As Nantucket Red pants descend upon the Purple Valley, all the signs show that spring is in the air and with it, the beginning of iced coffee season. As the temperature broke 70 degrees this past weekend and people began to pull out the sunscreen, we decided it was high time to pay tribute to the greatest warm-weather beverage.
There’s plenty of variety within the genus of “iced coffee” to consider when hunting for a local brew. Sure, it’s tempting to lope down to your local coffee shop and pick up a mindless, if exorbitant, $2.42 16-ounce receptacle of frosty bean juice. But true iced coffee addicts not only need to consider their wallets, but also the changes in taste that result from using different beans and brewing processes. We set out to explore the various iced coffee options available to us here in Williamstown. Below is our breakdown – by price, process and product – of what precisely constitutes a good iced brew.
The first vendor on the list is Pappa Charlie’s Deli. Though Pappa’s is more known for its celebrity-named sandwiches [“Pappa Charlie’s drops names, sammies,” Nov. 6, 2013], the shop is also a solid purveyor for a cheap and good cup of joe. The deli vends iced coffee in no-nonsense Styrofoam cups that come in four different sizes and prices, ranging from $1 for a small (8 ounces) to $2 for a jumbo (20 ounces). For the sake of comparison, this evens out to 10 cents an ounce – quite a deal, and possibly the cheapest pre-made iced coffee on campus grounds. Pappa’s is also unique for offering its patrons iced coffee year-round, rather than brewing it only during the warmer months like its competitors.
Pappa’s makes its iced coffee by cooling its regular brewed coffee (made from New England brand beans in Breakfast Blend and Eye Opener) overnight. It’s stored in glass one-gallon jugs and poured over ice to order. We found this process to produce a flavor that is chocolaty, smoky, earthy and just a tad bitter, rather than acidic. According to establishment sandwich artist Chelsey Roy, patrons rarely order iced coffee with their sandwiches.
“More often people order it by itself or with a snack,” she said. Roy recommended pairing Pappa’s iced coffee with a muffin, and we agree heartily. We give the deli’s iced coffee props for its frill-free delivery at a price that can’t be beat.
Next, we made our way up Spring Street and over to the College’s only student-run coffee shop: Goodrich Coffee Bar. Here, iced coffee goes for $1.75 in a 16-ounce compostable plastic cup, coming in at just under 11 cents an ounce. Veteran Goodrich barista Hayley Elszasz ’16 explained to us that the Goodrich process for making iced coffee is similar to the one used by Pappa’s: baristas brew hot coffee and pour it into gallon Rubbermaid jugs that cool first on the counter and then in the fridge overnight. The night shift fills up four or five jugs for the next morning, and it goes quick.
Goodrich iced coffee wasn’t always made like this, however. Elszasz recalled the introduction of the beverage during the spring of 2014.
“Back then, we had no idea how large the demand would be for iced coffee, so we made each cup individually,” she said. The earlier process involved mixing two shots of espresso with ice in a cocktail shaker. The partly melted mixture was then poured over ice in a plastic cup. “As you could probably guess, each individual iced coffee required a significant amount of time and labor, so this process was short-lived.”
While the new process is much more efficient on busy Goodrich mornings, the old one has not necessarily been put to rest.
“Iced coffee has been super popular lately and sometimes it sells out in the morning,” Elszasz explained. “Then we have to switch to iced Americanos, which entails a similar process to the very first Goodrich ice coffees from 2014. The iced coffees and iced Americanos have slightly different flavors. Some customers prefer one over the other, and some specifically order iced Americanos even if we still have coffee.”
Of course, we had to put both versions of the Goodrich iced elixirs to the test. We found that the iced coffee had a lighter, fruitier taste than the Pappa’s coffee. It was more acidic and less smoky, with a milder and more delicate flavor profile overall. The iced Americano was full-bodied and had a much bolder flavor, with aromas of wood and walnuts. Goodrich is also notable for the different add-ins you can get with your coffee, from non-dairy milks to a wide variety of flavor shots, including hazelnut, vanilla, peppermint and caramel – although flavors do cost an extra 25 cents. We had to marvel at the intricacies of the process as we watched Elszasz deftly grinding and tamping espresso beans to create an iced peppermint Americano with 2-percent milk, her personal favorite. “I’d pair it with a sesame bagel and jalapeño cream cheese,” she said.
And of course, you can always take the homemade route. For the purposes of a thorough investigation, we decided to try our hand at making our own cold-brewed iced coffee, following the instructions of a New York Times recipe. The only ingredient you need is ground beans, and you can grind your own if you catch a ride to Wild Oats. We got just enough for four 12-ounce cups for a total $1.79, by far the cheapest option on the list at under four cents an ounce. Our resulting cold brew had a smooth, rich flavor that was just barely sweet and almost syrupy, with a mild peppery bite. The possibilities for customization are endless here. You could maybe even grab a cup of sweet and spicy horchata from Tony’s Sombrero to add a delicious, creamy twist to your morning cup.
Just how exactly did we make the coffee, though? Is it worth the time, effort and money to brew your own? What equipment do I need? Can I even do that in a dorm? Watch out for an article detailing the intricacies of the on-campus cold-brew process, coming soon.