Put Down Your Iced Coffee and Stop Torturing Your Taste Buds

“A hot  coffee?” asked the man-bunned barista at my local coffee shop, his eyebrows rising high (toward his bun). It was one of the sweltering days we’ve been enduring recently here in New York, when the rivulets of sweat coursing down your back are sufficiently torrential to distract from the stench of baking garbage in the streets.

But, yes, I wanted a hot coffee, because iced coffee is an embarrassing travesty of a beverage, and nobody should drink it. That is essentially what I told him, after pausing just long enough to launch a disparaging Twitter hashtag – #EndHotCoffeeShaming – to humiliate him for his impertinence on a global scale.

While less courageous columnists confine themselves to non-controversial topics, like gun control, or how to respond to Islamic State, or the Rachel Dolezal case, I’ve got the guts to step forward and say it: iced coffee is ridiculous.

People used to understand this. As recently as 2001, Americans drank a relatively modest 300m servings of the stuff per year, but by 2009, that figure stood at 1.2bn – and now 75% of the population drinks its coffee cold, at least sometimes, seemingly untroubled by the recent skyrocketing in its price. Or by the sticky condensation that forms on the outside of the cup. Or by the watery mess of melted ice and coffee that accumulates at the bottom, unless you’re drinking the (even more expensive) fancy version. Or by the fact – and I do mean fact – that it tastes so unpleasant.

Yet the problem with iced coffee goes much deeper. It’s a fundamentally confused drink, one that can’t decide if its primary purpose is to refresh or to caffeinate the drinker. Borrowing the language of Plato, you might say that iced coffee neither successfully approximates the Ideal Form of Refreshment (as does, say, a can of grapefruit-flavored San Pellegrino) nor the Ideal Form of Perking You Up (as a steaming cup of hot coffee always does). Instead, it tries and fails to do both. By the way, there’s no evidence to suggest that Plato himself ever drank iced coffee, nor any of its variants, such as the Starbucks Frappuccino™ or the Dunkin’ Donuts Chips Ahoy!-flavored Coolatta™. I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as very telling.

(I admit I’ve been known to enjoy a Frappuccino from time to time, just as I’ve enjoyed an affogato, just as I might enjoy any other sugary snack that belongs – and this is crucial – to the category of dessert. What I don’t do is go around pretending it’s “a cup of coffee”.)

Iced coffee lacks focus: it is a beverage that’s attempting, fatally, to multitask. And multitasking can lead only to disaster, as Arianna Huffington yelled across the room to me at SoulCycle during a 3am combined meditation/exercise/napping skills class just the other day.

Why have so many of us fallen for this absurd beverage fashion? Perhaps it was a 2011 New York Times trend piece entitled ‘For Brooklynites, An Icy Drink Is Suddenly Hot’. Or maybe it was the moment in 2012 when Harry Styles tweeted the words “iced coffee” to his 25m delighted followers, causing an instant worldwide shortage. In any case, it’s all a huge mistake. Because depending on humidity levels and your own physiology, drinking hot coffee in hot weather can actually make you feel cooler anyway. It triggers a disproportionate sweating response, and the heat you lose from all that sweat evaporating can exceed the heat you take in from the drink. And it isn’t repulsive-tasting, or overpriced, nor does it involve a sticky cup. This is a win-win-win-win situation, people!

“But hold on a second,” said my friend Simon, when I outlined this argument to him. “You’re merely taking your subjective opinion about iced coffee and seeking to elevate it to the status of an objective argument in a manner all too typical of the contemporary web! Personally, I think iced coffee’s delicious.” Needless to say, he is dead to me now. (Because I killed him.)

And as for that barista? He was hounded from his job after a successful campaign of social media shaming. He has all the time in the world to drink iced coffee now.

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