Most months it seems unnatural to drink my coffee cold. Coffee is supposed to be "hot as fire." But as the summer wears on and the weather gets steamy, I find it easier to drop my inhibitions and plunk a few ice cubes in my coffee.
I tend to take the basic approach to iced coffee. I deposit a few ice cubes in a tall glass. Then I fill the glass three-quarters full of coffee. I listen to the ice crack, for no particular reason. Then I top the glass with liquid whipping cream. Not milk. Not half-and-half, but pure whipping cream. The cream changes the color of the coffee from black to light brown. As the color brightens, so does my mood. It is an iced, decadent delight.
One of the benefits of the surge of interest in high-quality, and Atherefore more expensive, coffee is that the highly flavored, $2- $3-a-cup coffee is now being served cold as well as hot.
Recently, after polishing off one of my homemade cream-dense delights, I surveyed coffee makers from the streets of Baltimore to the sands of Ocean City for their views on how to make a good cup of the cold stuff.
I began by visiting an outdoor coffee cart called Jitters. It sat at the corner of Calvert and Fayette streets. Sometimes the cart basked in bright sunshine and other times was shaded by the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse. The coffee maker was Jamie L. Jones, a woman whose engaging, witty conversation was often as zippy as her drinks.
A lot of things happen when you sell coffee outside a courthouse, she said. One day, for example, a man wearing handcuffs and leg irons and accompanied by a sheriff came past her stand.
The man paused, looked the cart over and, according to Ms. Jones, remarked: "We don't have espresso in prison."
To which she replied: "You should have thought of that sooner."
The cart, which Ms. Jones operates in partnership with Peter Winer, sold both hot and cold coffee. One key to making iced coffee drinks, Ms. Jones told me, is to start with cold coffee.
This may sound elementary, Ms. Jones said, but often iced coffee is made by pouring hot coffee over ice cubes. The ice cubes melt, she explained, and dilute the flavor of the coffee. She said this in a tone that indicated diluting the flavor of the coffee was a crime.
Her preferred method of making iced coffee, she said, is to start with a cup of espresso -- coffee made by forcing very hot water through finely ground, dark-roasted coffee. Next, she lets the coffee chill. Only when the coffee is cool does she add the ice, the milk, the whipped cream and any extra touches, such as chocolate syrup.
Usually, customers need to be persuaded to put ice in their coffee.
"Often what I hear is, 'You want me to drink my coffee cold?' " said Ms. Jones.
Ms. Jones, 28, said she became a fan of specialty coffees several years ago when she drank her first espresso at the Imperial Hotel in Chestertown. Nowadays, the Kent County hotel's restaurant and courtyard are filled with iced-cappuccino sippers, said Robert Kimbles, director of wine and food for the Imperial. A cappuccino is an espresso that has been topped, or capped, with frothy milk. And the key to making a chilled one, Mr. Kimbles said, is to let the coffee cool down before adding the ice.
Another trick to making an exceptional cold cup of coffee is to substitute vanilla or chocolate flavoring for sugar. I got this tip from Bill Lindes, who along with his partner, Carol Chines, shakes cold coffee drinks at their Cross Street Cheese stand in South Baltimore's Cross Street Market.
"Sugar doesn't want to dissolve in cold coffee, so you substitute vanilla or chocolate and shake the whole thing up, like you would a cocktail," he said.
Mr. Lindes told me he also makes cold drinks with a machine that transforms liquid coffee into a frozen concoction that resembles a cappuccino Slurpee.
He described the machine as an opera director might describe the voice of a diva. When it is in top form, he said, it does extraordinary work. Customers line up begging for more.
Alas, like a diva, the machine is temperamental, he said. It easily blows a fuse. And, when the machine is in a foul mood, instead of frozen coffee pleasure it delivers something more like puffed rice.
Down in Ocean City, Lynne Eisenstein, owner of Bagels n' Buns, had a different outlook on how to cool off with coffee. In contrast to the other makers of iced coffee, she begins her iced cappuccinos with hot coffee -- a double shot of espresso -- and then cools the coffee off with ice.
"You gotta have a lot of ice," Ms. Eisenstein said. But just as important as the ice, she said, is the setting where you are doing your sipping. When you are sipping your iced cappuccino as the ocean breeze brushes over your skin, then the whole world, and not just your coffee, seems to be chilling out.