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Best iced coffees revealed: Starbucks vs Costa

Cool down with the best iced latte you can buy, with Emmi, Arctic, Asda and more rated by our consumer tasting panel alongside the big brands
Woman drinking iced coffee

If the relentless heat is leaving you sleepy and sloth-like, a nice iced coffee can or carton could be just the thing to perk you up.

Don’t just grab the nearest one though, as our taste test found there are big differences in how much they cost, how much sugar they contain and how tasty they are.

We asked a panel of consumers to blind-taste and rate six readymade iced latte coffees to find the best options for when you need a cool caffeine hit in a hurry.

Big brands Starbucks and Costa fared very differently, topping and tailing our scoreboard. Starbucks triumphed, but there are some cheaper supermarket versions worth trying too. 

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Best iced coffees to buy

Just one iced latte impressed our tasters enough to earn our Best Buy recommendation, but a couple of close contenders are worth considering, especially if you're looking for a cheap iced coffee.

Best Buy: Starbucks Latte Iced Coffee Drink - 72% 

80p per 100ml

Starbucks Caffe Latte

Just edging Emmi as the favourite, this Starbucks iced coffee impressed our tasters across the board. For most the sweetness, bitterness and strength of flavour was spot on, plus it smells and looks the part too. 

Several tasters mentioned its creamy texture, which gave it the edge over all the other brands they tried. Bear in mind though, it does have the highest sugar content of the lot.

Available from AsdaOcado and Sainsbury's

Emmi Caffe Latte Skinny Iced Coffee - 71%

70p per 100ml

Emmi Caffe Latte

It’s just behind Starbucks overall, but this Emmi Latte is worth choosing if you’re counting calories (or coins), as it contains around half the amount per 100ml as the leading brand, and is cheaper too. 

Our tasters didn’t enjoy the texture as much as Starbucks, but it still hits all the same high notes on its appearance, smell, and, most importantly, flavour. Several tasters commented on the nice aftertaste too.

Available from OcadoSainsbury'sTesco and Waitrose

See our pick of the best Colombian ground coffee, best house-blend ground coffee, best everyday instant coffee and best gold blend instant coffee.

Cheap and cheerful iced coffees worth buying

The two cheapest coffees in our test didn't score quite as highly as the top picks, but are still good options, particularly if you want volume and value - both contain larger 330ml servings and are cheaper overall.

Great Value: Asda Caffè Latte Classic Flavour - 69% 

27p per 100ml

Asda Caffe Latte

Cheapest of the bunch Asda beat well-known brands such as Costa in our taste test. Its strength of flavour was spot on for most tasters, with a nice kick of coffee that’s not too overpowering. The texture impressed many of our panel too.

It's considerably cheaper than rivals too, so it's a great value pick.

Available from Asda.

Arctic Coffee Cafe Latte To Go - 69%

30p per 100ml

Some of our panel (around a third) found Arctic’s flavour a little too bitter, but if you like your coffee on the strong side it’s a decent choice. 

It smells appetising when you crack open the carton, and looks and feels nice too.

Available from Sainsbury's and Tesco

Less impressive iced coffees

Big brands and pricey packs didn't guarantee success in our taste test, with Costa and Jimmy's falling behind the rest.

Jimmy's Iced Coffee Original - 62%

71p per 100ml

It’s the second priciest iced coffee we tried - and the second worst scoring. 

Our tasters thought it looked and smelled appealing, but were disappointed with the texture and flavour - 40% found the flavour too weak, and 63% thought it wasn't sweet enough.

Available from Waitrose

Costa Coffee Latte Can - 58%

60p per 100ml

Costa coffee latte

The UK’s biggest coffee chain failed to impress our panel with its supermarket shelf iced coffee. 

They felt that neither the flavour or texture was up to scratch. Three quarters thought it wasn’t sweet enough, whilst half thought it was weak on taste. It was also too bitter for many tasters.

This isn't too surprising, as it had the lowest sugar content overall. It might not satisfy those with a sweet tooth, however if you want a less sugary drink this could be a better option for you.

Available from AsdaOcado and Sainsbury's

How does kefir coffee compare?

Looking for something a bit different in the iced coffee aisle? We also asked our tasters to try Biotiful's Dairy Kefir & Coffee Latte to see what they thought versus a standard iced latte.

Kefir is a fermented dairy milk that is probiotic, which means it has live cultures that can help to promote healthy gut bacteria. 

It's available as a yoghurt drink and in several other flavours, but does it work as a cold coffee?

Plenty of our tasters thought it smelled great, and the thick, creamy texture really worked for some. However, it divided the crowd, with some finding it too sour or yoghurty.

So, if you've tried kefir before and liked it, you may well get along with it, but it won't be for everyone.

Find out more about probiotics and the truth behind their health claims in our gut health guide.

Is iced coffee healthy?

According to the NHS, unless you’re pregnant or have certain health conditions, drinking moderate amounts of caffeine should be fine as part of a healthy diet. The main thing you need to watch out for with pre-made options like this is sugar.

All the iced coffees we tried have added sugar fairly high in their ingredients list (Emmi is an exception, as it uses sweeteners instead). This is on top of the natural lactose sugars in milk, so it can add up. Of the brands we tasted, sugar content ranges from Costa’s 3.8g per 100ml (around one teaspoon’s worth) to 8.5g for Starbucks. 

How to make iced coffee

One way to get your fix without so much sugar is to make your own iced coffee at home. Here’s how:

  1. Make a 200ml cup of black coffee. This can either be instant coffee or something a little fancier from a coffee machine.

  2. Cool the coffee and mix in your preferred amount of milk (either dairy or your favourite plant-based alternative). Add sugar to taste (or skip if you're trying to cut down).

  3. Pour the drink into a glass full of ice. If you like a thicker blend, you can blend with ice for a frappé effect.

Get more tips on making the best iced coffee at home including whether Breville's iced coffee maker is worth it

How to recycle pre-made coffee cartons, and decode sustainability info

Starbucks coffee is Fairtrade - a label which ensures that farmers and producers are paid a fair price for their coffee, and have fair working conditions. It also covers environmental factors (like responsible waste management and water use, and the minimal use of pesticides).

All the other coffees in our tryout carry the Rainforest Alliance label. Although it doesn’t guarantee a minimum price for coffee, it does cover working practices (including banning child labour) and it makes sure farms implement systems to protect natural biodiversity and minimise soil erosion.

When it comes to packaging, most of the iced coffees we tested are easily recyclable at home, but with Asda and Arctic's offerings you have to take the Tetrapak cartons to a larger centre (though Asda says its packaging is ‘mostly plant based’).

Read our guide to sustainability, welfare and food safety labelling to learn more.

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How we tested iced coffees

The iced coffees were tasted and rated in June 2022 by a large panel of consumers who regularly consume this type of drink. 

The make-up of the panel broadly represents the demographic profile of adults in the UK. Each product was assessed by 78 people. 

The panellists rated the taste, texture, aroma and appearance of each product and told us what they liked and disliked about each one.  

The taste test was blind, so the panellists didn’t know which brand they were trying. The order they sampled the iced coffees was fully rotated to avoid any bias. Each panellist had a private booth so they couldn’t discuss what they were tasting or be influenced by others. 

The overall score is based on: 

  • 50% taste 
  • 25% aroma
  • 15% appearance
  • 10% texture

Prices correct as of 14 July 2022