How to make cooling summer cocktails, iced coffee and soft drinks
‘Yes, here, you get out here.’ I’m not convinced but tumble out of the New York cab and stand in a street of mysterious frontages and even more mysterious smells. I’m on my way to meet the restaurant critic who writes the Hungry City column for The New York Times. This features simple restaurants off the beaten track, mom-and-pop hole-in-the-walls and the like.
I venture behind the heavy plastic curtain indicated by the cabby and am shouted at by a small, irate Chinese lady chopping a mountain of cabbages. Back to the map.
Forty minutes later I reach the Vietnamese restaurant where I’m supposed to have lunch, flustered and parched. I’m handed an iced coffee in a bucket-sized cup. I’ve had iced coffee before. I make my own iced coffee, carefully balancing coffee strength with milkiness, so this is no big deal.
But then I taste it: cold, strong and childishly sweet. I fall instantly in love.
Forget all those cocktails with paper umbrellas. Simple summer drinks that you’ve put a little thought into are much more chic
When I get home I check recipes – they’re barely recipes, just coffee and sweetened condensed milk in specific proportions – and become an addict. Vietnamese coffee is what I drink on hot nights, the coffee making the most satisfying crackle at it’s poured over ice. Ideally you should use a special little Vietnamese metal filter called a phin ca phe, but a simple plastic filter does the trick.
It has been a hot summer so a lot of iced coffee has been downed in my kitchen, but so too has hibiscus agua fresca. Please don’t roll your eyes. I know hibiscus isn’t an everyday ingredient (and I hesitated many times before placing an online order for the dried flowers) but I’ve kept a jug of this in the fridge all summer.
Aguas frescas (Spanish for ‘cool waters’) are non-alcoholic Mexican drinks made from fruit, nuts, seeds or flowers mixed with water, sugar and (often) lime juice. Watermelon and cucumber aguas frescas are also thirst-quenchingly brilliant, but make the hibiscus version once and you’ll keep doing it (and people will beg you for the recipe and your precious flowers).
When you have friends round, an imaginative drink isn’t necessary but it shows that you care and, with a few small plates, can make a meal. It’s also, if you’re a keen cook, an interesting area in which to dabble.
A home-infused gin (my rhubarb stuff, made earlier in the year, is all gone now so I’m on the raspberry version below) provokes shrieks of delight and you get to line your kitchen shelves with colourful bottles.
Forget all those cocktails with paper umbrellas. Simple summer drinks that you’ve put a little thought into are much more chic (and Vietnamese coffee the best late-night vice you could develop).
This is a ‘quick’ infusion because raspberries (and other berries of a similar structure) flavour and colour alcohol quickly. It’s ready in two weeks. You can add more sugar if you want, once you’ve drained the raspberries off and tasted the gin.
About 1 litre
- 250g caster sugar
- 400g raspberries
- 800ml good-quality gin (because the raspberry flavour is delicate)
- Put the caster sugar in a 2.5 litre jar. (A preserving jar, with a good clasp on the lid, is best but any other large lidded jar will do. Clean it well in soapy water before using.)
- Drop in the raspberries on top of the sugar. Add the gin and close the lid. Leave somewhere dark for a couple of weeks. If it sits in the sun the colour fades.
- Strain the alcohol through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and bottle the gin. Drink with tonic water, or mix with tonic water and regular gin.
Ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee)
This is now the only iced coffee I ever make – there’s no mucking about with sugar syrup or adjusting the quantity of milk.
- 25g finely ground coffee
- 130ml just-boiled water
- 30ml (about 1½ tbsp) sweetened condensed milk
- crushed or cubed ice, to serve
- Put the coffee into a filter paper inside a coffee filter. Set over a jug and pour the water over.
- Put the condensed milk in the bottom of a glass. Add plenty of crushed or cubed ice.
- Pour the filtered coffee from the jug over the ice and stir to mix the coffee and milk together.
Hibiscus agua fresca
A fabulous citrusy Mexican drink. Check health-food shops or try souschef.co.uk for hibiscus flowers, or use hibiscus teabags from Ocado. I like it pure and simple but you can add slices of ginger root, strips of orange zest, mint or basil leaves to the hibiscus along with the boiling water.
About 1 litre
- 30g dried hibiscus flowers
- 750ml boiling water
- 125g caster sugar
- juice of 4 limes
- 500ml cold water
- ice cubes and lime, to serve
- Put the hibiscus flowers in a saucepan with the boiling water and simmer the mixture very gently on a low heat for about 20 minutes.
- Add the sugar and stir to dissolve it. Leave until cool.
- Pour the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the flowers to extract as much flavour as possible. Add the lime juice and the cold water to the hibiscus-infused liquid.
- Taste to see if you’re happy with the levels of sweetness and tartness. Serve over ice and add slices of lime (you can also use the leftover flowers).
You can make this a slightly easier way: just use San Pellegrino sparkling grapefruit juice drink – three parts to one part tequila – and add lime juice and ice (no agave or soda needed).
- 150ml tequila
- 450ml pink-grapefruit juice
- juice of 2 limes
- 4-5 tbsp agave syrup, or added to taste
- 200ml soda water
- ice cubes, to serve
- Mix the tequila and the grapefruit juice together with the lime juice.
- Add the agave syrup (you can add it to taste if you prefer it less sweet).
- Top up with soda water and pour over ice.