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Become Your Own Barista: How to Make an Iced Coffee That Tastes Better and Saves You Money

After spending way too much money at Starbucks and Dunkin in 2020, here’s how I’m recreating my coffeehouse favorites in 2021.

Published Jan. 12, 2021.

Did you spend $785 on iced coffee last year, like I did? If the answer was yes, I’m not judging you at all. I bought so much iced coffee between Starbucks and Dunkin in 2020 that I’m on a first-name basis with my baristas. But who can blame me? This last year was tough, and treating myself to a $5 customized iced coffee was the least I could do for myself.

Going into 2021, I have a resolution to spend less money on iced coffee. I realized that making it at home saves more money, and more importantly, tastes way better. Still, one of the best parts about going to a coffee shop is the endless options of customization: hazelnut, French vanilla, mocha, even something crazy like cotton candy. So, how can we recreate the coffee shop experience at home? It’s easier than you think.

1. Mix up the types of coffee you buy!

Perhaps the best part of making iced coffee at home is the different beans you can use as a base. At most coffee shops, iced coffee employs the default beans used in their drip coffee. Making it at home allows you to experiment: smooth flavors of Arabica beans, smoky and intense Liberica beans, etc. Why not use New Orleans-style ground coffee, with a hint of chicory?

Personally I prefer dark roasts, because its bold flavor still stands even when your ice melts and your coffee becomes slightly diluted. (Of course, you can remedy this by making coffee ice cubes using an ice tray!) I also love flavored blends for iced coffee, to give it a little something extra, like this Very Vanilla coffee from Currency Coffee Co., a local coffee roaster in my hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

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2. Make cold brew.

Cold brewing makes a coffee that’s much smoother than standard brewing methods. All you need is a mason jar, a strainer, a coffee filter, a large bowl, and the secret ingredient … time.

Other methods will be quicker. If you own a French press, our method on how to make your own could be the perfect solution for you. There’s also coffee makers that are especially made for cold brew.

Then there are pour-over coffee makers such as Chemex which produce coffee that’s just as good iced as it is hot. It’s the perfect vessel for Japanese-style flash brewed iced coffee. In this process you brew coffee as you traditionally would, but instead it is done over ice, chilling the coffee immediately as it is brewed. By changing the water-to-coffee ratio, you don’t have to worry about the ice diluting your brew. It’s an ideal option for those who don’t want to wait 24 hours for the steeping process to finish in traditional cold brew methods. 

3. Syrups are your friend.

You can buy the same flavor syrups your favorite coffee shop uses for your kitchen. The most recognizable brand is Torani, which sells dozens of flavors, from pumpkin spice to bourbon caramel. I like mixing them up: My favorite combo is dash of French vanilla and hazelnut. One 750ml bottle lasts practically forever. A budget-friendly tip: keep your eyes peeled at stores like TJMaxx and Homegoods, they tend to have a great selection of flavor syrups at a good price.

4. Make cold foam!

Foams make coffee drinks feel more classy. Fortunately, it’s easy to make at home. If you have a milk frother, that’s the quickest way to achieve the perfect foam, but it can also be made in a blender. You can uplevel your foam by incorporating syrups (see above). I’ve found that skim milk works perfectly for cold foam, and I also love oat milk for a plant-based option.

5. Use a fun cup and reusable straw.

If you still need that little extra motivation to keep your coffee-making in-house, I’ve found that using a fun tumbler for my iced coffee can help me curb the temptation to go out and buy one that comes in an ugly to-go cup. Plus, preventing another plastic cup from entering a landfill helps put my mind at ease.  If you have a favorite tumbler from the office and you happen to be working from home, take it out of your cabinet. If none of your cups are inspiring you, check out our winning travel mug that will keep your iced coffee, well, iced. 

Or, if you’re starting from square one and want the whole package, for the holidays, my family gifted me an iced coffee maker, which includes a reusable tumbler. The tumbler comes with super helpful measurement lines on the side to make sure I use a suitable amount of water for brewing and the correct amount of ice to ensure the perfect ratio of ice to coffee. This coffee maker uses a similar strategy as Japanese-style flash brewed coffee, using the tumbler for the perfect coffee-to-water ratio and then brewing the hot coffee over ice, with none of the dilution. And now that we’ve gotten to know each other, I think you know that this was my favorite gift from the holiday season.

But, if you find yourself still missing your favorite coffee place, and seeking a little bit of nostalgia, a lot of them sell branded tumblers that you can use at home. They usually come in different seasonal colors, have cool designs, and are relatively good quality. And you can say hi to your favorite barista when you stop in! It will remind you of your old stomping grounds while you’re sipping a homemade beverage that tastes just as good.

Hero photo: Uraiwon Samatiwat / Getty Images

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