The Spinoff: Why on earth is iced coffee so expensive?

As the season for iced coffee returns for another humid summer, the question of why chilled coffees are so expensive has resurfaced.

Apart from the odd grey and rainy day, summer finally feels as if it’s on its way. That means, at least in Auckland, thighs stuck to seats, frequent checks of the Safeswim website – and cheerfully remembering you can skip the flat whites and lattes in favour of a refreshing iced coffee.

However, the return of iced coffee brings back the uneasy feeling that you’re being duped each time you order one.

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Many of us are made to feel guilty every time we order a takeaway long black or flat white, as if our caffeinated treats, like avocado on toast, are to blame for our inability to purchase a home. The absurdly high price of iced coffee exacerbates the situation.

Without a doubt, cold coffee is more expensive across the board. According to an informal survey of the first 15 Auckland cafes that came to mind, a large flat white costs between $4.50 and $5. On the other hand, iced coffees were priced between $5.50 and $7 per cup.

Sam Low, a coffee expert, believes the price increase is justified. “When it comes to cost of goods, it actually works out to be comparable, if not identical, in terms of profit margins to a cup of hot coffee.” He’ll detail the costs he’s referring to later.

For hundreds of years, iced coffee has existed in various forms. Mazagran, an Algerian cold sweetened coffee beverage, is frequently credited with inventing iced coffee. And, like all great menu items, the coffee frappe was invented by accident in Greece in 1957. However, Low notes that widespread enthusiasm for chilled coffee is a relatively recent development.

Iced coffee in its plastic-cupped western form dates all the way back to the 1970s, during what is known as the second wave of coffee. This was the era of Starbucks’ growth and dominance in the coffee industry. This resulted in a global transformation of coffee culture, with consumers becoming increasingly concerned with the quality and origins of their cups of coffee. Coffee shops around the world became more inventive with their caffeinated beverages, and icy coffee drinks in a dizzying array of flavours gained popularity.

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