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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2003 02:20 pm

Cold caffeine

The rise of iced coffee

Marissa Robins

For many of us, a cup of coffee is the perfect way to start the day. But now, particularly in the summer months, that jolt of java may be poured over ice, mixed with soy milk and hazelnut syrup, and topped with whipped cream.

Iced coffee was once a beverage found only on the menus of local Thai restaurants or enjoyed by connoisseurs who really knew their espresso beans. The original iced coffee was a French invention called mazagran, a mixture of cold coffee and seltzer. But these days the popularity of cold caffeine is proving that gourmet coffee has come a long way in middle America.

"Iced coffee has become as popular as iced tea," says Grace Norris, manager of Andiamo¡, one of a few local coffeehouses to serve a variety of the cold beverages. She says the demand remains seasonal, though, and many customers still order a cup of hot Joe in the morning and then later come back for an iced version "for that 3 o'clock buzz."

According to the National Coffee Association, 52 percent of the U.S. adult population consumes coffee every day, representing 107 million daily drinkers. Of these, 29 million American adults have gourmet coffee every day, including espresso-based beverages or frozen- and iced-coffee drinks. The NCA says the number of people having a cold coffee item every day rose from 1.5 million to more than 2 million between 1999 and 2002.

Tara Quimby, who works for the State of Illinois, says she became hooked on blended iced coffee drinks at the Starbucks cafe in the local Barnes & Noble bookstore several years ago. "I loved it so much, I drove through a terrible snowstorm once and I was the only one there," she says.

When her husband bought her an espresso machine for Christmas, she started experimenting with her own recipes until she found one she liked--two shots of espresso, half and half, white chocolate, and vanilla on ice. When she began requesting her new drink at Andiamo¡, other customers asked what she was ordering and the cafe named the drink in her honor.

Quimby, who drinks iced coffee at least once a day year-round, isn't fond of hot coffee, and she claims her daily indulgence has helped her in more ways than one. "I had surgery and had trouble with asthma--coffee has the same effect as some of the asthma drugs," she says. "My husband could even see a difference. When I'd get that drink, he could see how much more relaxed I was."

Iced coffee has been a hot seller at Trout Lily Cafe since the business opened three years ago, says owner Kate Hawkes. But pouring regular coffee over ice just won't do it for most of her loyal customers, who order specialty, espresso-based beverages, usually flavored with syrups, chocolate, and milk or cream. "Iced mochas are very popular," says Hawkes. "I have one customer who works at Horace Mann who just loves the iced mochas. She gets one almost every day."

Customers can order drinks catering to their own tastes: the number of shots of espresso; decaf or regular coffee; half and half or skim, soy, or whole milk; flavored syrup (sugar-free or regular); and, of course, poured over or blended with ice.

While blended versions with flavorings can come closer to resembling an ice-cream shake than a cup of coffee, Hawkes says basic iced coffee still has less sugar and additives than other beverages like soda pop. The secret to a good iced coffee drink, she says, is to start with high quality coffee.

"We have one trick--we use coffee ice cubes, which have been the main attraction," says Hawkes, who claims the trick keeps the drink from getting diluted when the ice melts. "We go through a dozen trays of coffee ice cubes a day."

While many people have discovered the pleasures of drinking their java on ice, the trend hasn't won over everyone. Even in the dog days of summer, Hawkes says, there are those "dyed-in-the-wool coffee drinkers who have to have that hot cup of coffee no matter how hot it is."

Meg Evans, owner of Grab-A-Java, says the demand for iced coffee seems to be on the rise. Since opening her drive-through business seven years ago, she's seen an increase in iced-coffee drinkers, especially this summer. She's also noticed the same trend as Andiamo¡'s Norris: people ordering a hot cup in the morning, then coming back in the afternoon for a blended iced coffee.

"We sell a lot of it," she says. "People also like them in really large sizes. The same person who orders a hot mocha in a 16-ounce-size will order a 24-ounce iced drink--they supersize it, because it's an afternoon treat."

A sampling of places serving up iced Joe:
Suns Up Koffee Kafe, 1001 N. First
Trout Lily Cafe, 218 S. Sixth
AndiamoÁ, 204 S. Sixth
Monte Caffino, 1610 W. Jefferson
Grab-A-Java, 1702 S. Sixth
Starbucks, 700 E. Adams (in the Hilton Springfield) or 3111 S. Veterans Pkwy (in the Barnes & Noble)

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