PORTLAND, Maine — At Yordprom Coffee Co., they call it liquid crack. At Tandem Coffee Roasters, regulars go ga-ga over it. And customers at Speckled Ax sip it like a cocktail, slowly with intent.
It’s iced coffee and especially during the recent heat wave, it’s getting some attention.
As Portland’s coffee scene widens, local baristas are crafting iced coffee with a mixologist’s precision.
“The objective is to make it taste like hot coffee,” said Matt Bolinder, owner of the Speckled Ax cafe on Congress Street.
His cold-brew tower, a three-part chamber that brews coffee over ice for 14 hours and looks like it belongs in a lab, not a coffee shop, produces a sophisticated concoction.
“As the ice melts, the water filters through three quarters of a pound of coffee,” said Bolinder, who describes the painstaking brewing process as an IV drip.
“We use a natural-process Ethiopian coffee that has a lot of fruit and translates into a brandylike quality,” he said. “It results in a superconcentrated, cold-brewed drink that we serve over ice.”
“It’s kind of viscous and cocktail-like,” said Bolinder, gently rattling the ice in the just-brewed beverage. And at $3.25 for a 5-ounce shot, it’s a stiff sip served in a rocks glass, but still cheaper than a Brandy Alexander.
The potent drink, with a higher caffeine count than a regular cold brew, might keep you up all night, but “when people try it, they really like it,” said Bolinder, who wood-roasts his organic coffee in South Portland under the Matt’s Coffee label. “They become junkies.”
At Tandem Coffee Roasters in East Bayside, coffee lovers seeking relief know malted iced coffee is the key to liquid refreshment.
On a typical summer day, the microcafe concocts 45 malted iceds, said co-owner William Pratt.
The main ingredient is unhopped, unfermented, dehydrated stout, which is steeped overnight.
Invented by former home-brewing couple William and Kathleen Pratt, the drink has crossover appeal to beer and coffee connoisseurs.
”We knew we needed to have an amazing iced coffee,” said William Pratt. “We were trying to come up with a flavor and decided that instead of adding another flavor, find the flavor in the sweetener.”
Combining the syrupy malt extract with cold-brewed, medium-roast Mexican coffee is the first step. At the espresso bar, baristas measure 2 ounces of whole milk that comes from a farm in New Hampshire for a beverage that has a sweet, earthy and subtle essence.
“It’s the only drink people get every single day,” says William Pratt.
And with the mellow lilt of malt, “this really appeals to the beer crowd.”
Taking a sip of the creamy beverage, served like a fountain drink in a glass pint with a paper straw, customers on a recent hot morning were all smiles.
“It’s a good treat on a summer day,” said Kristen Ellis of Munjoy Hill, who didn’t mind shelling out $3.75 for the experience. “It’s like a milkshake. It’s all fixed up for you.”
Across town at Yordprom Coffee Co., they’re brewing Vietnamese iced coffee in the Parkside neighborhood.
Owner Tom Yordprom introduced this drink, made with coffee from Vietnam, condensed milk and a splash of half and half, three years ago.
“It’s become a popular coffee drink that you’re seeing all over the place lately,” he said.
With the price of coffee on the rise, along with condensed milk, “it’s expensive, it’s not cheap,” admits Yordprom, whose large Vietnamese iced coffee is more than $4. But these iced coffees have something going for them: caffeine.
“Price doesn’t matter as long as it’s a good coffee,” said Yordprom. “It’s liquid crack, that’s how they order them.”
For these upscale brews, the type of coffee paired with the right brewing method is where the artistry comes in.
When Bolinder uses an Aeropress, a brewing style he calls “French press meets a syringe,” he selects an acidic coffee from Guatemala.
“It’s superflavorful, it’s sweet, it’s refreshing. It’s acidic, but not the acidity that hurts your stomach,” he said.
He sets the press, filled with freshly ground coffee, directly over ice, pours hot water and stirs.
The coffee steeps for two minutes and is forced through a paper filter over a 16-ounce glass filled with ice. The result is a custom-brewed iced coffee with a reddish tint that’s long on flavor and brightness.
The acidity “gives the coffee a cleanness that translates to refreshment and sweetness on your tongue,” he said. “This is what I want to drink when it’s hot out.”