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Iced Coffee 101


It turns out
there is more to iced coffee than I thought...

Does this happen to everyone? Sometimes, events all conspire to make me notice something special. One day, I learn about this thing, and suddenly it is everywhere. All my friends are talking about it, it is on TV and on the radio and in all the magazines, all over Pinterest, Facebook, etc. It was there all along, of course, but it is now mine, and I see it with fresh eyes and marvel at its existence.

This exact phenomenon happened with iced coffee. A few days ago, I opened to a page in Wine Spectator Magazine and saw a quick, one-page article of various ideas for iced coffee drinks. The recipes all called for coffee concentrate. I scanned the article and thought: what is this coffee concentrate? Because it seemed like some hard-to-find specialty item, or worse, something I have to make myself, I quickly dismissed it.

On the same day, I tried to talk to a co-worker about a client question, but he kept going on and on about iced coffee. He was very happy to have stumbled upon the Saxby’s Coffee Shop in Liberty Place. I am well-aware of said coffee shop, as I walk by it daily on my way to the office. I was not impressed. Undaunted, he kept on and on, telling me how Saxby’s was much closer than Starbucks, and how they apparently make the best iced coffee. “They use cold-brewed coffee, you know!” he exclaimed. I nodded sagely, acting like I knew exactly what he was talking about; but of course I neither knew what he meant, nor cared.  Yes, of course I do enjoy iced coffee on the occasional summer afternoon, and I often purchase those Starbucks Light Coffee + Milk bottles, but to go on and on about it?  It made no sense to me.  

Well, that evening, on my way home from work, I stopped at Trader Joe’s. Right by the entrance, beautifully displayed on an end cap, was Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. It was right there, clearly asking to be noticed. I could practically see the heavens open above me and a majestic beam of light shine upon the pyramid of coffee concentrate. The angels sang their heavenly song as I finally opened my eyes to what is all around me. For $7.99, I could not resist. When I got home, I proceeded to learn a bit about what I purchased.

trader Joe's coffee concentrate

Here is a quick lesson. Iced coffee can be made in two ways. The first is a pour-over. Concentrated coffee is brewed hot and strong (almost like an espresso), then poured over ice. The coffee cools down as the ice melts, and the melting ice dilutes the coffee to normal strength. The second method is cold brewing. Basically, coffee is steeped in cold water instead of the usual hot water. Since the coffee is already cold, it is not diluted much by melting ice.

So what is the difference between the cold and hot brewing processes? Well, when hot water and coffee combine, certain chemical reactions occur. These chemical reactions give rise to the delicious, complex, and of course hot coffee I enjoy in the morning. The cold brewing process does not set off the same chain of events that leads to hot coffee. Coffee which is brewed cold is usually not as complex or as rich. While some depth of flavor is lost, the cold-brewed coffee is a smoother, milder, less acidic, and perhaps more universally appealing over ice. It contains less caffeine than hot-brewed coffee. Finally, as an extra bonus, cold-brewed coffee will keep in the refrigerator for weeks, while hot brewed coffee gets old quickly, and does not store well.


Hot-brewed coffee does not always taste great when it has cooled down. It makes sense that a coffee brewed cold is better suited for consumption as a cold drink. So, let’s get back to my Trader Joe’s discovery. It turns out that the coffee concentrate from Trader Joe’s is absolutely delicious. I like to mix about 1/3 cup of coffee concentrate with about 2/3 cup of water, add a bit of milk, and finally a Splenda. I pour the whole thing over ice and enjoy a delicious beverage at home… or in my car on the way to the supermarket... wherever, really. It is nice and smooth and refreshing. I highly recommend it and thank the coffee fairies for opening my eyes. Try it, and let me know what you think.



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