Re­fresh­ingly dif­fer­ent

Sim­ply bril­liant cold drinks to serve guests, or just your­self, from Vietnamese iced cof­fee to hi­bis­cus agua fresca

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - EAT IN - Cook­ery Book Writer of the Year pho­tog­ra­phy: haar­ala hamil­ton. food styling: va­lerie berry

‘ 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. 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).

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