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.
ATHAN’S EUROPEAN BAKERY
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.
Cafe on the Common
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.