I’ve had a lifelong love affair with iced coffee. My mother had a scandalously permissive attitude towards her children and grown up beverages- tea, coffee whatever pleased us. I think she was just glad we weren’t breast feeding anymore. Evetts children are famously early teethers .
Anyway, considering the examples mum set, she couldn’t really object to our precocious tastes. She trained me to wake her with strong, honey-sweetened tea every morning, and on many a summer’s day I was dispatched to the dairy with a jar of Moccona, and a note asking the obliging Mrs White to make her a coffee milkshake. I was too young to be embarrassed by this palaver or to point out to mum that we owned a blender. I remember slyly sipping from the old fashioned giraffe cup as I trod home. And thus began a long and joyfully enduring addiction to cold milk and caffeine.
Visits to tearooms and cafes always involved [and do so to this day] a long, tall, cream-crowned iced coffee. This was iced coffee as it existed in the 80s; a filling, energising, and beguiling blend of bitter-sweet, creamy bliss. Every café worth its salt offered the drink, along with the slightly lesser, but still perfectly decent, iced chocolate.
But something has happened in recent years to my beloved and humble iced coffee. It’s not the drink it used to be. Not in the hands of chi-chi city café owners anyway. These days it’s as if iced coffee is a rendering of some ancient recipe, pieced together from fragments of pastel coloured 80s hieroglyphs. We know it involves coffee and ice, but the rest is anyone’s guess.
Lately I’ve been served alleged iced coffee made from coffee-flavoured syrup and trim milk (thin and medicinal), filter coffee and evaporated milk (curiously paint-like in both colour and texture), loaded with artificial vanilla essence (tastes like ants) and, most puzzlingly, scalding hot with a couple of ice cubes dropped in as a sort of afterthought . Iced coffee has even been the catalyst for me being firmly ‘invited’ to leave a café . To cut a long story short it involved a café manager’s stubborn refusal to make me an iced coffee because ‘that drink’s old-school’ (maaan). My resulting, and perhaps poorly pitched, rant about his coffee making skills, political leanings and silly bum-fluff moustache led to the nearest exit being pointed out to me rather emphatically. What can I say? I’m not a morning person.
But I’ve had some good experiences too, including memorable renditions made from freshly pulled espresso, milk and cream. Very nice, but it’s not quite iced coffee as I remember it.
So how is it that we have forgotten how to make such as café standard?
Personally I blame New Zealand’s coffee culture. We have, in a few short years, dragged ourselves out of coffee hell, where a few big brands dominated the market with flaccid bags of what they claimed was coffee (but may well have been potting mix), and where white or black were the only real choices if you didn’t want your sexual orientation brought into question. We are now informed consumers of the bean. We care about the style of roast, the country of origin, the smugness of fair trade and the ethics of organic. And that’s before you get to any actual consumption. You can’t simply order ‘coffee’ (thank God), you need to specify; flat white, latte, macchiato, short black, corretto and so on and such like…
And therein, methinks lies the answer. We’ve become lost in the details. Iced coffee in its true old fashioned down-country tea rooms form, has largely been dismissed as too pedestrian and crude to be of any worth.
Similarly I fear milk shakes are starting to suffer the same fate. A local café I frequent (but really shouldn’t) doesn’t do them anymore, but you can have a frappe or smoothie if you like. I don’t.
Frappe, at least here in Auckland, usually means, ‘we’ve got a load of ice out back, right, and we need to move it, see? So we’re going to grind it up with about a teaspoon of milk, a bit of sugar and maybe a squirt of coffee. Then we’re going to sell it to you for $5 a cup under some naff French name that we don’t know how to pronounce’. FYI Frappe doesn’t rhyme with crap, but perhaps it should.
I can’t be doing with smoothies either. They always seem like the sort of thing rest-homes wiz up for residents who don’t do solids. They’re a bit like what happens when you mix up all the paints on the palette: you end up with green sludge.
So as with art deco buildings, and apparently oaks trees gifted by Hitler (happily residing in the grounds of Timaru boys high and surprisingly free of chainsaw attacks), I think there is a growing pool of foods deserving of cultural heritage protection. If I had to elect a list of such threatened café drinks, it would definitely include the following:
Made with instant coffee, coldwater and full-cream milk poured over a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, topped with a LOT of freshly whipped cream and finished with a dusting of cinnamon. Must be served in a tall, chunky glass. Tastes like childhood to me.
I would occasionally sulkily settle on this if its sexier cousin was unavailable. Made with cocoa (never drinking chocolate), otherwise as above but finished with chocolate sprinkles. Has been similarly corrupted by silliness over time. The mint and chilli flavoured version I encountered recently was particularly irritating.
The classic milkshake
Ultra-artificial, preposterously flavoured and superfluously lurid, milkshake syrup is a shining example of the wonders of industrial food technology. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than utterly fake and probably very bad for you. I love it for that honesty. My personal flavours of choice are…
- Jaffa : tastes just like the sweets but is perhaps even more magnificently artificial. Not to be confused with J.A.F.A
- Spearmint: the best choice for a scorching summer day. It has a subtle minty flavour and a pale green colour that wouldn’t look out of place on a school toilet block.
- Creaming soda: I’ve never quite worked out what this one tastes like, possibly strawberry and vanilla, but I like it all the same. Apparently the manufacturers don’t know either as it’s colourless.
And finally, milkshakes, regardless of flavour, must come in one of those big old fashioned giraffe cups.
Well that’s me anyway. But what about you, dear reader? Are you of an iced coffee persuasion or more of a milkshake sort of person? What floats your cold drink boat?