All images: Charlotte Griffiths; above Benets Cafe's ice cream
The long hot summer presented a real challenge for coffee fiends: how to stay cool without compromising on caffeine? Charlotte Griffiths rounds up of some of the best iced coffees to be found in Cambridge...
Fitzbillies, Bridge Street
The barista leaned forward, away from the roar of the coffee-maker, checking she’d heard me correctly. “I mean… technically you could have any of the ice creams with an espresso,” she replied, shrugging and smiling. “Let me know which you’d like…”
I can’t be the first to combine Fitzbillies’ London-roasted Climpson espresso with a single scoop of its Chelsea Bun ice-cream, but I hope I’m not the last: the combo would no doubt make coffee snobs clutch their neckerchiefs with horror, but, reader, it worked: the intensely dark roast was softened and lifted by the warming, sugared-and-spiced cream, and made for a much more interesting take on the drink than the on-menu classic vanilla affogato. I perched at the window bar of the busy Bridge Street branch, spooning up small scoops of be-creamed, cinnamoned coffee, wondering what terrible mash-up pun-based name I’d give this drink if I had indeed invented it.
Other, less sacrilegious cold coffees are also available on Fitzbillies Bridge Street’s short menu: their iced latte makes a good accompaniment to people-watching on a warm afternoon, and they use paper straws as a matter of course, which earns them a very big tick. But it’s this off-menu take on an affogato which I’d earnestly point you at, and the beauty of that particular iced coffee is that it’d work at any time of year – whether the permanent snaking lines of tourists are in shorts and flipflops, or wrapped snugly beneath layers of college scarves.
2. Benets Cafe
This spot’s gelato bar was a new one on me. I don’t often linger in the tourist hotspot that is this corner of King's Parade, so I hadn’t noticed this temple of iced delights. The smart little cafe serves a staggering array of flavours of homemade gelato, including an almost-luminescent Cambridge Blue, and the super-friendly server was happy to talk us through what was on offer.
We ended up with a cherry, dark chocolate, flaked nut and vanilla combo which was completely delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a little light people-watching from the bar in the cafe’s window. They even sell litres of their ice cream using Deliveroo – ideal if you’re in need of gelato, but don’t fancy being asked to join a punt tour multiple times.
Another place on Bene’t Street with an almost permanent queue snaking out the door; but it’s not Aromi’s main spot you’ll need if you want to indulge in a cup of their velvet-smooth Italian-style gelato. Turn back up the road to Pea’s Hill, past the Arts Theatre, and you’ll spot yet another line of people patiently waiting their turn at the newest outpost of this super-successful independent eatery from owners Ofelia and Francesco Genovese.
Aromi’s window bar serves cones and cups of classic flavours such as fragola, powered with local strawberry and organic milk, or a citrus-infused limone di Sicilia sorbet – all slow-churned by Aromi’s in-house gelatiere. The Peas Hill Gelateria is now open until 10pm every evening for the rest of the summer – so now you have absolutely zero excuse not to gift yourself one of their sensational frozen delights.
4. Carlo's Ices & Toni's Ices
It is one of the truths of life in Cambridge that you’re never more than 100m from one of these almost iconic ice cream carts: their striped awnings are dotted throughout central town in prime spots for tapping into our thriving tourist trade and providing refreshment-seeking locals with cheaper but no less cheerful frozen treats.
Both companies have been in business for 40 or so years, and their respective menus are straight down the line classic, with flavours like rum & raisin or toffee crunch. If you’re quite simply a plain vanilla sort (and there’s nothing wrong with that) then the two carts’ respective armies of ice cream scoopers will sort you out with a coneful of the beige stuff for under £2, which really can’t be sniffed at. Flakes are around 30-50p extra, but in my opinion, they’re well worth the investment.
5. Sweet Ally Scoops
Sweet Ally Scoops serves up ices from a candy-floss-pink restored vintage ice-cream van known as Lottie – the sight of which instantly conjures up memories of seaside holidays. She works with Jack van Praag of Jack’s Gelato to offer a range of seasonally-flavoured frosted delights, including such flavours as aged vanilla, mint stracciatella or a classic strawberries & cream.
She also offers a selection of refreshing ice lollies and – as you’d hope for from a vintage ice cream purveyor – a classic soft-serve 99 Mr Whippy. Keep an eye on Ally’s social media to find out where she’s scooping next or better yet, persuade the boss to book her van for a suitably summery all-staff treat…