If life hands you lemons — and iced coffee — well, then you're primed to join the throngs obsessing right now over iced coffee lemonade. The acidic, sunshiney flavor combo rose from a few quiet sleeper cells to a flash food blog phenom, all when bowl-cuisine expert Lukas Volger Instagrammed an unusual beverage this past June. It was an Almond Palmer iced coffee lemonade served by Stand Coffee at Brooklyn, New York’s weekly Smorgasburg outdoor food market, and suddenly everyone wanted a sip.
The beverage, says Stand co-owner Bryan Hasho, is "nothing fancy." Built of lemon and vanilla simple syrup, cold brew coffee, and a splash of almond milk over ice, the drink has been on offer beyond Smorgasburg, at Stand's mobile coffee setup, and at their Manhattan coffee bar inside the Meatpacking District's Samsung Experience building since Stand's debut in March 2015. According to Nate Long, the drink's inventor and Stand's coffee director, the Almond Palmer's genesis came from a cross between a college-days habit of mixing coffee and orange juice, and Long's interest in Russian culture, where kofyeh slimonem — coffee with lemon — is a thing.
Why not take it all the way with a squeeze of lemon?
On the heels of cold brew’s continued rocket to ubiquity, and last year’s coffee tonic trend, this year’s it brew makes sense: if sophisticated coffee drinkers are now educated enough to celebrate the natural acidity inherent in a single-origin coffee bean, why not take it all the way with a squeeze of lemon? And since it's summer, do one better and serve that lemony revelation up on the rocks.
Lemon brews have actually been a mainstay for years now at places like Brooklyn, New York's Smith Canteen, where espresso and fresh squeezed lemonade over ice is called the Thunderbolt. At Gothenburg, Sweden's Da Matteo cafes, their longtime kaffelemonad is a cool, tangy lemon and coffee mix served in a highball glass. Earlier this year, Bushwick newcomer Supercrown Coffee Roasters hopped on the bandwagon with their Laura Palmer: a Japanese-style iced coffee brewed hot over ice (a method that preserves a coffee's body and acidity far more than an overnight cold brew) with house-made lemonade.
Though the movement, or enlightenment, away from the canon of balanced, chocolatey multi-bean coffee blends toward dynamic and fruity single origins in the last decade has expanded drinkers' palates, it bears asking whether or not this level of exciting fruity acidity could be too much of a good thing.
Supercrown roaster and owner Darleen Scherer says she likes to serve milder and less citric coffees, like some of her recent Latin American offerings, for the Laura Palmer — in order to "avoid a lemon bomb." Though Scherer says the drink can also work well with lighter roasted, brighter coffees, like an Ethiopian Limu, she finds the combination strikes its best balance if it doesn't push the drinker to the lemon limit.
Hasho, on the other hand, says run with it. The team at Stand loves cold brews that "throw some citrus out there," so to their senses, the combination always works with a bright and lemony coffee. Espresso is often served with a bit of lemon peel after all, Hasho points out.
Barista Sam Lewontin of New York City's Everyman Espresso, where they've served the beguiling Panacea — a wee drink of espresso, lemon juice, ginger bitters, and honey, shaken and served iced in a small rocks glass with a lemon twist — for the last nine months, offers a scientific explanation.
"Coffee is chock-full of flavor compounds called Maillard saccharides, which are created when sugars and proteins are heated together," as during roasting, Lewontin says. "As a category, Maillard saccharides are complex and nutty, and just about everybody loves them — and the best coffees have plenty of intrinsic fruitiness complementing their nuttier and more caramel-like qualities. These fruit flavors are often quite delicate, though; when we make drinks in which coffee is only one of several ingredients, they’re easily overwhelmed. In the right quantity, lemon juice can support those delicious fruit flavors, and balance out all of the sweet, nutty goodness of those Maillard saccharides, leading to a drink that’s refreshing and complex, and reflects the very best of what great coffee can be," states the barista.
For those keen to make lemon coffee at home, the drink's wide range of parameters should make it easy. Start with a coffee component — let's say a shot of espresso, or half a glass of cold-brewed coffee, or half a glass of Japanese-style hot brewed coffee over ice. Next, a lemon component — fresh-squeezed lemonade, or an intense lemon concentrate syrup. Other optional additions include a splash of tonic water, simple syrup or honey, or a little almond milk.