Wondering how to pick a coffee that works well to brew iced coffee with? Here’s what you want to know.
For a strong, bitter yet balanced iced coffee with full body, go for a medium roasted Arabica with dark and sweet taste notes like; honey, chocolate or caramel. For a lighter, more tea-like iced coffee, use a light to medium roasted Arabica with more fruity taste notes like; berries or citrus.
There is a huge variety in coffees and while it’s impractical to recommend a specific one, there are some tools and tips below you can use to pick one that works for you.
How To Choose Beans For Iced Coffee
Fresh beans are going to be the best for iced coffee and really all types of coffee. Fresh beans have much more depth of flavor and slightly different taste notes than pre-ground coffee. The biggest reason for this is that many compounds in the coffee grounds start evaporating and oxidizing quickly after grinding.
If you’ve found a coffee you like to drink hot, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good to drink iced. Brewing iced coffee is a little different and the different temperature it’s drunk at also means the tastes are perceived differently than hot coffee. That means iced coffee is always going to be a bit ‘thinner’ and has a bit less sweetness than hot coffee. Most of the time that results in a bit more acidity.
That said, the coffee you choose to brew with still has a massive impact on the final taste. To start with; there are some basic things you should always look for when buying beans;
- 100% Arabica: Arabica is the type of bean most people prefer. Robusta is the other common choice but often has a lot of bitter, burnt notes but it’s cheaper. In iced coffee, those bad notes often come through even stronger than with hot coffee.
- Origin: The exact origin isn’t too important as a first screening. The fact that a bag states an origin is important though since it’s often an indicator of quality. This can be a country, region or even specific farm. The more specific, the better. However, while the quality will be higher, so will the price.
For iced coffee, you can go two ways;
- Strong, black and bitter.
- Fruity and more tea like.
If you want that strong, bitter taste or if you want to go for a medium roasted coffee. Preferably with darker and sweeter taste notes like chocolate, caramel, honey. Because the natural sweetness of the coffee is subdued by the ice, going for something that naturally has more of that is a good idea. If you go for a dark roast, you’ll have a lot of bitterness but not much else and will likely taste a little unbalanced. Going for a coffee from South-America is often a good choice. If you like to add things like dairy into your iced coffee, this is the way to go since the more robust taste can hold it’s own against the creamy dairy.
For a more fruity, tea-like iced coffee, a light or medium roasted coffee will do well. Medium roast will be easier to get right and balanced but if you can brew a light roasted iced coffee right, it can be a wonderful experience. This should be drunk black without any additives to get the full experience. With a medium roast, you’ll still have a decent body to the coffee and provides a good balance for most people. With a light roast, it will often feel ‘airy’ with little body and bitterness but great fruity acidity.
Choose a coffee that’s low in bitterness and higher in acidity. To get this, you can look at the taste notes and origin. Fruity taste notes like; citrus, berries, green apple imply a fruity acidity (without being overly sour). Kenya and Ethiopia are the countries that most commonly produce this type of coffee. Drinking these coffees over ice will accentuate their fruity nature even more than usual.
Supermarket Grounds For Iced Coffee
If you don’t want to bother with grinding your own beans but still want to brew the best iced coffee you can, pre-ground coffee is a good option. You’ll get better results with fresh beans but of course pre-ground is easier.
As a tip, getting your coffee ground fresh at a coffee shop is a good in between solution. That way you get much fresher and likely higher quality beans than you will find in most supermarkets. At the same time you have the convenience of pre-ground coffee. There’s also a good chance the farmers have been treated more fairly than they are by the big manufacturers although that’s not guaranteed.
When shopping for grounds in the supermarket, try to find the following things for the best iced coffee;
- 100% Arabica
- Get a bag that clearly states where the coffee insides comes from (at least the country)
- Look at the roast/expiration date. Get the freshest coffee you can get.
- Go for a medium roasted coffee
- Get the coffee that is ground for filter (pour over) brew methods.
- Look for taste notes that imply a darker sweetness like; caramel, honey, chocolate, etc.
Temperature And Taste
One important thing to understand is that iced coffee tastes different than hot coffee, even if it’s exactly the same liquid. The different temperatures mean the taste buds perceive the taste differently.
The tongue has different areas with taste buds that register different tastes. With changes in temperature, there is a change in sensitivity of the taste buds but not all of them have the same sensitivity curve. So at certain temperatures you’ll perceive more bitterness at others more acidity, etc.
So iced coffee is a bit of a different animal than hot coffee and that’s why it’s often brewed in a different way with different beans. The main differences are going to be that iced coffee often tastes a bit more acidic and less bitter than hot coffee while also having the natural sweetness subdued quite a bit.
Coffee Is Personal
In the end, taste is personal so it’s difficult to recommend one type of coffee. Some people like more bitterness while others like a more fruity taste and yet others like a bit of funkiness going on.
There are tons of different coffee beans and styles and they all taste different. There isn’t one that’s ‘best’. And even if some types are better suited for iced coffee, that’s still a general recommendation. Just what most people like. Nobody is ‘most people’ so feel free to try different types of coffee to see what you like.
If you’re trying to select the best one for you, buy a few coffees you think will be the main contenders and brew them at the same time. Tasting coffees next to each other will reveal much more than drinking them at different times.
Recommended Iced Coffee Tools
Iced coffee is pretty easy to make but here are some things to make it taste better.
- Scale: The key to good iced coffee is to replace 1/3rd of the brew water by ice in the carafe. To do this accurately, a coffee scale is essential. The TimeMore Coffee scale (Amazon) is high quality, looks good and is accurate.
- Grinder: Iced coffee requires slightly finer ground coffee so having an adjustable grinder will improve your iced coffee. Freshly grounded beans brew better coffee anyways. The TimeMore C3 (Amazon) gives you perfect adjustability and high grind quality.
- Beans: Of course with a grinder you need some beans. I like coffee with a bit more fruitiness and sweetness for iced coffee (if you drink it without milk). This Kenyan coffee (Amazon) is perfectly fruity and vibrant for iced coffee.