Paying For The Chill

Iced coffee was already more expensive than hot coffee back in 2012, but prices keep climbing. Gabrielle Sierra explains why the cold brew can cost as much as a cocktail:

Iced coffee costs come from all sides, with the most obvious also being the easiest to overlook: the ice. “People think ice is free,” says Michael Pollack of Brooklyn Roasting Company, where a 24 oz iced coffee is currently $4.50. “Ice is a fortune. If you think we go through coffee fast, double that for ice. We actually store ten gallon refrigerator boxes of ice, because our needs are so tremendous.”

But the rising cost of beans – more of which are needed for cold coffee than hot – is also to blame:

In May, the New York Times went into detail about a coffee fungus that attacked fields in Central America, leaving less product to purchase. And fungus isn’t the only way mother nature is striking back at coffee lovers. According to, “The price of Arabica coffee beans has surged almost 100% from a level of 106 cents per pound to around 220 cents in mid April, due to tight supply as a result of prolonged drought in Brazil, followed by recent floods.”

And no doubt baristas are able to get away with charging more for iced coffee during the hot summer months. So if you need to save money on the surging price of coffee, you could always join the half of the world population that prefers the instant kind:

Americans have proved pretty exceptional in their utter disinterest in warming up to the most convenient method of coffee-making. “The U.S. is entirely unique in its aversion to instant coffee,” [industry analyist Dana] LaMendola said. “Even in Europe, where fresh coffee is preferred, instant coffee is still seen as acceptable for at home and on the go consumption. In the U.S. the view is just much more negative,” she said.

Instant coffee sales in the U.S. have barely budged since 2008, and even fell marginally last year to just over $960 million. While that might sound like a lot, it’s actually a paltry fraction of the $30-plus billion U.S. coffee market. Instant coffee accounts for a smaller percentage of all retail brewed coffee by volume in North America (barely 10 percent) than in any other region. By comparison, it accounts for over 60 percent in Asia Pacific, over 50 percent in Eastern Europe, over 40 percent in the Middle East and Africa, over 30 percent in Latin America, and over 25 percent in Western Europe. …

Americans might like their coffee fast, but that doesn’t mean they want it instant.

Update from a reader who has his own method for homemade iced coffee:

It’s a lot easier than you might think.  Here’s what I do:

1) Buy whole coffee beans and grind them yourself, in a fairly coarse ground.  I like to use the big grinder in the grocery store (usually in the bulk coffee area), and use the “French press” setting.

2) Get a big glass pitcher (I use a big, tall “margarita pitcher” that cost @ $8 at Walmart).  Put anywhere from 1.5 to 2 cups of ground coffee into the pitcher.  Fill it with cold water, give it a stir.  Cover the top with something like aluminum foil or plastic wrap.

How long to “brew?”  I find that if you let the coffee sit in the grounds for longer than, say, 18 hours, you start getting a lot more bitterness than you’d probably like.  I generally make my coffee in the morning, let it sit in the fridge all day, and then strain it in the evening.

3) I use a fine mesh metal strainer and a big plastic pitcher (“dollar store” of your choice).  Put the strainer over the plastic pitcher, and pour out the contents of the glass brew pitcher.  I use a big metal spoon to stir things around before I pour, and to scoop out the grounds into the strainer.

4) Once the brew has worked it’s way through the strainer, I then pour it, a little at a time, through a Melitta Ready Set Joe cone drip filter.  I set the filter on a couple of big, tall, wide-mouth glasses (about 16-20 oz. each).  I let the strained brew work its way through the paper filter, down into the glass.  When one glass is almost full, I move the drip filter onto the other glass.  The full glass is then emptied, via a cheap plastic funnel, into a heavy glass milk jug from the local dairy down the road.  I hold a couple of these back during the summer, rather than returning them to the grocery store for deposit.  Both the jugs and the little plastic caps hold up well through repeated trips in the dishwasher.

It should be noted that steps #3 and #4 take up most of an evening – but I don’t stand there watching the coffee, either.  I might start step #3 at 7:00, and start step #4 by 7:30 or 7:45.  That last step really goes slowly, but I just enjoy the evening with my family, and every 15-20 minutes, I go into the kitchen to pour more brew out of the plastic straining pitcher, into the cone filter.  By the time I top off the cone filter for the last time, it’s time for bed, and I just leave that last one sitting on the counter overnight, and add it to the jug in the morning.

I “brew” this coffee maybe 2-3 times a week, depending on how often my wife decides to help herself to a cup.  Every morning, I take my 24oz. Tervis tumbler … pour in a cup of lowfat milk … and top it with my iced coffee.  The milk is a good source of calcium, and I find that I only need a very small amount of sweetener, if any at all.

Honestly, I’ve never done any kind of “cost analysis” on this.  I can say that a big bag of bulk ground coffee will fill up three, maybe four pitchers.  Figure that bag of ground coffee costs $9, that’s $2.25.  And I make that three times a week … and each “jug” will last me three or four mornings.  Cost of a cup of milk?  Maybe 25 cents?  Not counting the cost of refrigeration, I’m still beating the hell out of Starbucks, don’t you think?

One last thing:  I don’t use ice; rather, I fill up a Tovolo King Cube mold with my brew, and float one huge cube in my tumbler each morning.  The supersized cube lasts two, three hours… and as the morning goes by, my coffee drink gets a little stronger, not weaker.  ;)

That’s what I do.  There are, of course, dozens of web pages, YouTube videos etc. that offer up their own methods for doing something like this.  Bottom line:  Make it yourself at home.  You’ll get a better product than any instant or canned option, and it’s really good.


That iced coffee method from a fellow reader was some serious Rube Goldberg shit. Here is a similar method in spirit, but ultimately much easier way to make good iced coffee at home.

1) Purchase a French Press – they’re reasonably priced and versatile since they obviously make excellent hot coffee (so you can use it in the winter).

2) Using coarse ground beans, put about 50% more than you’d use for making hot coffee in the press; the specific amount will depend in the size of the press and your preferences but indeed more coffee is necessary to prevent a weak final product. Then pour cold water over the grinds. Still thoroughly with a wooden spoon (the grinds will float in a thick, kind of gross slurry until heartily stirred). I do this not much later than 10:00pm. It takes about 2 minutes at most.

3) Cover the coffee and put the French Press in fridge without pressing the coffee, allowing it to cold brew overnight.

4) Take it out in the morning and press the coffee – done! Cold, very tasty iced coffee. I’ve found generally similar results with somewhat varied brewing times, but a minimum of 8 hours seems necessary.

While I appreciate the other reader’s resourcefulness, I think the purchase of French Press is more than justified by the savings in time and effort. Hope this is modestly helpful.

P.S. I’m a subscriber, just in case you’re curious.