How To Make A Frozen Coffee Drink That Will Put Starbucks To Shame

There’s a reason the Starbucks Frappuccino became such an iconic treat: Coffee “slushies” hit the elusive sweet spot between indulgence and refreshment.

High-falutin’ coffee snobs may feel tempted to dismiss these blended beverages as “not real coffee.” But the longstanding Italian tradition of granita, a dessert made from semi-frozen and shaved espresso, begs to differ.

Frozen coffee deserves respect and full, unabashed enjoyment. However, it can be a challenge to whip up a version in a home kitchen that compares with the drinks available at coffee shops. With that in mind, we asked a group of coffee pros for their best frozen coffee-making advice, and they offered up these tips and recipes.

1. Strong coffee works best.

Because frozen coffee drinks are blended with ice, a common complaint is that they tend to taste watered down. To ensure the presence of distinct coffee flavor throughout your beverage, blogger Jee Choe of Coffee At Three recommends using “strong brewed coffee or cold brew concentrates, since they won’t water down the flavor once it’s all blended with ice.”

Deanne Gustafson, co-founder of Kombucha On Tap, a Southern California company that also distributes cold brew coffee in kegs and cans, views cold brew as the ideal base for a frozen coffee. “Cold brew is less acidic than regular coffee, so it makes [a frozen coffee] taste sweet without adding calories,” Gustafson said.

2. Add a bit of finely ground coffee to the blender.

If you’re looking for a quick and simple way to enhance the coffee flavor in your frozen drink, try this technique used by Dan Pabst, coffee and new product development manager of Melitta Coffee: “When making a frozen coffee beverage, in addition to using some kind of liquid coffee ingredient, also blend in 1/2 teaspoon or so of finely ground coffee. It adds some serious coffee flavor!”

3. If all else fails, it’s also possible to make a great frozen coffee with the instant stuff.

Thanks to the recent mega-popularity of dalgona coffee, instant coffee finds itself more relevant than ever. If you’re fresh out of cold brew or coffee grounds but have some instant java available, then you’ll be glad to know that a great frozen coffee is still within reach.

“A dark roast instant coffee will give you a flavor profile closer to Starbucks, whereas a medium roast may be closer to something you’d get at your local shop,” advised Ian Kolb, manager of CupLux Coffee in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Completely dissolve the instant coffee in 2 ounces of water, preferably hot. Pour the coffee into the blender and then add the remaining ingredients into your blender. Blend until you reach your desired consistency.”

4. Get strategic with your ice cubes.

Yes, potent coffee will lower the risk of a diluted frozen coffee drink, but it’s also essential to carefully select your ice cubes and your blending process.

The key to any frozen beverage/cocktail is ice control,” said Mike Arquines, co-founder of Mostra Coffee in San Diego. “Taking dilution and final texture into consideration [every] step of the way is the difference between a smooth and creamy drink and a gritty, crushed ice mess.”

David Duron, co-founder of Hawaii-based coffee roaster Brazen Hazen, urges frozen coffee enthusiasts to “freeze coffee in ice cube trays and use those instead of regular ice cubes.”

From an equipment standpoint, Choe suggests using a blender tamper, which will crush ice more evenly: “It makes a huge difference in making the smoothest frozen coffee.”

5. Don’t feel obligated to add tons of mix-ins and toppings.

Many Frappuccino naysayers claim these drinks include too many added ingredients ― that chocolate syrup, crushed cookies or caramel completely eclipse the coffee flavor. If you share these concerns, then take comfort from the words of Raffaello Van Couten of Eleva Coffee in Brooklyn, New York: “Keep it simple, keep it delicious. Consumers want a wow factor, but don’t want to think about it.”

6. Want to spike your frozen coffee? Pick a flavorful spirit that packs a punch.

The combination of liquor and coffee spans innumerable cultures, and for excellent reason. When making a spiked frozen coffee, you can certainly choose an “obvious” spirit like coffee liqueur or Irish cream. But Egor Polonskiy, manager of trade education and mixology at Patrón, challenges you to get creative.

“Frozen coffee is a unique drink concept, [and] you can use a variety of different spirits as a base,” Polonskiy said. “I recommend finding something that has a lot of flavor, complements your coffee, and has [a high] enough proof to stand out in a drink.”

Read on for three frozen coffee recipes worth trying in your own blender.

Mocha Frappe

From Lisa Leventhal (national brand ambassador, The House of Sōmrus)

Mocha Frappe  

The Mocha Frappuccino ranks among Starbucks’ most beloved beverages. If you’re keen on replicating it at home, this recipe from Chicago-based restaurant alum Lisa Leventhal will deliver both a smooth texture and a perfect balance of coffee and chocolate flavors.

  • 16 coffee ice cubes

  • 2 cups regular milk or chocolate oat milk (Leventhal prefers Oatly Chocolate Oat Milk)

  • 2 tablespoons chocolate syrup

  • 2 tablespoons simple syrup

  • 1 cup cream liqueur (optional)

  • Whipped cream, chocolate syrup, sprig of mint (for garnish)

1. Make coffee ice cubes by saving leftover coffee on a daily basis and storing it in a Mason jar in the fridge. Once you have 2 cups worth, pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.

2. Add coffee ice cubes, milk, chocolate syrup, simple syrup and cream liqueur (if using) to a blender and blend until the coffee ice cubes are broken down and the mixture has the texture you prefer.

3. Pour into a glass, add garnishes and serve with a straw.

The Golden Percolator

From Matt Shook (owner/founder, JuiceLand, Austin, Texas)

Golden Percolator

Golden Percolator

This refreshing plant-based smoothie from smash-hit Texas juicery JuiceLand includes aromatic ingredients like cinnamon and turmeric root, which awaken deep flavor notes in the cold brew base and complement the frozen bananas. The result is an ideal beverage for an early start.

Ingredients (makes 1 16-ounce smoothie)

  • 10 ounces hemp milk

  • 5 ounces cold brew coffee

  • 2 bananas, peeled, frozen, and broken into pieces

  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

  • 1 tablespoon fresh turmeric root

1. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high until smooth.

Espresso Granita

From Giorgio Milos (master barista, illy Coffee)

Espresso granita

Espresso granita

As we mentioned previously, the frozen coffee beverages we see at cafes today owe a great deal to Italian granita. This recipe will allow you to make the classic treat at home. Texturally, granita falls somewhere between a Frappuccino and a sorbet, so if you’re lucky enough to own a “spoon straw,” now’s the time to break it out.

1. Mix coffee and sugar together in a freezer-friendly, quart-sized bowl, making sure that the sugar dissolves completely. The amount of sugar can be adjusted, but the higher the sugar amount, the lower the freezing temperature will be, thus the longer the freezing time.

2. Place the bowl in the freezer and allow to freeze for 2-3 hours, depending on desired consistency. Every 20 minutes, remove the bowl, stir the mixture thoroughly and return to freezer.

3. When the freezing process is complete, remove the bowl and scoop the granita into a glass. Spike with liqueur of choice, if desired.