Homemade iced coffee is often a bit different than you get in a coffee shop. Why is this and what can you do to get closer to what you like best.
Iced coffee in a coffee shop is usually brewed using a different brew method which results in a different taste. Using freshly ground whole beans, the type of beans, amount of ice and the cup or straw also all have their impact and are usually different in a coffee shop.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the exact reasons why your homemade iced coffee tastes different and what you can do to change that.
1. Brew Method
The biggest reason why iced coffee from a coffee shop tastes different from when you make it at home, is the brew method. Iced coffee is usually made a different way than the coffee you drink hot. That difference in process is likely what accounts for a lot of the difference in taste.
Usually, iced coffee is brewed (pour over) coffee but done a bit different. Many people that make iced coffee at home use the same brew method for iced coffee as they do for hot coffee. That will likely result in quite weak, watery coffee.
For iced coffee, you want to replace part of the brew water with ice. That ice should be placed in the pitcher under the filter. This cools down the brewed coffee immediately so it doesn’t melt all the ice later on. To counteract the dilution, you have to brew stronger coffee with less water. That means using slightly more grounds, ground finer. You can change the brew temperature and pour speed as well.
However, sometimes iced coffee is espresso with extra water. Basically an americano served over ice. Unless you have a good espresso machine at home, it’s very hard to match the taste and texture of iced coffee made like that. A good machine with the proper coffee operated by a trained barista is going to be hard to beat in taste and texture.
Suggested: Why does restaurant coffee taste different?
2. Fresh Whole Beans
At a coffee shop, the coffee is probably brewed with freshly ground coffee. Using fresh whole beans does make quite a difference over using pre-ground coffee from a bag. You can notice more depth of flavor and likely more complexity as well. Good beans also have a more balanced taste (less harsh bitterness/more fruitiness).
Of course you can grind your own beans at home as well. A hand grinder doesn’t have to cost much and a bag of whole beans is not necessarily more expensive than a bag of ground coffee. With whole beans you do have the option to get much more expensive beans than usually with ground coffee.
Grinding your own coffee is worth it for most people that care about the taste of their coffee though. If you want a good hand grinder that is a pleasure to use, check out the TimeMore C2. It’s not very cheap but very good value for money. It grinds quick without the need for much strength.
3. Type Of Beans
Of course using whole beans is just one part of the puzzle. The type of bean and how it has been treated has a pretty big impact as well.
There are countless different types of beans. Most of them will be of the Arabica variety but there is a wide variety of taste in Arabica. Where the beans are grown, at which elevation, how they’ve been picked and treatment after picking all have their impact on the taste. And so does the roast level.
Suggested: What type of beans is good for iced coffee?
Coffee shops will usually use a very ‘friendly’ type of Arabica bean. Coffee shops want to sell coffee that the most people like so there won’t be any strange tastes that only a few people like. They’ll use beans that produce coffee the majority of people like. That means it usually tastes good but there aren’t many ‘interesting’ tastes.
For iced coffee, most people will be happy with a medium roasted Arabica that has some solid tastes. Stronger tastes stand up better to the ice and being diluted and often have a thicker mouthfeel.
The amount of ice and the shape does have an impact on the taste of the coffee. It might sound weird but it does.
The amount of ice has an impact on the dilution of the coffee. Ice is just water so when it melts, the coffee will be diluted. The longer you wait, the weaker it becomes. The more ice you use, the more melt water there is and the more it dilutes the coffee. Bigger ice cubes melt slower so they dilute the coffee slower.
If you like your iced coffee to stay stronger even after waiting a while, use less ice and bigger ice cubes.
Suggested: Can you drink iced coffee daily?
The cup you drink something from does change the experience. Technically the taste doesn’t change but the experience does and that does change how you taste the coffee. Paper cups can give a bit of a flavor to the drink too.
Iced coffee is often drunk with a straw. Changing from drinking from a straw to drinking from a straw will change the perceived taste as well. With a straw the coffee hits the tongue (and thus certain taste buds) in a concentrated area. With a cup the liquid hits more parts of the tongue and thus it will taste different.
The material of the straw is also a factor. The material of the straw can impart a little flavor, especially with the first sip and the feel/taste of the material in the mouth also has an impact. A paper straw is more environmentally friendly but a metal straw is an even better choice.
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.