I have no problem with beating dead horses, so here it goes: Oliver Strand’s recent NYT article, “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” serves as a good iced coffee summary and well-written cold coffee argument. Unfortunately, arguing for or against exclusively serving a type of cold coffee method fundamentally makes no sense.
It is comparable to a beer enthusiast arguing for or against a chocolate stout as opposed to an IPA; the two are simply different brews, yielding different results, highlighting different desirable qualities of a multi-faceted beverage and all beer enthusiasts understand that. Certainly, within each category there is plenty of argument to be had over technique and recipe, but to compare two different styles is ultimately a moot argument.
However, to continue the beer analogy, consider a scenario in which your favorite bar stopped giving you a choice. Instead, when you ask for an IPA, Steve the Bartender just says, “Sorry. We brew our beer with the chocolate stout method.”
Obviously this scenario sounds absurd, so why is it that coffee shops — plainly within a culture increasingly congruent to bar culture — cannot offer a bar-like choice between two or three different brews?
The obvious response for many cafes would be a lack of customer interest. Connoisseurs might rejoice, but for those who don’t want to taste, but just drink their morning joe on ice, the prospect of yet another decision seems frustrating. However, this speaks to another issue, one which I will perhaps expound upon another time: menu clutter. By simplifying menus, offering fewer (or no) sizing choices and allowing the picky customers to simply request minutiae off-menu, more choices about the content of the coffee itself become feasible.
Once again, bars don’t ask if you want a 10, 12, 16 or 20 ounce beer. They do it their way and that’s okay. In fact, it’s better that way.
I propose a sensible, all-inclusive cold coffee menu that offers cold brew, Japanese iced and Cambridge (and cold bloom, if you dare) in the same spirit as a hot coffee menu that offers pour-over, Aeropress and French Press.
Customers in search of a tasting experience will be thrilled, having the chance to make a drink feel like their own without kitschy, hyphen-laden qualifiers. Customers who just want iced coffee can ask for just that and get a regular cup of cold brew, load it with cream and enjoy. Cafe owners and baristas get to experiment with a wide range of techniques and offer a more customized experience. Coffee culture expands and, instead of hearing the same needless cold brew vs. Japanese iced argument, we can return to discussing the merits of truly comparable techniques within each domain of cold coffee.
That all sounds a bit romantic? I agree, but I’ll trade our stale iced coffee debate for any single one of those victories.