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Is There Also An Iced Coffee Line--In Virginia?

Many thanks to Steve Hendrix for two weeks of superb posts in the Guest Blogger slot here on the big show--Steve showed fabulous range and took us all on some delightful journeys, including his last contribution, last Friday, in which he explored the ancient and contemporary mysteries of the Iced Tea Line, that uncharted boundary between the Land of Sweet Tea and the Nation of The Unsweetened, a border that defines much of what's still distinctive about regions of the United States, and, Steve posited, a line that likely runs through Virginia.

Sure enough, just minutes after Steve posted his piece, a reader--"Tucker"--came up with a link to what appears to be a semi-scientific study mapping out the Iced Tea Line, and indeed it runs smack across south central Virginia. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule: We can all cite places here in the Washington area that didn't get the memo about being north of the Iced Tea Line, but in general, the data points on that site look reasonable enough. (The anonymous researcher who created the Iced Tea Line map also informs us that sweet tea is a remarkably recent invention, reportedly winning widespread popularity only at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. But a more nuanced version of that story, here, argues that sweet tea was fairly common for many years before that, yet even this account concedes that the Fair did play a role in spreading the word about the thirst-quenching power of the drink.)

Which leads me to the next phase of our research project: Iced coffee. It was just a few years before the Starbucks Era that my friend Ed and I found ourselves in Vicksburg, Miss., one summer morning, where, after a naive attempt to order iced coffee resulted in three different servers concluding that we were joking with them or that we were utter morons, we ended up giving out step-by-step directions on how to create an iced version of the good old American cup of joe.

Now, of course, iced coffee has been added to menus not only at Starbucks and its competitors, but also at Burger King and other fast fooderies. But prior to the spread of $3 coffee, the iced drink was a regional phenomenon, not quite the north-south divide that sweet tea represents, but nonetheless another geocultural marker.

So, once again, we appeal to you in another bit of crowdsourcing on a pressing world issue: Did iced coffee exist where and when you grew up? My early sense from a few probes around the Washington region is that the drink was fairly common in the pre-Starbucks era in Maryland, but far less so in Virginia. But the drink's northeastern roots in this country also meant that iced coffee was a commonplace in Florida, California and other such places that drew lots of transplants from the northeast in the mid-20th century, so this map is not likely to be a clean north-south cut. Any and all guidance on the geography of iced coffee is welcome.

True connoisseurs of iced coffee contend, as they do with so many aspects of the Starbucks culture, that the behemoth chain has done some damage to the pure method of creating iced coffee. Here's a breakdown of the difference in how the drink is brewed, and here's a visit to a Houston company that contends it invented--or at least adapted--the cold-brewing process for iced coffee in the 1960s.

Come on ahead with your testimonials as we search for the Iced Coffee Line.

By Marc Fisher |  August 18, 2008; 8:13 AM ET
Previous: In Search of the International Sweet Tea Line | Next: D.C. Teachers March Toward Showdown Over Merit Pay


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I obviously don't know how to make iced coffee correctly based on the directions you linked. But those directions are quite different from the printed directions I once picked up at Dunkin' Donuts. I believe they use a hot-brew method but advise DOUBLING the strength of the brew, because it gets "watered down" by the ice. I like strong coffee, but that recipe is too strong even for me.

Posted by: Discman | August 18, 2008 10:28 AM

Even better is espresso over ice (to your preferred strength) and top off with milk or cold water. Use a little stove top espresso maker and you've pwned Starbucks.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | August 18, 2008 11:15 AM

I grew up in Atlanta, and my Mom used to drink iced coffee sometimes. But she grew up in Michigan. But her Dad was an auto worker originally from Tennessee.

So there you go.

Posted by: mark | August 18, 2008 12:22 PM

Oh, and my Mom's iced coffee was black with ice. No milk, no sugar. Same way she drank iced tea.

Posted by: mark | August 18, 2008 12:24 PM

To my direct knowledge iced coffee was not commonly drunk in Richmond in the '50s and '60s. In fact I remember asking, since tea was brewed hot then iced, could you do the same with coffee and the answer was an emphatic "No!" and I then was beaten within an inch of my life for suggesting such a thing.

Posted by: Stick | August 18, 2008 12:34 PM

Iced black coffee with lots of sugar was a (rare) summer treat when I was young in Pittsburgh. My Michigan-raised mother would make it for us.

Posted by: Mike | August 18, 2008 4:35 PM

"I grew up in Atlanta, and my Mom used to drink iced coffee sometimes. But she grew up in Michigan. But her Dad was an auto worker originally from Tennessee.

So there you go."

Meanwhile, I grew up in Tennessee, but remember my mother making and drinking iced coffee on summer mornings. But SHE was from Mississippi! Which is why I was surprised to read Marc say the good people of Vicksburg had never heard of it. In fact, now that I'm stretching my brain, I think I remember my paternal grandmother, who was actually from what's now Springfield, VA but lived in small towns all over the south, including Vicksburg, drinking it.

Posted by: DCWash | August 18, 2008 6:03 PM

I grew up in Glenn Dale and yes my Godmother and her sisters drank ice coffee. I can still see the aluminum glasses they used, to keep it cold.I now enjoy having a glass on a hot afternoon. While in Bar Harbor, Maine I also enjoyed seeing it on the menu.

Posted by: orlgm | August 18, 2008 7:47 PM

My first experience with iced coffee was in my childhood during the 1950s, when I was occasionally in the care of my grandmother's sisters. They grew up in Mt. Airy and Germantown, Maryland. And they drank iced coffee in their Northwest Washington house in the 1950s.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | August 18, 2008 11:20 PM

Word around town is that Grayce Wiggins, the city's Rent Administrator, was fired last week.

Is there some point where the Washington Post is going to write a story about this huge event for many who rent in the city?

I like to hear about iced tea and iced coffee, but hey, folks, you got some local news here to cover!

Posted by: anon | August 19, 2008 6:07 AM

I met a woman in California in the late 60's that introduced me to it. She was from NY and said that it was a big drink there in the summer.

Posted by: sleicht | August 19, 2008 6:38 AM

hey Grayce, Quit postin to every topic on the Washington Post site. No cares that you got fired.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 19, 2008 7:54 AM

Is Grayce Wiggins one of Marion Barry's leftovers?

Posted by: Just Asking | August 19, 2008 8:32 AM

I grew up in Philadelphia in a family of non-coffee-drinkers. The first time I ever heard of iced coffee was in the summer of 1972 in Jerusalem, where it was served as a cup of hot coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it. Now THAT was good!

Posted by: Mel | August 19, 2008 2:05 PM

Fresh brewed ICED Coffee as a concentrate, directly over ice so that it may be used immediately is the best way to enjoy this treat year round. The recipe shown at the URL, below, actually under-extracts slightly to emphasize the natural sugars in high-grown coffees, especially those grown in Kenya and Colombia, which make excellent, naturally sweet iced coffees.

Posted by: Vince | August 19, 2008 4:53 PM

Dear Mr. Fisher,

I am saddened, NAY OFFENDED, that you have deigned time to consider the heresy of pray tell ICED COFFEE! As anative of Puerto Rico, who has grown drinking coffee, we all know that the right way to drink coffee is hot! Now would you please cease and desist the proliferation of the Iced Coffee Heresy and drink it the way it was inteded, HOT! I know the staff at that coffeehouse in Virginia where the iced coffee ruckus took place would appreciate it!

OK, I was kidding. I did not know that there was an iced coffee geographic fault line and that it was done before Starbuck's crowd popularized it!

However, I will never drink Iced Coffee ever, but I promise not to make an issue out of it (except in good cheer) in a blog! Deal?

Posted by: Kruhn | August 19, 2008 6:22 PM

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