Iced coffee drinks can be a rip-off, in terms of cost and the amount of caffeine you get. Here’s how to change that.
Few things in life bring me more joy than sipping on a refreshing, tasty iced coffee beverage in the hot summer months. But the one thing I don’t love about iced coffee drinks? They’re a bit of a rip-off.
While most iced coffee drinks actually contain less coffee than hot coffee drinks due to the amount of ice, they can end up costing more. And if you’re ordering an iced latte, beware: Your barista may be dumping regular milk on top of your espresso with no froth or steam to speak of.
Because I’d like to go a little easier on my wallet this summer and not end up ordering two iced coffee beverages just to get all the caffeine I need for the day (and yes, I have done this), I spoke with coffee experts to get their tips for getting more bang for my buck out of summer coffee beverages. Here’s what they had to say.
Ask for ice in a separate glass
You can avoid the whole my-iced-coffee-is-half-ice thing by simply asking for ice in a separate cup. “You can do this for standard ice, but also for Frappuccino blended drinks — simply ask for the blended element in a separate cup to the rest of the drink so you can add however much you would like to your coffee,” suggested Kevin Lewis, founder of a U.K.-based coffee blog and the coffee-focused YouTube channel Coffee Kev.
Bring your own extra-large reusable cup
When you bring your own cup, it’s better for the environment — and you may also get to pay a little less, if you’re lucky. “The barista may not know exactly what size the cup is, and will often charge a standard own-cup charge, or charge for a regular,” Lewis said. In other words, all that ice won’t matter as much if you’re not paying an arm and a leg for it.
See if your coffee shop offers a cold foam topping
Traditional steamed milk won’t work in an iced coffee beverage, because the hot milk will melt your ice. But that doesn’t mean your iced lattes and cappuccinos have to be totally foam-free.
“Most coffee shops offer a cold foam or cold topping where milk or cream is frothed/mixed cold and then added as a topping to your beverage,” said Bethany Smith, former barista and writer for the coffee site A Cup Every Day. “This is a common addition to cold brew, but can also be added on top of a latte or iced coffee.”
And if they don’t offer a cold foam topping, ask for a cocktail-style shake of your coffee and milk. “Some coffee shops (such as Starbucks) offer shaken espresso drinks, which is where they combine the espresso and milk together and then shake it together in something similar to a cocktail shaker,” Smith said. “It creates a frothier beverage that more closely mimics a hot latte.”
Ask for an extra shot of espresso in your iced coffee
This sounds like a way to spend more money on your iced coffee, but it could actually be a money saver in the long run. “An extra shot normally costs less than a stand-alone espresso,” said Kieran MacRae, resident coffee expert at Above Average Coffee. “I’ve seen cafes where a stand-alone espresso is $1.90 and an extra shot is only 50 cents!” So, if it prevents you from needing a second coffee later, you can save money overall.
Ask for larger cubes
If your coffee shop has them, large ice cubes can be the way to go. “Large cubes will melt slowly, prolonging the coffee from becoming diluted,” said Rosio Flores, a barista trainer at La Monarca Bakery, a Mexican-owned bakery and coffee shop. “Or just request light ice.”
Or, Just make it at home
If you really want to make your iced coffee or other summer coffee beverage right, do it yourself — and spend less money while you’re at it.
“Iced coffee is remarkably easy to make at home for a fraction of the price you pay at most cafes. You can either buy an iced coffee machine cheaply (like the Mr. Coffee Iced Coffee Maker), or else simply use a normal drip coffee maker,” said James Hyslop, co-founder of the home coffee brewing-focused site The Coffee Folk.
You can also use a cold brew bottle like the one made by Hario, which allows you to make a single serving in one portable container.
Are coffee shops trying to rip you off during iced coffee season? Probably not on purpose, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Luckily, there are a handful of hacks out there that can help you get your money’s worth, so put them to work.
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