It turns out there is a way to cool off on the hottest, muggiest, still-air days: Sip iced coffee all afternoon, hopping from place to place till your own internal temperature drops.
In this area, there are several twists on the classic cold joe. You can get a simple cold-brew iced coffee at Dwelltime in Cambridge, Vietnamese iced coffee made with condensed milk at the New Dong Khanh in Chinatown, and mudslides, an icy brew with aromatic syrups at Mystic Roasters in Medford. And that doesn’t touch coffee goliaths Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, who seem to be making an ice-filled drink for every other customer.
The big difference right now is quality. “Ten years ago, iced coffee tended to be an afterthought,” says Peter Giuliano of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. “Now there is a focus on preparation and technique, with quality in mind.”
Cold-brew method is the hottest thing in iced coffee. The method “accentuates body, has a more intense flavor and muted acidity,” says Giuliano. Coffee jocks use a medium-coarse grind of beans, immerse them in cold water for anywhere from eight to 24 hours, and then strain the dark elixir twice through a filter. Starting with a stronger coffee keeps it from becoming diluted after ice is added. “When the beans have never been heated, they retain a sweeter taste,” says Len Brault, owner of Heirloom Coffee in Medford, an importer of Southeast Asian beans. He runs coffee seminars in his showroom, which is outfitted like a cafe with coffee accouterments on open shelves (an iced coffee seminar is scheduled for August; check the date on www.heirloom-coffee.com).
Go from cafe to cafe and you may think for a moment you’re in Seattle — or Portlandia. Here’s a sampling of joe on the rocks.
407 Washington St. (near Oak Square), Brighton, 617-783-0313, and 1621 Beacon St. (Washington Square), Brookline, 617-734-7028, www.athansbakery.com
Step into the light, open Brighton space with marble-topped cafe tables and display cases packed with elegant pastries, cookies, and chocolates and you’ll feel like you’re in Europe. We went straight for Nescafe Frappe ($3.16), also known as Greek iced coffee. Owner Aristides Athanasopoulos, born in Kalamata, Greece, has been in the United States for 35 years, but only uses Nescafe instant coffee imported from home for this drink. Athanasopoulos puts equal parts coffee granules and sugar (about 1 heaping teaspoon of each), into a glass and moistens the mixture with a little water to make a slurry; then adds a little more water. With an electric whisk, he whirs up a thick frothy layer of cream-colored bubbles on top of the liquid. “I add a little milk, two to three ice cubes, and then finish it with more water. It has strong pleasant taste. After you finish sipping the coffee, scoop up all those tasty, slightly bitter, bubbles. You get this all over Greece,” says Athanasopoulos.
380 Washington St. (near Oak Square), Brighton, 617-783-4514,
There’s hipster decor in this casual storefront with slate gray walls and a young clientele with laptops propped open. The iced hazelnut mocha latte ($4 to $5) with homemade chocolate syrup is fashioned from two shots of espresso made with Thaddeus espresso beans; the shot keeps it from being overly sweet, even with the syrup. The beans, says barista Tami Papagiannopoulos, “smell like a brownie,” proffering the open bag for a sniff. Cold-brew coffee ($2.50 to $3) is made with double-roast French roast beans from Square One Coffee in Lancaster, Pa. Sam Granger, part-time barista, part-time theology grad student, explains, “Cold brewing prevents the coffee from being bitter. It has a round, smooth taste.” Smooth, we thought, but a bit weak.
677 Main St., Waltham, 781-647-2456
The bright, cavernous early-1900s commercial space is not your cozy coffee shop. A wall of turn-of-the-century New York landmark posters greet you, along with marble-topped tables and metal cane chairs. Think Restoration Hardware with elbow room. An Americano (begins at $2.45) with two espresso shots and water poured over ice has a strong espresso taste that is neither bitter nor diluted. This is one of the most satisfying cups on the crawl. Iced latte (begins at $3.95) — with two espresso shots, whole milk, and ice — is dominated by the milk, with only a bit of coffee peaking through. Coffee is from Dean’s Beans Organic & Fair Trade in Orange.
Various locations, www.dunkindonuts.com
A straight-up iced coffee with milk ($2.13 to $2.77) made with a process called “double brewing” uses twice the amount of coffee when making the beverage, which is brewed first, then poured over a heap of cubes. It’s the coldest of the lot with the mildest coffee flavor, but very refreshing.
364 Broadway (between Central andInman squares), Cambridge, 617-714-5536, www.dwelltimecambridge.com
This place is for coffee connoisseurs. With its chic minimalist look, bright storefront light, large bar with stools in the center of the room, and more tables and benches, you have the idea that coffee is serious business here. Cold-brew coffee ($3.27) is made with Salvadoran beans and poured from a beerlike tap into a large chunky glass over ice. Owner Jaime van Schyndel, who also owns Barismo in Arlington, treats coffee making, from bean to brewing, as an art. He is a fan of low-acid Guatemalan coffee beans, and does direct trade with their coffee growers. His method, which he calls “Cambridge Cold Brew,” begins with medium-ground beans (coarser than for drip, but finer than for French press) mixed with cold filtered water, left to chill for a day, and stirred occasionally. The dark liquid is then strained several times, and poured into kegs ready for a pull. Van Schyndel also sells this brew in bottles. Even if you take milk in your coffee, sample this coffee black at first. It has a natural sweetness and a toasty caramel finish, without a bitter taste. It is smooth, satisfying, and just right — the purest cold-brew drink we find.
367 Moody St., Waltham, 781-893-6677, www.lizzysicecream.com
The famous ice cream parlor in the heart of Waltham also has a busy espresso machine that turns out a variety of caffeinated treats. Iced mochaccino ($3.10 to $3.90) is chocolate milk for grown-ups (you are edging toward your daily allotment of calcium), but the shot of espresso keeps you from serving it to junior. Sweetened cocoa powder gives it the chocolate flavor, but one less cloying than similar drinks made with syrup. Chocolate dominates the drink.
30 Riverside Ave., Medford, 781-391-0042, www.mysticcoffeeroaster.com
Three years ago, Sharon Hepburn, a former software engineer, opened her coffee roasting business and cafe in Medford Square. The vibe is casual and mellow, like the owner. Earth-tone walls are decorated with work by local artists. In the back of the shop, like a beautiful piece of industrial art, sits the roaster. “It was made in Oklahoma City,” Hepburn explains. She also roasts beans for local businesses. A cold brew (begins at $2.19) is made with Arabica beans and shots of espresso. A mudslide ($5.49 to $5.99) is an espresso drink gone wild with chocolate, caramel, and vanilla syrups in the cup, along with milk and ice. This coffee doubles as dessert. You can have it made even wilder — coconut milk, cherry or white chocolate syrups, or whipped cream topping. Just ask.
83 Harrison Ave. (Chinatown), Boston, 617-426-9410
The bright, bustling, refurbished restaurant New Dong Khanh in Chinatown features a non-alcoholic drinks bar with fruit shakes, bubble teas, and authentic Vietnamese iced coffee ($3). Waitress Moon Vuong says she uses Cafe Viet, a strong coffee made from beans grown in Southeast Asia. Hot or cold, the coffee is traditionally made individually with a three-piece metal filter, called a phin, dozens of which are in a plastic bucket behind the counter. “You need a lot of patience for Vietnamese coffee. It takes a long time for the water to drip through the filter,” says Vuong. A stream of thick condensed milk coils as it goes into a plastic cup. Then coffee in a pitcher, prepared earlier in the day, is poured on top, creating beautiful waves as the dark liquid mingles with the creamy one. The velvety texture and burst of caramel flavor make a luxurious drink. Another dessert.
1095 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-562-8828
Nestled in the Hong Kong Supermarket food court, tiny Pho Viet churns out bowls of pho (noodle soup) and banh mi sandwiches. It also serves Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.05), prepared the Vietnamese-American way, using dark-roast coffee and chicory from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Made with a phin filter, condensed milk, and cubes, the coffee is smoky, with a slightly bitter taste like campfire coffee served with toasty marshmallows.
Various locations, www.starbucks.com
Barista Julio Fiumara, who has worked at Starbucks for six years, explains how he makes Frappuccino ($3.25 to $4.45): “We use a micro-ground coffee frappe roast made from Arabica espresso beans. It is brewed and dried out into a powder, which we reconstitute with water and build the drink from there.” Next dairy or soy is added, then ice, and a coffee syrup sweetens and emulsifies the drink. Customize it by adding caramel and hazelnut syrup too. Our Frappuccino was bursting from its plastic cup with the sweet foam seeping through the straw hole on the cover. It was the sweetest of all the specialty drinks we tried, but not cloying, and a rich coffee flavor was right behind the sweetness.
Debra Samuels can be reached at email@example.com.