I have been making iced coffee for years and thought I had it down pretty good, but realized that there were some things absolutely necessary to making the “Perfect Iced Coffee” that I wasn’t doing. After some tweaks and countless exercises to improve my patience, which was somewhere along the lines of a spoiled-brat 3-year-old, I think I finally got it. Now, with just a little planning, you too could be enjoying an ice-cold glass of perfect iced coffee in just a few minutes.
There are four basic ingredients for the perfect iced coffee: Coffee, sweetener, cream/milk, and ice. Although not everyone likes their iced coffee sweetened or with cream/milk for that matter, my recipe has both of these. Don’t hate me because I feel the need to indulge.
So let’s start from the bottom up.
The base of iced coffee is brewed coffee. Nothing like stating the obvious here, but unless you plan on using hot coffee right from the pot, which isn’t going to net you the perfect iced coffee result your trying for here, you need to have some coffee specifically for the purpose of iced coffee. The easiest way I have found to do this is to pour any leftover coffee from the pot at the end of the day into a container and store it in the refrigerator. In our house I have at least a cup or two of coffee in the pot at the end of the day. If I know I’m going to want iced coffee some time in the near future, which is almost always, this gets put into the fridge for that purpose. If you don’t typically have any leftover, prefer your iced coffee stronger than what you usually drink during the day, or if you don’t even make a pot of coffee every day, then you will have to brew up a special pot just for this. The thing is, you need your coffee to be cold or at the very least room temperature.
Next let’s take a look at the sweetening options. For years I struggled with adding sugar to cold coffee and no matter how long I stirred, I still ended up with a swig or two of crunchy, grainy sugar at the bottom of my glass. There was the option of adding sugar to the hot coffee from the pot, but figuring out how much sugar to add for the constantly varying amount I had at the end of the day was near impossible. The solution? Sugar syrup! Okay, so this isn’t the easiest of solutions, but if you are determined to have the absolute best iced coffee, sugar syrup is the answer. Plus, having sugar syrup on the pantry shelf is awesome. There are unlimited uses for it far beyond that of just iced coffee. If you are interested in canning some of your own sugar syrup, check out my post at Simply Grateful Canning for Simple Syrup, otherwise most grocery stores do sell a liquid sweetener of some sort, found in the baking aisle in the sugar section.
As for the cream component…the options here depend on how rich you want your iced coffee. If you are looking for something that just takes the bite off the bitterness of the coffee, but aren’t looking for a dessert-style coffee drink, stick with any of the standard milk varieties – whole, 2%, 1%, 1/2% or skim. All of these will work, but they definitely don’t do much more than take the edge off the bitterness. If you want to make your iced coffee truly something special, I’d suggest either half & half or heavy cream. These will give your iced coffee a richness that will make you stop and take notice. When it comes to how much to use…here it’s all about the color. I base how much cream to add simply by sight. I know what color my coffee needs to be in order for it to be “my” perfect iced coffee. This will probably take a bit of experimenting to find yours.
A side note here on milk alternatives. Grace has a sensitivity to milk and requested I use Silk or some other nondairy-type products when I made her iced coffee. Although it does work, she claims it is definitely more on the bland side and certainly doesn’t give it the richness cream does. Obviously if you have a sensitivity to milk, you will want to experiment with other products. As for Grace, well she opts to suffer through the stomach ache and drinks it with half and half. The way she puts it, “Go big or go home!” Not sure I’d go to that extreme for the perfect iced coffee, but then I haven’t had to face that choice either. If you know of a good nondairy alternative, let me know. I’d much rather use that for Grace, than listen to her complain about the pain later.
I have also used sweetened condensed milk on occasion for both the sweetening and lightening option. The trouble I ran into with this was first getting the milk to dissolve sufficiently and second using the can up before it spoiled. This is a good alternative if you drink iced coffee a lot, but again, be ready for some stirring to get the milk incorporated into your drink. Plus, I still needed to add a little cream to it to reach the color I was looking for without adding more sugar.
Finally, the ice. Although this might sound like the easiest of all the ingredients to assemble, there is far more to this than just going to the fridge and pressing the ice dispenser on the door to fill your glass with ice. Nope, if you truly want the perfect iced coffee, you’re going to have to definitely put a little more work into it and plan at least a day ahead for this. You need to make coffee ice cubes. There is nothing worse than finally achieving the perfect glass of iced coffee and then halfway through having the ice melt and dilute your coffee to a watery catastrophe. The solution to this is to make coffee ice cubes.
As simple as that may sound, this required a trip to the store for me. You see, as with many people, I have an automatic ice maker. This means no ice trays. I think the last time I used ice trays was when the kids were toddlers and I decided to make homemade popsicles using ice-cube trays, fruit juice, plastic wrap, and toothpicks. Boy that takes me back. Anyway, when the thrill wore off of those tiny bits of nostalgic bliss, I got rid of the trays and stocked the freezer with store-bought popsicles. In talking with many of my friends and family, they too don’t have ice trays. Why would they, the automatic ice dispenser has made their use very limited. Of course there are some people who don’t have this feature on their fridge, so you won’t have to run out to the store for this once standard kitchen gadget. For me however, it was off to Wal-Mart to buy my $.89 pair of ice trays.
Once you have your ice trays, fill with cool coffee and freeze. Simple but realize you need to make these at least a day before you plan on drinking the perfect iced coffee.
Okay, now I’m sure some of you just don’t want to wait for those coffee ice cubes to freeze and will valiantly justify your decision to use regular ice cubes by claiming that the addition of more bitter coffee will eventually turn the supposed “perfect” iced coffee into a bitter mess. Oh ye of little faith. I have been using these ice cubes for months now and regardless if they melt halfway or completely, I have never found that they alter the flavor of the drink enough for me to find it bitter. Actually, the gradual melting of the cubes is so subtle that I have yet to even notice any difference. Also, for some reason these cubes seem to maintain their frosty frozenness longer than the typical ice-cube. Don’t know why, but they just do.
So there it is. I’d love to say I can write out what the perfect recipe is for the perfect iced coffee, but actually I can’t. This is truly a personal thing that only you can decide on. I have, however, included a recipe with the guidelines I follow to make the perfect iced coffee for me and my family. Consider starting there and making adjustments as you go. Who knows, maybe this will be your perfect iced coffee too.
The perfect iced coffee might not be the easiest drink to prepare because of all the prep and planning necessary before you can even get started, but it’s well worth the work and wait. Anything worth having…well, you know the saying, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.
Perfect Iced Coffee
- Milk, Cream or Half & Half
- Sugar Syrup
- Coffee Ice Cubes
- Choose the glass you want to drink your iced coffee in. Don’t be flippant about this! You’d be surprised how much more luxurious this drink tastes when it’s served in a stemmed or other fancy glass.
- Add two to three coffee ice cubes to glass.
- Fill glass half full with coffee. My glass holds about 12 ounces so I add about 6 ounces coffee.
- Add sugar syrup to taste. I add about a tablespoon but Zeb likes more and Grace likes less. It’s all in what you like.
- Fill remaining glass with half and half. Here you should really pay attention to the color of your coffee. Once you find your perfect color, measuring will become a thing of the past.
- Place straw in glass. Yes, a straw. It’s a law, or if it isn’t it should be. Iced coffee tastes better when drank through a straw.
- Find a comfortable spot to put your feet up and relax. The spot you go to to escape the trials and tribulations faced day in and day out. You know you have one, and if you don’t, get one!
- Slowly and methodically sip your coffee. Pause. Savor. Repeat.
- It don’t get no better…Enjoy!
Recipe by: Tilly Frueh, Simply Grateful Cooking at https://simplygratefulcooking.wordpress.com/ – 2017