool
Cheap but not at all fast, there's always the option to cool hot coffee to room temperature. This is how just about any coffee that isn't labeled "cold brew" is sold in stores, so while I prefer to buy cold brew whenever possible, I actually don't mind the taste.
There's just one problem: timing. To not immediately have a diluted, watery beverage like in the first test, I had to really,
be patient. Some coffee experts and cold-brew purveyors will claim that cooled hot coffee
, but, when I was using just hours-old coffee (versus day-old), I didn't mind it as much. The only problem: who has a few hours to wait before drinking coffee?
Make Your Own Concentrate Unsatisfied with my hot coffee alternatives to store-bought coffee, I finally decided I was ready to make my own concentrate. There are about a billion recipes floating around for it online. Some will say coarse ground coffee, some will say fine ground, some say to leave it at room temperature, others say to refrigerate. Having had bad luck with the recipes in the past, I went to an expert: an R29 coworker/former barista who is a homemade cold brew pro. She took me under her wing and told me how she used to cold brew back in the day: light roast coffee, coarsely ground, 2 liters of water for 1 pound of coffee. Mix it all together and let it sit at room temperature for 48 hours, then strain and refrigerate. I made my first batch at the office under my desk, which made me feel like I was making a coffee lover's version of bath tub gin or moonshine. After two days of waiting patiently, I double-strained it and had a giant Mason jar of concentrate of my very own. Since it was impossible to get all the water out of the coffee grounds, I wound up with about six or seven day's worth of coffee (it was hard to not make seconds when it was right there!), coming out to around 85¢ a day. A bit more expensive than hot-brewed coffee put on ice, but a lot less expensive than buying concentrate, it was my favorite method by far. The only caveat? You need to remember to brew two days in advance of when you actually need it — something I was guilty of forgetting to do a few times, meaning I went back to buying coffee while my grounds brewed oh-so-slowly.
Use A Gadget
Which is where the gadgets come in. There are a ton of cold brewers on the market right now, from infusers for single-serve cold brew coffee to brewers that make enough concentrate for a week. While it was impossible to try all of them, I found the ones that most mimicked old-fashioned cold-brewing (soaking in water for a long, long time) make a better concentrate. Anything that promised cold-brewed coffee in a couple hours or overnight just didn't get the same delicious, rich cold-brew taste.
So I would only recommend buying gadgets if you really hate dealing with the grounds and want to quickly get a concentrate. OXO makes a
that allows you to drain the concentrate a a flip of a switch, meaning it still allows the grounds to soak for as long as you want, but can be drained quickly with the flip of a switch.
For now, however, I'm sticking with my bathtub gin method of cold-brewing alone — the jars and jars of cold brew I have sitting on the kitchen counter may look silly, but they are also easy to stack away in a corner or cupboard and don't take up counter space. Plus, actually getting it set up (adding grounds to water) is literally the easiest prep work. But I'm also keeping some pre-made concentrate around for the days I totally forget to brew ahead.