The missing clink: What US diners could teach Australian cafes

Iced water should be seen as a critical element of a great food experience.
Iced water should be seen as a critical element of a great food experience. Photo: iStock

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The US may be an empire in decline but the troubled land retains one great tradition – ubiquitous iced water.

Sit down at almost any American dining establishment and you're immediately presented with beautifully chilled water, in a generously sized cup. Thanks to dihydrogen monoxide's unique thermal properties, the beverage stays wonderfully cool throughout the meal.

While Australians justifiably consider Sydney and Melbourne to be among the world's great food destinations, the iced water situation is a weak point. Even an unassuming American diner does it better than the slickest inner-city Aussie brunch spot.

Let's fix this. Iced water is a perfect match for Australia's hot summers and great outdoor brunching tradition. The status quo sees water languishing in lukewarm carafes or, at best, chilled in a fridge – returning all too soon to a tepid state once taken to the table.

Hospitality operators might balk at the additional logistics and freezer power required, but ought to consider the benefits. Cold increases appetite so refreshed diners think less about how much they are sweating and more about the menu.

Thanks to dihydrogen monoxide's unique thermal properties, the beverage stays wonderfully cool throughout the meal.

Cold water functions as a palate cleanser, enhancing and contrasting the flavours of food or an accompanying smoothie. Water shouldn't be seen as something grudgingly served to cheapskates too tight to buy drinks off the menu – it should be seen as a critical element of a great food experience and a reference point by which every other taste is compared.

It's time for our local cafes to understand what Coca-Cola has known for decades – the addition of ice and glistening beads of cold condensation transforms the unremarkable into the sublime. These cool aesthetics also represent a new frontier for Instagram-friendly summer dining by way of novelty ice cubes, or water flavoured with mint, citrus, cucumber, and other colourful garnishes.

Size is perhaps the most important consideration for ice cubes. Beverage enthusiasts know that the bigger the cube, the better. Vending-machine-style ice shards soon become slush, but the lower surface-to-volume ratio of larger cubes (or even better, spheres) means a slower melt, cooling liquid for longer. The details matter.

America's ongoing decline stems from hubris: the assumption that nobody else can possibly do something better. In its post-war heyday, perhaps that was true. But as the US' social fabric splits, it has failed to look outside itself and learn from countries who do race relations, diplomacy and healthcare better.

There is a parallel lesson here for the Australian brunch experience. We can either learn from others, do iced water right, and make brunch even better – or in our arrogance ignore it and leave ourselves worse off.

Robert Lechte is a Good Food reader from Brunswick, Victoria.