Why Is My Iced Coffee So Expensive? Here’s What's Driving Up the Price


If you’re anything like me, you’re a little bit obsessed with coffee — and with this summer shaping up to be as hot as it is, you’re probably going through a ridiculous amount of the iced stuff. As such, you’ve probably noticed that prices for a good cup of cold java have been a little steeper than usual (and not just at Starbucks, either). Curious about exactly why your iced coffee is so expensive these days? Here’s your answer.

Gothamist did a little digging, asking around at some of New York’s most popular coffee shops to see where all that money is going. Ultimately, there are a lot of factors at play here, each of which bumps the price up a little bit on its own — and when they pile on top of each other, it really adds up. The whole report is worth reading, so I suggest you head on over to Gothamist and take a peek; in the meantime, though, here’s the short version of why your coffee costs so damn much:

  • Ice. Said Michael Pollack of Brooklyn Roasting Company, “Ice is a fortune. If you think we go through coffee fast, double that for ice. We actually store ten gallon refrigerator boxes of ice, because our needs are so tremendous.”
  • The electricity required to power an ice machine. If you think the bill for your puny little window air conditioner unit is scary, imagine what an industrial strength ice machine costs — and that’s on top of the purchasing of additional ice to supplement the stuff made by the machine.
  • Cups. Plastic cups are a petroleum product, so as gas prices rise, so, too, do the costs of plastic cups. According to Ninth Street Espresso’s Kenneth Nye, 12 oz. paper cups cost $60 a case, while 12 oz. plastic cups set the shop back around $100.
  • The coffee itself. Remember that whole thing where coffee has gotten so expensive that not even Starbucks can afford to buy it anymore? It’s still a problem. Between the coffee fungus in Central America and first the drought, then the floods in Brazil, there’s very little supply for the massive demand; this, in turn, makes the prices shoot through the roof.
  • Cold brewing. It takes a lot of time and effort to cold brew; it requires an initial investment to get all the materials needed to do it on a large scale.

Sure, one cup of iced coffee here or there probably isn’t going to break the bank for you as a consumer — but if you’re the type who grabs a cup of joe on the way to work every day, it adds up. The prices at the shops Gothamist spoke to tend to run anywhere between $3.50 and $4.50 a cup. At its least expensive ($3.50 a cup from Ninth Street Espresso), one iced coffee five days a week means you’re spending $17.50 a week on coffee alone, and $70 on it a month. At its most expensive (Brooklyn Roasting Company), one iced coffee five days a week will set you back $22.50 a week and $90 a month.

So: Might we suggest starting to make your own at home? Cold brewing isn’t particularly difficult to do; all you need to do is set it up and then leave it alone for about a day. And hey, if you’re feeling really lazy, you can always just brew up a pot in your regular ol’ coffee maker and stick it in the fridge until you want it. Here are a few recipes to get you started:

1. DIY Iced Coffee

Brown Eyed Baker shows just how easy it is to cold brew your own iced coffee.

2. Cold Brewed Coffee Concentrate

Having a little trouble with the concept? A picture is worth a thousand words, and The Messy Baker’s step-by-step tutorial tells you everything you need to know.

3. Coffee Smoothie

Joy the Baker’s coffee smoothies every which way are just the thing when you want something a little more substantial.

4. Fresh Mint Iced Coffee

Try your iced java with a minty twist, a la How Sweet It Is.

5. Coffee Granita

If you’ve never had granita before, I suggest you whip up My Baking Addiction’s coffee version, stat.

Images: Scott Beale/Flickr; MRWGifs; Brown Eyed Baker; The Messy Baker; Joy the Baker; How Sweet It Is; My Baking Addiction