Now is the time of year when baristas ask cautiously with each order, "Do you want that iced?" And if you say no, they may ask again firmly, suspiciously: "Are you sure?" Just take them up on the offer; it's too hot to be dealing with that 160 degree latte. Besides, Houston's coffee shops—partly through creativity and partly by virtue of enduring the dreadful summers with the rest of us—have evolved to specialize in some pretty impressive cold brews.
The Drink: Espresso Granita
The Place: Agora
Predating hipsters and bobos alike, Agora (1712 Westheimer, 713-526-7212, agorahouston.com) has stood the test of time in Montrose—even surviving a devastating fire that may have permanently closed a lesser coffee shop—thanks to its reliably relaxed vibe, long hours (9 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily) and signature drinks. Take, for instance, its espresso granita, spun in a margarita machine behind the counter, the granita's crunchy ice crystals competing with bouncy espresso to sharpen you up on a dozy, hot afternoon.
The Drink: Iced Cajeta Latte
The Place: Antidote
As with Agora, Antidote (729 Studewood, 713-861-7400, twitter.com/antidotecoffee) was among the first to move into the Heights and retains its clan leader status amongst neighborhood coffee shops for much the same reasons (inviting atmosphere, open 6:30 a.m. to midnight daily, solid drink selection that includes wine and beer). The clever iced cajeta latte—also available hot—has a grassy, unmistakably goat-y note thanks to the dulce de leche-like goat's milk caramel used to sweeten the drink.
The Drink: Peppermint Patty
The Place: Beans Cafe
If you're in the Energy Corridor and you're looking for a spot to hunker down in a wingback chair with a good book and cup of coffee, or a patio to work on in lieu of your office, Beans Cafe (1127 Eldridge, 281-920-9620, beanscafe.net) is your place. Of its two iced specialty coffees (the Nutty Brown Cow contains a blend of mocha and hazelnut syrups), we prefer a tall, refreshing, minty-fresh Peppermint Patty that tastes like a Grasshopper in a glass.
The Drink: Daily Iced Coffee
The Place: Blacksmith
If you prefer your coffee unadulterated—without sugar, without syrups, without even any milk—this Montrose cathedral of caffeine is your destination. Blacksmith's (1018 Westheimer, 832-360-7470, facebook.com/blacksmithhouston) rotating daily selection of specialty coffees from across the world includes an espresso of the day, a daily black and an iced coffee, all of which are served in their purest form and which come with tasting notes such as "lemongrass, sorghum, citrus" or "fudge, roasted nuts, citrus." (We won't tell if all you can taste is coffee.)
The Drink: Mocha Toddy
The Place: Boomtown Coffee
You may find yourself faced with a tough decision at this Heights favorite on 19th Street, where weary shoppers stop in for rejuvenation between antiquing and boutique sprees, as the iced coffee menu is pleasantly extensive (and beautifully displayed in chalk on the artistically maintained board). We prefer the rocket fuel brew that Boomtown (242 W. 19th, 713-862-7018, boomtowncoffee.com) simply calls a mocha toddy. The toddy cold-brew method doesn't extract much of the coffee's naturally bitter flavors, producing a sweeter iced drink that's further punched up with chocolate.
The Drink: Iced Honey Bear Latte
The Place: Catalina Coffee
This legendary drink isn't on the menu at Catalina (2201 Washington Avenue, 713-861-8448, catalinacoffeeshop.com), but don't let that stop you from ordering it at the Sixth Ward shop. It's just an iced latte sweetened with honey, but oh what a sweet treat it is—and it's best enjoyed with an equally sweet purchase from the cafe's rad Monocle magazine rack that curates a selection of the most interesting (and often most eclectic) magazines from around the world.
The Drink: Leather Elbows
The Place: The Honeymoon Cafe
Not that kids should be drinking coffee on the regular to begin with, but this drink at downtown cafe The Honeymoon (300 Main, 281-846-6995, thehoneymoonhtx.com) is decidedly adults-only. Among the menu's many caffeinated cocktails—both hot and iced, served day and night—the Leather Elbows is our favorite, upping the cafe sua da ante by adding a generous pour of rye whiskey to the sweet iced blend of condensed milk and toddy-brewed coffee.
The Drink: The Shamrock
The Place: Mod Coffeehouse
This quaint Galveston coffee shop is your best bet for an espresso on the island. And for those hot summer days, we love strolling down the Strand, Shamrock in hand: an iced white mocha latte is goosed with refreshing mint, giving it the flavor of a Thin Mint cookie. Mod Coffeehouse (2126 Post Office St., 409-765-5659, facebook.com/modcoffeehouse) is also a reliable resting spot for enjoying the free wi-fi on one of the cozy couches or enjoying the live music they host on the weekends.
The Drink: Cafe Sua Da
The Place: Tout Suite
Speaking of cafe sua da, you can find a more standard (read: non-alcoholic) version of the Vietnamese classic at this EaDo bakery/cafe, made with nothing more than pure espresso and sweetened condensed milk. In a hurry? You can also grab one to go; Tout Suite (2001 Commerce, 713-227-8688, toutsuite.co) sells ready-made cafe sua da in its own, branded glass jars with cork toppers that will net you $1 off your next purchase when (if?) you bring the it back.
The Drink: Cuvee Nitro Coffee on Draft
The Place: Verts Kebap
Though Houston currently has nothing on the multitude of inventive ways Portland is serving its coffees on tap (yes, on tap), one West Coast trend has reached the Third Coast: nitrogenated coffee on draft. Using the same technology that originally allowed for a creamier pour on beers such as stouts and porters, nitro coffee comes out of the tap lines smooth and soft and in need of little, if any, sweeteners. Austin-based roasting company Cuvee offers its nitrogenated cold-brewed Black & Blue coffee on draft at all of the nine Verts Kebap (vertskebap.com) locations across the city, from Cypress to Katy. The döner kebap chain even offers Black & Blue in cans for those on the run.