If your idea of “iced coffee” is “letting my hot coffee get cold” then, honey, we need to talk — you deserve better. Fortunately, making iced coffee or cold brew isn’t hard. All you have to do is follow a few simple rules.
There are myriad ways to make iced coffee, but we’re fans of two main preparation styles: iced pour-over and cold brew. Iced pour-over tends to be more delicate and nuanced, and takes more attention in the preparation. Cold brew is great for making ahead, and is good either straight-up or jazzed-up.
Whether you’re looking to hone your cool caffeine skills or simply take your morning chug to the next level, here are a few things to do before you brew.
If you’re in a rush, iced pour-over is 100 percent the way to go to get you out the door.
It takes roughly 3-4 minutes to make this type of iced coffee, since you’re basically brewing a hot concentrate that drips directly onto ice. The ice does double duty, diluting the concentrate to perfection, while simultaneously cooling it down. (Find our how-to for the perfect pour-over here.)
Cold brew, on the other hand, can be portioned out into grab-and-go doses once it’s finished, but takes about 12–24 hours prep time. The stronger, chocolatey flavor of this iced coffee style generally stands up to add-ons, mix-ins, and other fun variations better than iced pour-over does.
Got some extra time for making your iced cuppa? Check out our easy cold-brewed coffee recipe.
In fact, it’s one of the only ingredients. Technically, iced coffee takes just two components: coffee and ice.
The solid-state H2O that goes into your brew can actually have a make-or-break effect on your finished drink. So definitely use good drinking water and ice cube trays that are clean and don’t smell. Also, be sure you have a fresh freezer. (If you’ve got last month’s lentil soup in there, your iced coffee will taste like last month’s lentil soup.)
We dig a totally pristine, clear cube in our iced coffee — it’s a simple addition that significantly elevates the glass. Every coffee should feel like a special occasion, right? If you’re a true purist, you can even find recipes for perfectly see-through ice. (Hint: It involves precise temperatures and an ice pick.)
Speaking of ice, who says it has to be just water?
Feel free to add a little pizazz to your iced coffee by making special ice cubes. Mix some simple syrup or vanilla syrup in with the water, or try putting a few fresh herbs in there. (Mint is really lovely with certain delicate iced coffees.) Or freeze sweetened condensed milk or chocolate milk for a sweet treat. Live large!
Another possibility: Our frozen spiked coffee shot recipe works as a meta ice cube, as long you’re not sipping your drink on a workday morning (then again, the proportion of Kahlua isn’t that high).
We get it — some iced coffee recipes seem really complicated and math-y. And truthfully, really good coffee actually is kind of complicated and math-y, but you can pare it down pretty easily once you learn the basics.
For the perfect pour-over, you’ll need to calculate the total amount of water you’ll need (from both the hot water used for brewing and the ice). Take the amount of iced coffee you’d like to have at the end and split it into thirds. Use 2/3 of the water for brewing and 1/3 for ice.
For example, let’s say you want a 12-ounce pour-over. You’ll use 8 ounces of water for brewing and 4 ounces of ice.
Cold brew’s math is way simpler, because it’s simply a matter of brewing coffee in the fridge. (No pesky ice!) Either way, don’t get bogged down in the arithmetic. Just brew it.
Once you’ve got your ice coffee brewed up, you don’t have to stop there.
Fun fact for inspo: In Australia, “iced coffee” is coffee with — ready for it? — ice cream. Now that’s living like you mean it. Take your cue from Down Under and toss a mini scoop in there.
For similar creamy results, add some fresh whipped cream to that thing. Or hop on the trend train and make fluffy dalgona coffee, the iced drink inspired by a Korean toffee candy. Because toffee + coffee = match made in flavor heaven.
Not into whipped cream? (Um, are you sure?) We’re still aiming for greatness here, and greatness can be achieved in many ways.
Pour your iced coffee of choice into a cocktail shaker, glop a nice little taste of sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, or light cream, fill with ice, and shake the dickens out of it. Instant treat achievement unlocked.
You can also use iced coffee to inform and infuse a whole parade of Best Drinks of Your Life. Make a twist on an Arnold Palmer, for example, by combining the perfect pour-over iced coffee with some lightly-sweetened fresh lemonade.
Just about everyone raises an eyebrow at first when they hear “iced coffee lemonade,” but when you think about it, is combining lemonade and iced coffee really any weirder than mixing lemonade and iced tea? Just be sure to start with a lightly roasted, floral-tasting coffee for the best flavor pairing.
Alternatively, use cold brew concentrate in place of some of the bitters in your favorite cocktail — a little upper/downer Manhattan, perhaps? Cold brew blends super nicely with the warm oaky and vanilla tones in bourbon, scotch, and whiskey. Or put the ice in the coconut (and shake it all up) with our shaken-not-stirred spiked coconut coffee recipe.
No matter how you decide to do the brew, remember that iced coffee is supposed to be chill in more ways than one. Relax, enjoy, and stay caffeinated, my friend.