Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why coffee shops love your iced coffee habit

Anselm Dastner drinks a cup of iced coffee in Manhattan on May 17, 2012 in New York City Getty images

Look alive people: iced coffee season is here. We think. Yes, it's here because we say so and it's warm. A few brave townies in your neck of the woods may have already donned their ratty old pair of boat shoes, North Face fleeces in your neck of the woods are already being stuffed into closets and swapped for cardigans, and in Texas, the backs of people's knees are already puddling with sweat (there's a high of 97° in Austin on Monday).

With the advent of this wondrous season, we took the time out to give you the fundamental guide — from its cost to its caffeine content and everything you may have wanted to know about this blessed beverage.

What is iced coffee?

Iced coffee is exactly what it sounds like: coffee, usually served hot, but on ice.  The term can also refer to espresso drinks like lattes which can also be served cold.  Sometimes people wi—

Got it. I was mostly kidding.

Well, you never know.

Right.  So why are we talking about iced coffee all of a sudden?

Well, there's an unofficial season for it and right after winter (in places that actually experience winter) there's a renewed and vested interest in the beverage. Only monsters and people you should think twice about trusting drink iced coffee in the winter (just kidding). "To some degree it's a preference thing, but yeah, we do see that iced coffee sales go up when it's hot outside," Lydia Iannetti from Counter Culture Coffee told us.

Around April, people start getting ready for iced coffee. Or, at least they start Googling and reading about it. Here's a Google trend analysis mapping the searches and news headlines in the U.S. for "iced  coffee" from 2013:

Screen_shot_2014-04-25_at_9.37.15_am

The peak you see in the middle of the chart is July. The small peaks in the beginning of happened in April. And, well, it's April now.

That makes sense. Warm drinks in when it's cold out. Cold drinks when it's warm out. Where do people get their iced coffee?

You can always make it at home, there are several DIYs and recipes online.

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You just throw coffee on ice? It can't be that simple.

That's a perfect recipe you want watered down coffee. Hot coffee and melting ice cubes aren't a good mix if you like your coffee to keep its integrity. It'll work in a pinch, but there will always be melt if you use that process.

You can also brew your coffee the normal way, wait for it to cool, and then put it in your fridge. Maybe you make it the night before, and then you can get iced coffee in the morning. It's an upgrade over the first method. A better way of hot-brewing iced coffee is brewing the coffee hot, directly on the ice and measuring the ice so you take into account the watering down that happens with the melt (a breeze if you're Ina Garten, less so if your kitchen and equipment are more basic). That's called the Japanese method.

The last way to make iced coffee is a popular method called cold-brewing in which coffee is steeped at a room temperature instead of being brewed hot. It requires patience and planning. The process takes half a day, Imbibe magazine explained and also creates a different flavor. Sitting around in room temperature water for 12 hours allows the flavors to mellow out, and the resulting coffee is generally sweeter than if you hot-brewed it.

That sounds like a lot of work.

Yeah, that's the reason people go with buying it from a coffee shop.

Is iced coffee more expensive than regular coffee?

Yes. Iced coffees are, unless your coffee shop owner doesn't really mind profits and margins, usually more expensive than the hot stuff, especially considering how much room in the cup the ice takes up. The actual up-charge varies, but caps out at around $1 more. The Starbucks closest to the Vox office here in D.C. charges around twenty cents more for an iced coffee.

Why is iced coffee more expensive than regular coffee?

Remember all the tedious, mind-numbing that you're not avoiding by contracting out your iced coffee production? Depending on where you are procuring your coffee, you are paying someone to a) pour the coffee on the ice b) filter the coffee directly onto the ice c) cold-brew the coffee because you can't wait 12 hours d) all, some, or none of the above.

Do coffee shop owners make a killing off of iced coffee?

A bit, but the increased time and effort required to make it limits the profit gain. New York magazine's Kurt Soller spoke to coffee shop owners in New York City in 2012, and found that making iced coffee costs more than making regular coffee.

Iced coffee requires, well, ice, and some smaller cafes have to rent their ice machines. Iced coffee is generally sold in plastic cups, which generally are more expensive than regular paper coffee cups, and people usually drink it with straws. "My paper costs, which include cups and straws, increase by about 20 percent," Jason Scherr, the owner of Think coffee, told Soller.

There are also a couple of variables. Iannetti told us that these costs really depend on how shops choose to serve their iced coffee. Fancier iced coffee cups and napkins cost more. But she also said that "most cafe owners consider those costs when setting their beverage prices anyway.

Another thing to consider is the weather. A nice spring day could really help out owners. "When we have a nice spring day early, we bump up about 10 percent from a ‘normal’ day ... Maybe an extra $200 to $400." Joe Rubinstein, owner of Joe coffee, told Soller.

Does iced coffee really cool you down?

Well, it is refreshing. And you can do that thing where you bring the cold cup to your head for instant relief. But there's actually some debate as to the overall cooling effect and cooling effectiveness of cold drinks. There have been studies where someone drinks a cold drink and has their temperature taken (rectally) which have found a cooling effect.

Dr. Ollie Jay from the University of Ottawa’s Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory thinks there is a major flaw with the data procured from these studies. He argues that when you ingest all that cold stuff, it sits in your stomach and is closer to the rectal thermometer. In short: the temperature drop might be exaggerated and your body might be colder closer to your butt than other parts.

Instead of only measuring temperature at one point in the body, Jay took a more holistic approach. Instead, Jay "monitored metabolic rate and deployed eight thermometers on various parts of the body, plus a rectal thermometer and one inserted through the nose down the esophagus," as The Globe and Mail explained. What he was looking at was the amount of heat entering and leaving the body. And what he concluded with was that hot drinks trigger sweat (not unlike how chili pepper ingestion triggers sweat) and sweat cools the body. Cold drinks shut that trigger off. In short: there are situations when a hot drink will trigger sweat and that sweat will cool you down more effectively than an ice-cold drink.

The main caveat is that your sweat has to evaporate. "If the extra sweat just drips on the ground, then you’re better off drinking a cold drink," he told the Globe and Mail.  And if you are in a position where you have puddles of sweat dripping down off of you, you may have more serious problems than deciding what kind of coffee to get.

Does iced coffee have more caffeine?

This has been debated. And debated. And debated. The answer isn't clear. Iannetti explained to us that caffeine content varies a bit from coffee to coffee, and brew method to brew method, "so there will always be a bit of a range."

According to The New York Times, cold-brewed coffees "tend to" have less caffeine. The key word there is brew. Temperature often affects a substance's solubility — for example, sugar dissolves faster in hot water than it does cold water. Caffeine is more soluble in boiling water, and the idea is that more caffeine can be released at higher temperatures.

Peter Giuliano, a barista and director of the Specialty Coffee Symposium is anti-cold brew on the basis of solubility. He writes on his blog that by the end of a cold brew, "many of the coffee solubles have never made it out of the grounds and into the liquid." That may include caffeine. There are, of course, ways to brew an iced coffee with hot water, which would preserve the caffeine and might render this debate moot.

The last thing you have to take into is the ice. The ice displaces about four ounces of liquid, Soller found. So a 16-ounce iced coffee is more like a 12-ounce hot coffee, which means also means less caffeine.

Is there an official day when people switch over?

That's been debated too, and the consensus is that there is no definitive day. And there's no rule that makes it that you can't switch back if you regret the error.

I like my coffee hot all the time no matter what. Am I a monster?

No. Maybe. Depends on who you ask.

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