Food & Drink » Food & Wine

That's Cold

It's summer — one order of iced coffee, please.



The history of iced coffee varies depending on what source you are consulting. One story is that iced coffee was first concocted in Vienna in the 17th century. When the Turkish army retreated from the city after an unsuccessful siege, they left the Viennese with a surplus of coffee beans.

Other sources credit 19th-century France as the birthplace of iced coffee. Called granizado or mazagran, it was made from cold coffee and seltzer water and was considered a risqué drink at the time.

Today in the U.S., we can thank Starbucks, McDonald's, and Dunkin' Donuts for bringing iced coffee to the masses. While some might say iced coffee is iced coffee, in reality how it's made greatly affects the final taste.

Most local coffee shops serve iced coffee. Some make it from hot espresso cooled with ice and water or milk, and some make it by cold-brewing the grounds. It's a matter of preference, though many purists swear by the cold-brew method, because it contains up to 70 percent fewer bitter acids than hot-brewed coffee.

Regardless of how they make their iced coffee, all the coffee shops we profiled agree on two things: Lots of people switch from hot to iced coffee when it gets warm outside, and anything with vanilla is definitely a top-selling item.

Bluff City Coffee

At Bluff City Coffee, choosing which iced coffee you want is only a bit harder than choosing which tasty pastry you want to go along with it. Manager Suchin Wen poured me a cup of iced coffee, which he makes with hot shots of espresso over ice or mixed with water. "Our most popular drink is probably the vanilla latte," Wen says. Bluff City gets its coffee from Eagle Roasters and uses a special four-bean espresso blend. I tried an iced latte with soy milk, and it was quite good. The soy milk did a nice job of toning down the bold coffee taste.

Bluff City Coffee, 505 S. Main (405-4399)

Java Cabana

About a block from the Cooper-Young intersection, Java Cabana is the ultimate eclectic coffee shop. Intimate, funky, and friendly, the coffee shop was the very first to open in the Cooper-Young area. Mary Burns, who has owned Java Cabana since 1998, let me in on her day off to test her iced coffee. While she wouldn't divulge the secret of how she makes it ("It's made with love!" she told me slyly), she did say that the silky smooth iced coffee is made from a dark roast and is not espresso-based. She also said it's cold from the beginning. Even though I had already had more than enough coffee for the day, I brought the rest of my iced coffee with me — it was too good to go to waste.

Java Cabana

2170 Young (272-7210)

High Point Coffee

This local chain of coffee houses roasts its own beans in nearby Oxford, Mississippi. Owner Thomas Blanche, who lives in Oxford but drives up to Memphis to check on the three stores here, sat down with me at the shop on Union Avenue to talk about iced coffee. He swears by High Point's tried-and-true method of cold-brewing. "Our cold-brew method gives you a smooth, full-bodied coffee," Blanche says.

He poured me a cup of the cold brew and then made iced coffee with hot espresso, so I could taste the difference. The cold brew was amazingly full-bodied and smooth, without the leftover acid taste from the espresso version. I was convinced.

The best news Blanche gave me? Soon, getting High Point iced coffee will be even easier, when they start selling it already bottled out of their cooler case. Now that I'm a convert, I'll have to indulge, just to keep up my faith.

High Point Coffee

4610 Poplar (761-6800)

1610 Union (726-6322)

9077 Poplar, Suite #1, in Germantown (590-0917)

Otherlands Coffee Bar & Exotic Gifts

Aside from the fact that Otherlands has live music every Friday and Saturday night and happy hour every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m., this Midtown coffee shop also serves a great-tasting cup of iced coffee. I spoke with owner Karen Lebovitz to find out just how they do it.

She says they start with Ugly Mug coffee. Then, they either use espresso (for iced lattes and americanos) or hot-brewed coffee that has been chilled. They also serve blended iced coffee drinks. "Not as rich as some blended coffees," Lebovitz says, "because we don't start with a powdered mix."

Otherlands Coffee Bar & Exotic Gifts

641 S. Cooper (278-4994)

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