Glacial java

Andreae Prozesky cools the daily grind

As I write this, it’s the day after the hottest day ever. It’s less hot than yesterday, but it’s still damned hot. Everyone who walks into my office—yes, I have a day job, thank you—is sweaty and frizzy. I’m sweaty and frizzy, despite the air conditioner’s best efforts. On top of it all, I’m twitchy for a cup of coffee.

But how can I bear the thought of coffee when the humidex reads 32 degrees and it’s all I can do to keep from locking myself in the shower room with the water temperature set on “glacial lake”?

It’s a good thing that coffee plus ice equals awesome. But don’t just chuck some ice cubes in a cup of coffee and hope for the best. The coffee must have the strength to defend itself against the ice’s weakening effects. Drip coffee isn’t much good at the best of times, so it’s certainly not going to stand up against a cup of ice. What you’ll end up with is lukewarm, watery coffee, and I just can’t let that happen to you.

If you have an espresso maker… well then you don’t need any advice from me. Make a shot of espresso, throw it over some good-sized ice cubes, splash a tablespoon of milk or cream in there and you’ve created something that will soothe your overheated body, while charging up your humidity-addled brain. Big ice cubes are key: if they’re in little shardy bits they’ll just melt and, again, water down your nice strong coffee. It’s only an ounce or so of coffee that you’re dealing with here, so two or three big ice cubes should do it. In terms of proportion, you’re looking for a Scotch-on-the-rocks sort of effect.

If you don’t have an espresso maker, you can use a French press (that’s the kind of coffeemaker that Bodum makes, with the plunge-y top part.) Just make the coffee extra strong. French press coffee will be a little bit sludgy, since the filter disk isn’t fine enough to trap the super-tiny little grounds, so if that bothers you, you can brew the coffee and pour it out into another pot, then let the remaining grounds settle. Gently pour off all but the last few tablespoons of coffee and most of the gritty stuff should stay behind. It’s going to get cold, but that’s hardly a problem, now, is it?

I wrote about Greek and Turkish coffee some time ago, and I’ll bring them up again here, because they’re good for serving on ice.

To refresh: the basis of Greek and Turkish coffee is the coffee is ground into a superfine powder and stirred into just-boiled water, then left to settle. It’s sludgier than French press coffee, but because the coffee is so finely-ground it’s easier to pour the good stuff off and leave the grounds behind. In fact, the sludge that remains is almost like silt at the bottom of a river, the sort that feels like wet velvet under your feet. (Not that I stick my toes in my coffee cups. I swear I’ve never done that. Really.)

The point here is that you want super-strong coffee to throw over your big chunky ice cubes.

If you’re totally averse to making your own coffee (or if you happen to have a day job), then it’s off to a café with you. Cafés usually offer iced coffee drinks, but these are usually quite sweet, and sometimes they aren’t made of coffee at all, but of some kind of coffee-flavoured syrup. They’re almost always too milky for my liking too. Good café staff, though, will let you order a short shot of espresso on ice without hassling you about it. It’s not generally on the menu, but they’ll probably just charge you the price of an espresso and send you on your way. Nobody’s given me any trouble so far, but I always ask very politely. Or perhaps it’s just that I look so sweaty and frizzy and caffeine-deprived that the folks on the counter figure they’d better not argue. Either way.


– If you like your iced coffee sweet, you’ll have to get the sugar into it before the coffee makes contact with the ice. Otherwise you’ll have a layer of un-dissolved sugar granules at the bottom of your cup.

– The sort of coffee-flavoured squishy sold in Canada’s iconic doughnut chain is so yummy because it’s made with cream. You can get the same effect, more or less, by throwing two ounces of strong, sweetened coffee in the blender with a handful of ice cubes and a quarter-cup of heavy cream. But, seriously, you’re drinking a quarter cup of heavy cream. It’s a dessert, not a beverage.

– There is no such thing as an iced cappuccino. A cappuccino uses steamed milk foam. Most cafés won’t add steamed milk foam to ice because, for whatever reason, bacteria love the steamed-milk-foam-plus-ice environment. Sorry to be a jerk about it, but it’s true. Iced latte? Possible. Iced cappuccino? Impossible.

– One more: you can avoid watery iced coffee by making your ice cubes out of more coffee. Let your brewed coffee cool to room temperature, then pour them into trays and freeze like normal. You can also make these with sweet coffee and throw them into the blender and have an Italian-style granita, which is sort of like a coffee sorbet.

Send your questions, comments, and whole latte suggestions to


  1. dreae · June 15, 2012

    Hello friends, Dreae here.

    I got a message about Vietnamese iced coffee (or “Cà phê sữa đá”) by e-mail from Ed Riche a few days back. Ed’s right, it’s delicious stuff. Here’s the note:

    *You missed the very, very best sort of iced coffee, the Vietnamese version.

    The only palatable application I know of for sweetened condensed milk. I normally take my coffee black, and never drink milk … this is the most worthy exception. You can just use a very strong espresso if you don’t have the little device. Let it cool and pour in the glass carefully so the drinker can stir.*


    One more? Okay! If you take a shot of espresso and throw it over a small scoop of vanilla gelato (or the best ice cream you can get your hands on) and top it with a dollop of whipped cream, you’ve got an Italian dessert called an affogato (which means “drowned”). Super easy and quite impressive when you’ve got guests over. And tasty. Let’s not forget tasty.


    And finally: John Gushue has the forethought to make his espresso ahead of time and chill it. Brilliant. I am going to follow his lead as soon as I clear all the unmarked yogurt containers filled with leftovers out of my fridge. Make room for the iced coffee revolution! Hooray! (Perhaps I have had one cup too many today…)

  2. The Scope · June 15, 2012

    For the record Ed, Dreae actually did have the Vietnamese version of iced coffee in her list but Elling removed it for length… :) (d’oh)

  3. jb. · June 15, 2012

    Hey D–

    Have you tried the cold-brew method? We haven’t ironed out the kinks of it yet, but the basic math is one-half cup of grinds added to one litre of cold water and left to sit 6-12 hours. This purportedly makes a fine cold iced coffee without bitterness. Thus far we’ve found it makes a passable but weak ice coffee that isn’t bitter, but that might be simply because it doesn’t have enough flavour, though we haven’t been letting it sit long enough. Further experiments will follow.

    However, the advantage of this method is that nothing gets watered down, and, if one were to use Joan Donovan’s patented style, one could brew two batches and use one to make iced-coffee ice-cubes, meaning that you could add ice to your coffee without watering it down at all.

    There’s also this company that markets something called Toddy Coffee which is a cold-brew method likely not dissimilar from this, though I’m not going to pay to find out.

    There’s good things to eat and drink in Montreal. You should, like, visit sometime.

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