Hannah Maute’s obsession with iced lattes, iced coffees and cold brews began during her freshman year at Temple University, where she was surrounded by students who “looked cool” bouncing from class to class with a cup in hand. Now, not a day goes by when she isn’t sipping one herself.
“I genuinely think that I have accidentally, like, Pavlov-conditioned myself to associate an iced coffee with productivity,” she said on Wednesday.
Ms. Maute, 23, a full-time content creator in Manhattan who often shares her iced-coffee orders on YouTube, explained why she doesn’t go for hot coffee: It’s usually too hot to drink at first, then it’s drinkable for only a short period before turning lukewarm, at which point the taste is ruined. (“I cannot time it right,” she said. “I always get distracted.”)
According to Ms. Maute, whose current favorite iced drink at Starbucks is a Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew with oat milk and two pumps of chai, the many ways to customize iced drinks make them superior to hot drinks.
“The variety and the newness factor of some of their drinks that they implement makes it fun,” she said. “Iced coffee for me isn’t even about energy, it’s about fun.”
Indeed, iced coffee in 2022 has come to represent much more than the sugary, caffeinated drinks themselves. Affection for it has become a personality trait; memes of people running late to class or work with an iced coffee in tow are a long-running joke on social media. Many use iced coffee to symbolize that they lead very busy lives, ambitiously striving to make every hour of the day count.
But does all the love for iced mean that coffee drinkers have cooled on hot?
Last month Starbucks reported that cold beverages accounted for 75 percent of its drink sales from April through June, which the company attributed in large part to the popularity of iced drinks among its Gen Z customers.
While it might come as no surprise that customers at Starbucks are choosing mostly iced drinks during warmer months, cold beverages have accounted for at least 60 percent of the coffee giant’s beverage sales every quarter — including the winter months — since April of last year.
Iced coffee is also used as an amusing identifier among L.G.B.T.Q. people, with viral videos depicting their cultural claim to the drink. In 2019, a tweet from the City of New York went viral with a photo of a man making his way through a snowstorm with a Starbucks iced coffee in his hand. While many wondered why he — or anyone — would weather such conditions for the beverage, others offered variations of the same joking explanation: He’s gay.
Sam Stryker, a 31-year-old copywriter in Los Angeles, is firmly in the iced coffee camp. Mr. Stryker, who is also a competitive swimmer, said he usually kept a cup next to his water bottle on the pool deck while he’s training.
“It’s like sort of my gay Gatorade,” he said.
A Starbucks regular, he never drinks his coffee hot, stating that he doesn’t like the taste and neither does he want to wait for his drink to cool down.
“Iced coffee tastes like jet fuel to me,” he said, quickly noting that he meant that in “a really positive way.”
“It sort of signifies to me that, ‘Oh, your butt is going to get kicked into high gear, and your day is going to actually get started,’” he said, “whereas hot coffee feels a little bit like bean soup in a mug.”
While the hashtag #hotcoffee has more than 60 million views on TikTok, #icedcoffee has about six billion on the app and is full of videos of users sharing their complicated iced coffee orders. Notably, in a recent promotional post for its new fall menu, Starbucks gave equal billing to iced and hot pumpkin-flavored fall drinks in a photo accompanying the tweet.
Despite what seem to be the prevailing winds, Brianna Fornes of Fort Lee, N.J., is Team Hot Coffee and has had her orders confused at Starbucks because of how frequently people opt for iced drinks. This summer, while on her way to a water park, she recalled stopping by Starbucks to grab a hot Caramel Macchiato, despite temperatures around 90 degrees.
“Everyone just looks at me crazy because they’re like, ‘It’s so hot, why are you getting a hot drink?’” she said. “Then she gives me a cold Caramel Macchiato, and I was like, ‘Oh, I asked for this hot,’ and she was like, ‘Oh my God, my mistake.’ They just redid the whole thing. And they ended up giving me both.”
Although Ms. Fornes, 22, has occasionally ordered seasonal iced drinks, she said that hot coffee in the morning has always been her preferred caffeinated drink, comparing it to “a warm hug.”
As for Ms. Maute, when she’s craving a hot coffee drink, she typically goes for the Toasted White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks.
“It feels like holiday vibes to me,” she said. “So if I’m going to do something like, maybe I’m shopping for holiday gifts, or I’m getting a Christmas tree, I will drink that to make me feel festive.”
And on a normal winter day? Iced coffee, all the way.
“The New York winters are brutal, with the wind and all, I don’t care,” she said. “I bought gloves specifically so that I could hold my iced coffee.”