This is a good era for iced coffee. Not long ago, it was either brewed coffee that sat in the refrigerator or a blender drink with the calorie count of a sundae. Today, a wave of creativity is surfacing at the cutting-edge shops, where coffee is labeled not just by the farm where it was grown but with the names of the farmers.
The same barista who frowns on stirring sugar into an espresso because it masks the taste will gladly make you a shakerato, a shot of espresso and simple syrup shaken over ice, and then make another to sip behind the bar. If a monkish austerity has gripped the coffee vanguard in the last decade, then iced coffee season is Mardi Gras.
Some are inspired by the beer aisle (Stumptown Coffee Roasters sells its cold brew in the squat glass bottles known as “stubbies”), others by school lunch (Blue Bottle Coffee’s New Orleans-style coffee is packaged in small milk cartons).
Some draw on cocktail culture. In New York, Everyman Espresso makes an espresso Old-Fashioned: espresso, tiki bitters and simple syrup shaken over ice and strained into a heavy glass. Madcap Coffee in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Washington, D.C., just introduced the espresso Moscow Mule, in which espresso and house-made ginger-lime syrup are stirred together and strained over ice, then topped with sparkling water.
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Some look to the health-food aisle. At Blacksmith in Houston, you can get a drinking yogurt that is made with milk steeped with coffee and then cultured for 12 hours.
But if coffee has a summer hit, the song you can’t get out of your head, it is the espresso milkshake. It’s nothing more than a shot or two of espresso blended with ice cream, but if the components are carefully chosen, the flavors will haunt you all season.
For the espresso milkshake at G&B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger in Los Angeles, co-owner Kyle Glanville sampled more than a dozen ice creams before choosing McConnell’s, a family-owned creamery in Santa Barbara, Calif. The drink, made with two double shots of espresso, a generous scoop of ice cream that weighs in at 300 grams (that’s more than a half-pound) and a dusting of espresso grounds, is a surprisingly elegant play of contrasting flavors. It’s also a lot of milkshake.
“We recommend this for two,” Glanville said.
Co-owner Charles Babinski added, “And most of the time, people have the whole thing to themselves.” But the recommendation is made, Glanville added, “because we don’t want to feel responsible for making people fat and wired.”
The milkshake is just a refinement of a familiar favorite. The iced latte is a lot more work, an improvement on something that most people didn’t think needed reinventing. But the drink started off as a self-imposed challenge: Rather than put something on the menu that they would never order themselves, Babinski, 29, and Glanville, 31, set out to create a version they actually would drink.
“We never wanted to feel like we had to do something just because customers wanted us to do it,” Glanville said. “That forced us to tackle it in a more culinary way, and design drinks that are delicious and interesting and unique to us.”
The espresso used in the drink changes often (sometimes in the middle of the day), and it comes from roasters with devoted followings among coffee fanatics: George Howell Coffee, Heart Coffee, 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters.
But it is the almond-macadamia milk that is the revelation. It’s so creamy and delicate that it makes the nut milks you pour out of a box taste like cheap extract. While commercial nut milks contain stabilizers or other additives, the almond macadamia milk at G & B Coffee and Go Get Em Tiger contains only water, almonds, macadamias and dates, which add a touch of sweetness.
The iced almond-macadamia latte is just one of a number of innovative warm-weather drinks on the menu. The Dark and Stormy, a shot of espresso poured over handmade ginger beer, is new this season. As is the Business and Pleasure, which is actually a set of three small drinks: a shot of espresso, carbonated iced tea (which is actually black tea blended with water infused with citra hops; it tastes almost like an IPA) and an iced almond-macadamia milk cappuccino. Other drinks are being developed; Babinski is tinkering with carbonating coffee for a float.
Is there anything that’s off-limits?
“Soy milk,” Glanville said. “Unless you’re buying awesome soy beans from some awesome dude, and making it yourself, soy has no place in a specialty coffee shop.”
ALMOND AND MACADAMIA NUT MILK
Makes 1 quart
1 generous cup blanched almonds
½ cup macadamia nuts
1/3 cup pitted dates
1 liter filtered water
1. Combine almonds, macadamia nuts and dates in a large lidded plastic container. Add filtered water, cover, and let soak overnight at room temperature, at least 12 hours.
2. In a blender set to the highest speed, process mixture for three to four minutes or until finely puréed. Strain through a nut bag or jelly bag into a bowl, squeezing until only solids remain. (Or set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and line with two layers of cheesecloth. Use a spatula to force mixture through lined sieve, then strain again using fresh cheesecloth.) Milk should be silky and creamy, not gritty. Refrigerate up to five days. Shake before using.
Notes: For an iced almond-macadamia milk latte, add 8 ounces chilled nut milk, a double shot of hot espresso and ice to a cocktail shaker. Shake for 30 seconds; strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice.
— Adapted from Charles Babinski and Kyle Glanville, G & B Coffee, Los Angeles