It’s time for us to talk about why iced coffee is a scam.
Admittedly, this is a provocative hill to die on. As someone who started their journey exclusively drinking iced coffee, I’ve floated to the other side of the pool and now I solely drink it hot, or lukewarm at worst. Like most, my origin story begins by spending my lunch money on Frappuccinos and other sugary drinks from national chains. Now I’m calling out tasting notes in shots of espresso in the blink of an eye. As I visited more specialty coffee shops, my desire to understand coffee and its complexities increasingly developed. Whether it was my astonishment of how fast I drank iced coffee, or watching the barista fill two-thirds of my cup with ice, I realized that I’m robbing myself when it comes to my coffee experience, even during the summer’s hottest days.
In a recent study done by the National Coffee Association, coffee consumption has reached new highs at over the last two decades. 66% of Americans are drinking at least one cup of coffee a day, which is more than any other beverage in the country. Many of these drinkers are actually ejoying a watered-down product. “Best” case scenario, you’ll finish an iced coffee in a short period of time. Worst case scenario, the ice starts melting and the condensation starts to set in while your cup becomes slippery. As you fumble around with your slick cup, it begs the question: are you really even drinking coffee at this point? Regardless of the scenario, the short shelf life of an iced coffee requires quick plans for cup number two. The drinking experience isn’t long, and the taste is gone once the ice starts melting.
That’s why I think it’s a scam.
Curiosity got the best of me, and so I conducted an informal poll on Instagram. Over 150 coffee drinkers were asked what their reasoning is for choosing iced over hot. The overwhelming answer was that it’s “refreshing”, and it regulates body temperatures on hot days. The least common answer was that it simply tasted better. To summarize, results show the desire to drink iced coffee boils down to what the drink accomplishes for the body (though studies have shown hot coffee to be more effective to that end than cold drinks), while taste is merely an afterthought. The fact that consumers are intentionally adding ice to dilute their drink supports that mindset.
Now, one might argue that there are other, better, and more refreshing options to cool off with, like water. However, it appears that some people prefer to rely on coffee as a source of hydration. For this, I might recommend instead enjoying an espresso with a glass of sparkling water on the side. Fondly known as the espresso sidecar, this combination separates your coffee and water in efforts to cleanse your palate and hydrate you. Most importantly, it allows you to taste the coffee that roasters and baristas worked diligently to dial in and present.
“Ideally, I’d like the consumer to drink our coffee hot. That’s where you’re going to really taste the qualities of the coffee,” a Washington-based roaster explained to me on Instagram. (I’ve protected their anonymity so as to not enrage the iced drinkers.)
It’s easy to drink your coffee with speed when it’s iced, but what’s the hurry? Why would we opt to expedite the ritual surrounding our cup of coffee? Whether we make it at home, or order it in our favorite shop, rushing to get your coffee fix takes away the time to immerse ourselves in the coffee procuring process. After all, how many times have you heard someone say, “I love the smell of iced coffee in the morning”?
Listen, I get it. It’s hot, it’s summertime, and if you’re not used to it, maybe it feels counterintuitive to drink something hot when it’s 100 degrees, although this is totally common in other parts of the world—hot soup in Vietnam, spicy curry and chai tea in India, and so forth. In a season that promotes activities that allow us to slow things down and relax, why aren’t we using that same logic when it comes to our most beloved beverage?
Just because people are wearing less and going out more during the Summer, doesn’t mean you need to strip yourselves of enjoying coffee to compensate for the weather. Hot coffee should be enjoyed year-round, and not just treated like an accessory during colder times of the year. Coffee is not your autumn Instagram prop! The money and effort we put towards coffee should make us want us to enjoy the full experience of a hot cup of coffee, not to start a collection of plastic cups filled with melted water.
This summer, I’m inviting you to to do something controversial. I think it’s time you finally showed some love to yourself. Order a hot coffee in the summertime, and feed your soul.
Giovanni Fillari is Brand Marketing Specialist at Nike and the publisher of @_coffeefeed. He is the honorable mention Sprudgie Award recipient for Social Media in 2018 and 2021. Read more Giovanni Fillari for Sprudge.