It’s Just Cold Coffee, People!


Seriously, it’s just  coffee with ice in it. Oh, my bad, I should probably explain what it is I’m going on about this time. Ok, check it out, like a week ago I came upon some article about how iced coffee is a big trend now – just do an internet search for it, you’ll see.

Is it? Is it really? I myself have been drinking it for at least 20 years and so have lots of my friends. My husband tells me that his grandmother loved the stuff. But just to make sure this wasn’t some new phenomenon and that I wasn’t over-reacting, as usual, I searched for it in a couple of my favorite newspaper archive websites. Why, as sure as hell, one of them came back with 5,ooo hits – the max number it can return – dating back to 1864. That’s almost 150 years ago. The article in question is from an edition  of the New York Herald entitled “Fresh Meat and Vegetables for the Navy.” It’s actually a letter to the editor talking about the importance of getting a good supply fresh food to men stationed on Naval ships more frequently than was currently happening, especially in the summer. The writer says that if they could get fresh, healthy food more than every 3 weeks or so, the men would “gladly dispense with “iced tea” and “iced coffee” and even the “old ration” of whiskey.” So, iced coffee was so popular that sailors were drinking it over a century ago. But that isn’t much proof I guess, considering it’s seems to indicate that the boys would give it up for carrots or chicken or salad. There must be more… oh wait, there’s another mention from 1868. An issue of the St. Paul Daily Press in MN tells of how the Ladies Parlors of the First Baptist Church will be open for an ice cream social. What’s the first thing on the menu they let you know about? Iced coffee. A mention in a newspaper in 1876 called it “a drink as delicious as it is novel.” An article from the Omaha World Herald in 1891 entitled “How to Build a Picnic” informs you that in order to make your guests “fervently happy”,  “Iced tea, iced coffee and ginger ale will do the best for drinking materials.” And the articles go on and on and on  – every newspaper in the country seems to rehash it every spring and summer, whether it be in simple mentions of what had been or was going to be served at a local soirée or as advice to the lady of the house on what to prepare for her family or guests in the sweltering summer months.

As usual though, I discovered more than what I had started out trying to prove, which was that iced coffee has been around & has been popular for a long-ass time. What I found was that not only did they have coffee which was chilled or had ice in it, they had trendy cold coffee concoctions, much like ones  you might find at a hipster cafe or a chain hawker of these drinks today. For example, a July 1951 issue of the Auburn Advertiser tells you how to make Maple Iced Coffee: Combine 1 Tbs maple flavored syrup, 2 Tbs of heavy cream and  1/8 tsp of artificial maple flavoring in a tall glass, add ice cubes and fill it the rest of the way with double strength brewed coffee. I assume you stir it after, doesn’t say, but just a guess.

A few years earlier in 1894, the July 15th issue of The World had several recipes, or receipts as they were once called, for the drink in question in their article “Fine Points of Making Coffee”. One describes how to make “Iced Coffee, in New York Style”. It is “merely cafe noir that has been cooled  in a china freezer by placing ice around it, slightly salted. For what is called mixed coffee, a pint of milk, a gill of cream, a gill of syrup and a quart of  black coffee subjected to the same cooling process and served when just this side of freezing is considered a proper caper by all who are not coffee connoisseurs.” A gill is a quarter of a pint, by the way. I looked it up.

Later, in 1916, you might be a housewife reading an edition of the Ithaca Daily News. There you would learn in the Of Interest to Women section what to serve instead of the “inevitable lemonade.”  It goes on to instruct you to “make your coffee very strong, at least a pint of it, and add to it a few drops of almond flavoring. Heat this up with one well-beaten egg until it gets a trifle thick. Sweeten it to taste – not too sweet-and cool. When it is time to serve, you beat into it a pint of cream and pour into glasses filled with cracked ice.”

Do you know how Ruth Etting liked her café glacé? She told the folks at the Medina Daily Journal in 1931 that she filled a shaker with half fresh brewed coffee, a few drops of vanilla, 4 Tbs of crushed ice, one or two Tbs of powdered sugar and some heavy cream. Shake it until it’s foamy and serve in a tall glass topped with whipped cream – hmmm… sounds like one of those over-priced novelty drinks that are so popular now, yet, it’s been around for 80 years. Weird.

A 1941 issue of the Schenectady NY Gazette will even introduce you to a girl named Mimi, the Queen of Iced Coffee. The beverage had its own week that year, which was from June 22nd to 29th.

As I scoured through all of these writings, I discovered a couple of little things that may interest you – everyone seems to have used powdered sugar rather than granulated and heavy cream instead of milk or half and half. It was made double strength because the ice diluted it and it was very often combined in a shaker, especially from the mid 1930’s on. Prohibition had ended so I guess everyone had a one for cocktails anyway.  Iced coffee was touted to be not only refreshing, but also nourishing and better for you than water when the weather was warm. It was never, ever suggested for children even in the oldest articles I could find. I also saw it suggested, more than once, that it be served with a scoop of chocolate ice cream in it – yummy!

So there you have it. If you drink iced coffee, you may be cool (cause it’s got ice in it), but you are not trendy. Actually, you are old fashioned and taking part in something that is so, like,  totally last week, dude. OMG, my great great great grandparents drank it, and they’re like, not even alive anymore.

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2 Responses to It’s Just Cold Coffee, People!

  1. Susan says:

    I do the shaker thing at work with my Rubbermaid 32oz pop top drink bottle. First thing in the morning I brew a half pot, then turn it off to cool for a while. Meantime I have half filled my bottle with ice, added milk and a little sugar and put it in the freezer. When the coffee is not so hot I pour it in the bottle and shake, shake, shake my bootie, I mean bottle. And here I thought I was being innovative. I guess it’s like fashion – everything old is new again.

    • wagnerowicz says:

      we always make coffee after dinner and never finish it, so before bed i put he pot in the fridge and have it nice and cold in the morning. i usually drink it black though but it sounds like fun to shake it and i never even thought of the whole ice cream float thing. i totally have to do that.

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