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Food and Drink Features

Joe cool

Coffee shops fight back against brutal summer heat waves by offering something a bit cooler to satisfy those jonesing for a perfect brew.

Charles Martin August 10th, 2011

After weeks suffering under the blistering summer sun, the thought of a piping-hot cup of coffee might not pique interest as it would in winter. That doesn’t mean coffee shops are closing their doors and waiting out the heat wave, but rather shifting their focus.

Michael Palermo, owner of Michelangelo’s Coffee & Wine Bar, 207 E. Main in Norman, said plenty of chilled coffee options exist that go well beyond simply throwing a fistful of ice cubes into your cup.

“We’ve got about 13 different latte-type drinks, like your normal cappuccinos and espressos, but we also make an espresso with a Toddy,” Palermo said. “It’s a cold-brew system which takes a 12-hour process. It’s a real smooth espresso and is made for iced coffee drinks.”

The brew, made by pouring cold water over espresso beans and letting it sit overnight, is available year-round, but Palermo said his staff has to prepare it by the gallons to meet summertime demand. The process is necessary to make a good iced coffee, he said, because if hot coffee is blended with ice, the drink will  quickly become so watered-down that the taste will be lost.

As temperature preferences shift, so can the type of drink.

“Oftentimes, you’ll find people who like coffee, but when they get an iced drink, they go with one of the flavored drinks, like caramel or vanilla,” he said. “We have other more unusual drinks, like the Sinner, which is cinnamon, vanilla and white chocolate, or the Sherlock Holmes, which is butterscotch and toffee.”

Expanding beyond the realm of coffee can be a good way to keep customers returning throughout the seasons, said Elizabeth Diefenderfer, co-owner of Cuppies & Joe, 727 N.W. 23rd. She also uses the cold-brew method, but supplements with iced fruit drinks and Italian sodas.

Overall business might slow somewhat during summer’s more brutal stretches, but even the slightest break in the heat can result in a surge in sales.

“When there is rain or any kind of clouds in the sky, it is amazing how much it picks up,” Diefenderfer said. “People wanted something comforting and warm, even though it never really cooled down this summer. That one day, a couple weeks ago, where the temperature dropped down, we got really busy.”

The heat can shift the palate to cupcakes and other goodies, too.

“People are gravitating more toward lighter and fruitier flavors, like strawberry or lemon,” she said. “We’ve been trying to do more fresh-fruit pies, which are really popular in the summer.”

Palermo said summer demand for Michelangelo’s various delicacies remains steady, although it is the worst time of the year to sell fine chocolates.

“Right now, we just can’t ship it,” he said. “Even in the winter, shipping costs more than the chocolate itself, but when it’s in the summertime, the shipping will triple. We have to pack it into ice and then put it on frozen trucks, and hope it will get here in some sort of order we expect it in.”

Fortunately for coffee shops, the need for caffeine doesn’t abate, no matter the weather. Although popularity of certain drinks might shift throughout the year, Palermo said the old reliables never disappear completely.

“We have the hard-core coffee drinkers,” he said. “They don’t care what the temperature is outside — it’s not going to stop them from getting hot coffee.”

Photo by Shannon Cornman

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