I still need a cup or two of hot coffee to get my engine cranking in the morning. But in the heat of the summer day, when thunderheads roll in and afternoon torpor threatens, I go for the cold stuff, iced coffee.
Like most serious sippers, I am particular about what I sip. I have my iced coffee quirks. I like the coffee very cold and potent. I like the ice cubes to resist melting. And I like to top the beverage off with very rich cream, the half-a-cow variety.
My brewing technique is to make a pot of hot coffee, let it cool, then stick it in the refrigerator to get even colder.
Brewing a pot of coffee the day before you are going to drink it means either you are a good planner or a screw-up. Occasionally I plan my iced brews, but usually I screw up.
Take the other night, for instance. As is my nightly custom, I was grinding beans and loading them in the automatic coffee maker. If I were ever asked to list mankind's greatest achievements --and so far, no one has bothered -- the invention of the automatic coffee maker would be at the top of my list. You feed this device ground beans and water at night, punch a few buttons, and it in turn delivers one of life's true treasures, pleasing company in the morning.
I went through my routine. I poured in 10 cups of water. I ground six coffee scoops of Golden Sumatra beans, then placed them in the coffee maker's filter basket. Six coffee scoops is the equivalent of 12 tablespoons. This is a strong blend, but I need a big jolt in the morning. I punched a few buttons on the coffee maker and prepared to go to bed. Then I heard the sound of the coffee maker springing to life. I had pushed the wrong buttons. Instead of telling it to brew coffee in the morning, I had told it to whip up a pot at 11 o'clock at night. I had screwed up.
Rather than wallowing in my stupidity, I tried to transform my mistake into an opportunity. I put the 11 p.m. pot of coffee in the fridge and began to use it as a cold coffee reservoir. Some folks have an extensive wine cellar; I had a big jug of cold coffee.
For the next few afternoons, I would pull out the jug and pour the coffee into a tall, insulated cup filled with ice cubes. I would leave room at the top of the cup for the cream. Instead of whole milk or half-and-half, I would top the cold coffee off with whipping cream. The drink became a wonderful mocha mixture of coffee, cream and cold. When I took a sip, it felt like summer.
The other day I called a few iced coffee emporiums and compared brewing techniques.
At Xando at 31st and Charles Street, hot coffee is used in the iced drinks, but it is brewed at twice the normal strength, said Randall Hurtt, manager of the establishment. The extra strong brew compensates for dilution caused when the hot coffee melts the ice cubes.
David Key, owner of the Daily Grind, which has four coffee dispensaries in the Baltimore area, told me his shops have a three-pronged approach to cold coffee.
The coffee used for everyday iced coffee is a strong, dark roast. It is cooled to room temperature, then poured over ice.
Cold drinks using espresso as a main ingredient are treated differently, he said. The hot espresso is poured over ice immediately after it is brewed. "If espresso sits and cools, it loses flavor," Key said.
Finally there is the granita treatment, a process in which the moisture molecules in a mixture of coffee, milk and sugar are allowed to crystallize.
"A granita is like a coffee slushee," said Key. And that's a good way to fight off the lethargy brought on by muggy Baltimore summers.