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Iced coffee drinks are a hot category this summer, with new flavors and varieties perking up overheated patrons.

When summer temperatures climb and sidewalks start to melt, many coffee drinkers go looking for a tall cold one. According to the National Coffee Association, more than 41 million Americans switch to iced coffee in spring and summer months. Operators are capitalizing on this move by hijacking a trend that first showed up in the world of iced teas. They’re offering a wide range of flavored and ethnic-inspired iced coffee drinks that take the swelter out of summer—often selling them at a nice premium over regular iced coffee.

It is especially visible in the quickservice segment, thanks to an advertising blitz by Dunkin’ Donuts, which in May launched several new flavored iced coffees, including coconut, blueberry, raspberry, marshmallow, toasted almond, and cinnamon ($1.49-$1.99). On a smaller scale, blueberry is taking center stage at the Frozen Monkey Café in Hoboken, NJ, a neighborhood café and coffee shop with a retro vibe. Here, fresh-brewed iced coffee comes au natural or accompanied by a menu of 10 syrups to flavor it, including banana and hazelnut. The new-for-summer blueberry iced coffee, made from a blueberry-flavored coffee bean, has quickly become the most popular.

“It’s unbelievable how many we’re selling,” says Frozen Monkey owner Louie Zhelesnik. Plus, Zhelesnik can charge more for his flavored iced coffees—pumping up the $1.75 for regular iced coffee to $2.25.

Flavored iced coffees are also a mainstay at Nancy’s Coffee, in business since 1979 and now with 23 locations in the Northeast. Nancy’s menu includes the Iced Caramel Turtle ($3.69 for 16 oz.)—brewed iced coffee with milk, caramel sauce and hazelnut syrup—as well as a line of “create your own iced coffees,” priced at $1.79 plus an extra 50 cents for a shot of flavored syrup. “Regular iced coffee customers are still out there, but more and more people are adventurous, asking for crazy flavors like blueberry, coconut, and amaretto in their iced coffee,” says Roxanne Quinn, an owner of Nancy’s. She adds that many guests are also interested in sugar-free syrups.

With 245 neighborhood bakery cafés in 17 states, Bruegger’s launched a June iced coffee blitz, rolling out two fair trade-certified blueberry-flavored iced coffees. On the menu were a Wild Mountain Blueberry and a Blueberries and Cream (wild blueberry coffee with half-and-half and whipped cream; $1.39-$1.99). For corporate chef Philip Smith, flavored iced coffees play a strategic role in filling the gap between plain iced coffee and more caloric frozen drinks. “It’s light and refreshing,” he says. “It gives people a middle of the road option.”

The same “healthier-than” rationale has been driving sales of high-end iced coffee drinks at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, which features an extensive selection of frosty “designer” brews. Included in the lineup are the Pressed Pecan Perk Up ($3.75), a house-smoked pecan coffee brewed in a French press, chilled, and topped with caramel and whipped cream; the I Can’t Help Myself ($7.50), espresso, cream, Frangelico, and Tuaca (an Italian liqueur); the Summer Solstice ($7.50), made with Bailey’s, espresso, and cream and served in a martini glass rimmed with sugar and cocoa; the Chumparado Chai Chai ($3.75), a Mexican-inspired cooler made from coffee and maize, splashed with chai and cream, and poured over ice; and The Cowboy Coffee ($3.75), flavored with mint and vanilla and topped with chantilly cream.

“Our designer coffees outsell our regular iced coffee drinks 10 to one,” says Ellen Burke Van Slyke, Ventana’s director of food and beverage. She says that almost 98% of iced coffee sales come from these designer coffee drinks.

Alcohol is getting into the iced coffee mix at other venues. At Sueños in New York City (avg. check, $45), chef Sue Torres has turned her Mexican Iced Coffee into a cocktail with the addition of silver tequila and Kahlua, topped with creme de mezcal whipped cream and shaved chocolate ($9). At Suba, also in New York (avg. check, $60), the caffeinated cocktail of choice is the Café del Mar ($12), made from tequila-coffee liqueur, iced coffee, and Cava served in a champagne flute over ice. Meanwhile, bartenders at Rosa Mexicano, with outposts in New York and Washington, DC (avg. check, $42), offer the Beso Maya ($8), an iced coffee mixed with Xtabetun liquor and butterscotch schnapps.

Iced coffees are also taking cues from trendy Asian and Latin American fare. At Stir Crazy Café, a casual Pan-Asian Chicago-based chain with nine locations, the Thai Iced Coffee ($2.49), a blend of spicy chicory coffee, sugar, and half and half, is a signature drink. “Customers order it with their meal and often get at least one refill by the time dessert rolls around,” says Mary Battin, director of operations support.

Coffee companies are getting into the act, too. Boyd Coffee Company, a Portland, OR-based specialty coffee roaster, recently debuted Thai Iced Coffee and Mexican Iced Coffee. “Offering these ethnic coffees,” says Jason Chin, Boyd’s marketing manager, “is a wonderful way to drive incremental sales in the summertime.”                                                   


Some Don’t Like it Hot

Where there’s snow, there’s usually hot chocolate. But when temps climb, ski bunnies aren’t exactly hankering for a hot cup of cocoa. One ski-area concept has devised a way to keep cocoa sales strong in the off-season as well as the frigid one. Chef Jake Linzinmeir of Chair 8 Restaurant, in the Camel’s Garden Hotel in Telluride, CO, has created a “drinking chocolate” tasting menu using chocolates from around the world. The menu features chocolate drinks layered like parfaits: a warm, coconut-milk chocolate layered with cool fresh mango purée and gingered-soymilk whip cream; a hot, dark chocolate layered with honeysuckle whipped cream and drizzled with wildflower honey; a warm white chocolate layered with cool blueberry purée and a lavender whipped cream cloud; and Chuao Mayan spiced hot chocolate layered with cold, freshly made mint cream. Prices range from $3 for a basic tasting to $6 with all the trimmings.

“In summer, we use lighter ingredients,” says Linzinmeir, “like fennel powder and lavender, and use the whipped cream canister to make lighter flavored whipped creams with ingredients like rosewater.” 

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