Ways You're Messing Up Your Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is the perfect summer treat and always feels special and refreshing. I love finding the right balance for my morning drink and I enjoy iced coffee well into fall and winter.

Brewing your own iced coffee at home is an easy and cheap way to enjoy this treat all summer long. I spoke with baristas and some serious iced coffee enthusiasts about how to brew the perfect cup day after day. From filtered water to fresh coffee beans, the details matter when it comes to this drink. Here are just a few of the ways you may be messing up your iced coffee.

It's too weak

This is probably the most common iced coffee mistake. You need a lot of ice to cool off your drink, but that tends to water it down. The best tip is to brew extra strong coffee to offset the ice.

Dunkin' Donuts shared their secrets for the perfect iced coffee and recommended always double brewing your coffee, so that once you add the ice, you'll have the perfect flavor. "The melting ice weakens the coffee's taste, which is why iced coffee is brewed stronger to begin with," Rob Stephen, Manager, Product Development for Dunkin' Donuts, Inc. shared in a press release. The restaurant recommended using four teaspoons of ground coffee for every cup of iced coffee you plan to make. Once you've brewed your drink, keep it in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

You're using regular ice cubes

One way to avoid watering your coffee down with ice cubes is to use coffee for ice, too. 

Food blogger Elise Bauer swears by coffee ice cubes "Besides your iced coffee, you can also use these coffee ice cubes in smoothies, cocktails, or blitz them in a blender to make a quick coffee granita to serve for dessert," she shared in a blog post. The next time you have leftover coffee, freeze it into cubes instead of pouring it down the drain.

Even Starbucks is going to start offering coffee ice cubes, but it'll cost you! Starting in some cafes this summer, you'll be able to enjoy your iced coffee with coffee ice cubes for 80 cents more.

Your sugar isn't dissolved

I love a nice black iced coffee, but sometimes I'm in the mood for something a bit sweeter. However, when the coffee is too cold, oftentimes nut milk or sugar won't dissolve, and I end up with a grainy, powdery drink. No thank you!

For the perfectly blended iced coffee, food blogger and cookbook author Chungah Rhee recommends making your own simple syrup. "A batch should last you for a few weeks, unless you like to douse your coffee in sugary goodness. No judgment here," Rhee wrote in a blog post. "Then you can add a splash of milk or half-and-half, although I highly recommend the latter." You could also sweeten your coffee while it's still hot to ensure your sweetener dissolves, then cool it off.

You're using the wrong water

When making iced coffee, I tend to focus on the type of coffee I'm using, rather than the water. However, because coffee is mostly made up of water, it makes sense that the right filtered water will make a difference in the taste.

Certified barista and head of quality control at Cafe Virtuoso, Savannah Phillips, schooled me on the importance of water when it comes to your favorite drink. "Most commonly, people don't use properly filtered water, and since water is 97 to 98.5 percent of coffee, using great water is a must," she told me.

You're letting it sit too long

Even if you double-brew your coffee, if you let it sit on the counter all morning while the ice melts, it's going to taste watered down. You'll also probably never make it again, because it took too long. One strategy to try is using a cocktail shaker. The neighbor may raise her eyebrows when she sees you shaking up a drink at seven in the morning, but it's the fastest way to get your iced coffee cold. Simply pour in your freshly brewed hot coffee and ice cubes, then shake it up.

Your coffee beans are too old

Iced coffee is such a refreshing treat in the summer, so it's a shame to take a sip of an overly bitter drink. To get the best bang for your buck when it comes to coffee, use the fresh stuff.

"Choose a great freshly-brewed coffee that's well balanced, and has flavor components that you want to exemplify," Phillips told me. "Store in an airtight container, and try to consume within the first two weeks of buying. After that, the coffee will become stale. Always freshly grind with a burr grinder as well."

It's too boring

Iced coffee is an easy, refreshing treat, but don't subject you and your tastebuds to boring coffee all summer long. There are plenty of ways to jazz it up, so get creative! Adding almond or cashew milk gives your coffee a sweet, nutty flavor. The creamy nut milk will also cover up any remaining bitterness. If you're a coconut fan, try coconut milk for a smooth finish.

Spice up your coffee with a cinnamon stick or a dash of nutmeg. Head of Education at Toby's Estate in Brooklyn Allie Caran told Bon Appétit that adding lavender, basil, and mint to your coffee is refreshing in the summers. Or combine your iced coffee with another refreshing summer drink. "Mix cold brew concentrate with equal parts coconut water. It tastes like chocolate milk," barista at New York City's Café Grumpy Solomon Olmstead told Bon Appétit.

You're paying for extra water

Of course making your iced coffee at home will be easier on your wallet in the long run. However, there are just those days when it's not going to happen. Some days you'll find yourself ordering your iced coffee at a coffee shop, and that's okay. Just make sure to get your order right.

Always order your iced coffee with light ice. Not only will this keep your coffee from becoming watered down right away, but with less ice in that cup, there will be more room for delicious coffee.

You haven't tried the Vietnamese way

I had never heard of Vietnamese iced coffee before writing this article, but now it's all I can think about. It's a decadent, creamy treat perfect for the heat. This sweet drink combines one part strong coffee and one part sweet condensed milk. For the real thing, you'll need a Vietnamese filter called a phin. Filter the coffee into your mug using the phin, then spoon in the condensed milk. Stir in the ice, and whip up a creamy summer treat for your next brunch. This will beat a frozen coffeehouse drink any day!

You're skipping breakfast

It doesn't matter how perfect your iced coffee is. If you just opt for that in the morning and skip breakfast, you're going to end up feeling shaky and starving by midmorning. If you never feel hungry in the morning, try beefing up your iced coffee with fruits and nutrients to make a smoothie on the run. This coffee breakfast smoothie from Natalie's Food and Health looks absolutely dreamy and gives you a full breakfast with oats and chia seeds.

You're not cold brewing

You may have thought cold brew was just iced coffee with a different name, but it's not.

Turns out cold brew has a completely different brewing process and smoother finish. It may become your new summer drink! "Cold brew has become very popular over the last few years," certified barista Savannah Phillips told me. "It's simply coarsely-ground coffee that is steeped in water at room temperature or in cold water for 12 to 24 hours. This is not to be confused with iced coffee, as that is brewed hot coffee or espresso and poured over ice to rapidly chill."

I recently tried cold brew for the first time and was hooked right away. It tastes very similar to iced coffee, but there's no bitter aftertaste. "The main reason why so many people enjoy cold brew is that this method produces a very smooth and easy-to-drink coffee, has very low acidity, and nicely showcases the coffees typically chosen for this brewing method, which tend to have chocolaty, malty, and caramel-like flavor characteristics," shared Phillips. Try it this summer!

For the perfect cold brew

Just like with iced coffee, you have to use the right techniques and ingredients to get the perfect cold brew. "Just as in iced coffee, most commonly [for cold brew], people don't use good filtered water, but also grind the coffee way too fine," Phillips told me. "Since the steep time is relatively lengthy, a super coarse grind is required (think French press). Pick a great coffee that's well balanced, and has flavor components that you want to exemplify."