Neatly arranged in a basket at my local Starbucks, shiny bags of whole-bean coffee caught my eye.
It was enough to stop me in my flip-flops — and bend over for a closer look before giving the barista my iced-tea order. Did I read that right: Iced Coffee Blend? As a self-professed coffee snob (after all, I wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coffee & Tea five years ago) I scrutinize a lot of coffee packaging — and see a lot of mislabeling.
Has Starbucks really tapped into a new taste profile that’s remarkably better over ice? Or is this just a ploy to remarket an existing coffee?
The “Iced Coffee Blend” — described on Starbucks.com as “a multi-region blend” that’s “medium-bodied, well-balanced and caramelly smooth” — rolled out on July 12. Marketed as having the same secret recipe of beans used to brew iced coffee for Starbucks customers, what struck me as odd is the suggestion to add sweeteners or creamers, such as “delicious flavors like vanilla, caramel or hazelnut.”
If it’s that awesome then why add flavoring?
When I brewed the Starbucks beans in my French Press, pouring the brewed coffee over ice, and carefully following the instruction (per the package) to use less water than you would for hot-brewed coffee, I was impressed with the deep, dark, almost sultry flavor. I disagree with the company’s suggestion to add flavors. It’s perfect as-is.
Starbucks is only the latest to jump on the iced coffee blend trend. Here are the 4 other most notable iced coffee blends that we’ve tried:
- Keurig “Nantucket Blend Iced Coffee” is a variation on Keurig’s Green Mountain Coffee Nantucket Blend and compatible with the company’s single-cup brewing system (which brews a cup of coffee in 60 seconds or less). In keeping with the system, each coffee varietal or blend is ground and vacuum-packed into a tiny K-cup® that’s inserted into the coffee maker as part of the brewing process. Except instead of dripping into a ceramic coffee cup, the Nantucket Blend Iced Coffee — as shown in a video on Keurig’s web site — ends up in a glass filled with ice. Is the switch in glassware the only difference here?
- Seattle’s Best Coffee “Summer Brew” Earlier this summer, the company, a subsidiary of Starbucks, released its seasonal “Summer Brew” whole-bean blend tailored just for iced coffee. The description on each bag — featuring a sun motif and soft blue background — reveals that it’s a blend of East African and Latin American beans. We call it an ingenious blending.
- Coffee Bean Direct’s “Iced Coffee Blend” An online marketplace devoted to selling whole, just-roasted coffee beans, and with a minimum 25-pound order, an Iced Coffee Blend is among the selections. A blend of coffees from Costa Rica, Panama and Papua New Guinea, the site says it’s been a hit in the roasting factory since roastmaster Al devised it for his personal enjoyment, not realizing it would one day join the product line.
- Mystic Monk Coffee Run and operated by the Carmelite monks in Wyoming – no, I’m not kidding; these monks are totally involved in the caffeine business – the company sells three varieties of an Iced Coffee blend through its web site. The first, referred to as simply “Iced Coffee Blend,” claims to convey subtle notes of berries and fruit. It gets interesting when you consult the other two – “Coconut Cream Iced Coffee” and “Banana Cream Iced Coffee” – that are dubbed “tropical treats.” These monks may be on to something with these offbeat flavors.
The verdict? If you’re an iced coffee fanatic who’s tired of spending $2-$3 for iced coffee that’s too little liquid and too much ice, or if you feel ecologically inept for plowing through all those plastic containers, home-brewed iced coffee with iced coffee blend beans offers a near-perfect alternative.