Iced coffee

The Perfect Iced Coffee

What’s the secret to great iced coffee taste? Our beverage expert shares the Panera way, plus tips for making refreshing coffee drinks at home.

Technically, you could make iced coffee by pouring this morning’s leftover brew into a tall glass of ice cubes, but Myrna Adolfo, beverage director on the Panera Bread® Culinary Team, doesn’t recommend it.

“Your iced coffee will have a much cleaner flavor if you don’t start with leftover coffee,” she says. “At Panera we call old coffee ‘expired’ or ‘dead.’ After an hour, the coffee’s volatile flavors start to break down in a negative way. That’s why our bakery-cafes replace any hot coffee that has been sitting more than 60 minutes.”

If we just nixed your go-to method for making iced coffee, here’s a new and improved plan from Myrna to help you get it right every time.

Brew it strong. Adding ice and cold water to coffee waters down its flavor. To compensate, make a stronger brew for iced coffee than you would if you were drinking it hot. Panera’s Iced Coffee, for instance, starts with a double batch of our Dark Roast coffee. (For additional brewing tips, see “The Story Behind the Sip.”)

Chill quickly. “At Panera, we have ice and cold water right at the coffee dispenser, and we brew the hot coffee directly into it,” says Myrna. This chills the hot coffee quickly, which is what you want to do to preserve its flavor. (That flavor breakdown we mentioned before only happens to coffee that has been kept hot.) Myrna recommends adding two parts hot coffee to one part cold liquid. That cold liquid portion can include water, milk, soy milk, cream, or another dairy or nondairy creamer.

Sweeten the deal. Granulated sugar won’t dissolve in iced coffee, says Myrna. Instead, sweeten your iced brew with liquid sweeteners such as simple syrup, agave nectar, or honey.

Add a flavor boost. “There are so many flavored syrups on the market from companies like Torani,” says Myrna, “but you could also try making your own.” Myrna says that it’s a growing trend to create homemade flavored syrups with techniques like infusions and boiling, but you can create a quicker version simply by mixing 1 teaspoon of a high-quality extract (such as vanilla, almond, or cinnamon) with 1 cup of simple syrup.

Save some for later. Iced coffee is best if you brew it right before you serve it, but Myrna says it’s also okay to make a whole pitcher of it to store in the fridge for a day or so. Just avoid plastic containers. “Plastic retains the oils of coffee and other flavors,” she says. Instead, choose a stainless steel or glass container or pitcher that’s airtight (to keep out other fridge flavors).