This coffee float has a base of creamy velvety coffee, chilled with some ice and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Easy to make and looks and tastes so good - solid proof that you don't always need complicated or expensive treats to impress guests!
My love for floats is no secret to my folks — I make them with all kinds of sodas. If you like floats too, don't forget to check out this melon cream soda float (aka Japanese cream soda) and this very fun purple cow float. So so good!
Coffee and ice cream float
Floats are truly special treats — you get a dessert and drink combo in one tall glass.
And this coffee float is even more delightful as it combines the dessert-y goodness of (cold) affogato and the whipped creaminess of dalgona.
The result? A sumptuous, rich and creamy cold coffee treat that is topped off with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Oh and this float is customizable. If you want to replace the whipped coffee base with other coffee preparations, check out the section below where I've shared alternatives.
Why you'll love this drink
- Quick and easy prep — if you've got the ingredients ready, this float will come together in under 3 minutes.
- Customization — so many ways to personalize. Experiment with different ice cream flavors, coffee preps and toppings.
- Caffeine boost — refreshing and invigorating treat for when you need a pick-me-up.
- Perfect for social gatherings — excellent choice for inclusive gatherings where not everyone drinks alcohol.
Ingredients you need
Here are some helpful notes on ingredients you'll need to make this coffee float. See the recipe card below for exact quantities.
- Instant coffee — you will need instant coffee, regular or decaf. Instant espresso will work too but reduce the quantity by half. I've shared other coffee preparations for when you don't have instant coffee for the whipped coffee base. When replacing whipped coffee with any of those options, adjust the quantity of milk and sugar to your liking, and omit ground cinnamon and vanilla extract.
- Light brown/golden sugar — has to be granulated. You can also use regular white or brown sugar. The darker the sugar, the more pronounced molasses notes will be. I've tried maple syrup and honey too - these help create a paste but not as thick as with granulated sugar. Plus you'll need a little more quantity of maple syrup (around 1.5x of sugar). You can also use sugar alternatives like monk fruit sweetener or erythritol (granulated options only). But know that the float won't taste the same with these.
- Ground cinnamon and vanilla extract — for flavoring. Or use artificial vanilla extract (aka vanilla essence) as substitute if you don't have real extract.
- Whole milk — I prefer this but for extra indulgent option replace with half-and-half or unsweetened evaporated milk. Vegan/non dairy options (oat milk, cashew milk, soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk) will also work. Creamier varieties like oat milk tend to yield best results.
- Vanilla ice cream — can't go wrong with a classic flavor but feel free to experiment. Lactose-free, dairy-free / vegan, sugar-free vanilla ice cream will work too.
- Cocoa powder (optional) — I like to dust a little cocoa powder on top (chocolate and coffee combo is magic) but you can try different toppings. I've shared few topping ideas below.
How to make coffee float
Here is an overview of recipe instructions with step-by-step photos — oh and see the recipe card below for a printable version that has quantities, instructions and notes in one place.
Put instant coffee, light brown sugar, ground cinnamon, vanilla extract and hot water in a glass — use a 14 to 16 ounce glass (400 to 475 ml).
With a handheld milk frother, whip these together for 1 to 2 minutes or until you get stiff peaks. I've shared other methods of whipping in FAQs section below.
Then add some ice cubes or crushed ice.
Now add some chilled whole milk and stir to mix everything together.
Top with a scoop of your fav vanilla ice cream.
Dust a little cocoa powder on top and enjoy right away!
Coffee float vs affogato
Some may confuse affogato and coffee float as the same thing — as they both have coffee and ice cream. But both these treats are different in a few ways.
- Ingredients — coffee float is basically chilled coffee topped with vanilla ice cream. Italian Affogato is usually hot espresso poured over vanilla ice cream (and can sometimes include alcohol).
- Coffee base and temperature — cold coffee for the float can be prepared in different ways. You can chill regular brewed coffee, use cold brew, or try variations like iced mocha, iced cappuccino or iced dalgona. I've also seen Affogato with different hot coffee variations, but the traditional recipe calls for hot espresso exclusively.
- Flavor profile — coffee flavor in the float ranges from mild to strong, depending on the coffee base you choose and the quantity of milk and ice cream used. Affogato has a bolder coffee flavor due to the use of espresso.
- Presentation — coffee floats are usually served in tall glasses or mugs while affogatos are served in smaller, shallow glasses or dessert bowls.
Alternative coffee preparations
I use a Dalgona-style coffee base for my float but you can choose any cold coffee base you prefer. Here are some suggestions:
- Cold brew coffee — prepared by steeping coarsely ground coffee in cold water for approx 12 hours and then straining the mixture. Dilute with milk for making the float.
- Iced coffee — regular brewed coffee that is cooled down and served over ice — combine with milk for the float.
- Iced mocha — chilled espresso/strong coffee combined with cold milk and chocolate syrup.
- Iced cappuccino — espresso mixed with chilled milk and topped with frothed milk.
- Coffee frappé — chilled instant or brewed coffee mixed with milk, sweetener and ice in a blender.
- Vietnamese iced coffee — brewed Vietnamese coffee combined with condensed milk and poured over ice.
- Chill the milk — so you don't have to water down the coffee with a lot of ice.
- Use a tall/big glass — not only to showcase this beautiful treat but to be able to have sufficient quantity of coffee, ice and ice cream in the glass.
- Serve and enjoy immediately — assemble just before serving to maintain the perfect temperature and texture.
- Size and proportions — consider the size of your glass and the proportions of coffee to ice cream for balanced flavors. Scale the recipe up or down as needed.
- Eat and drink — don't wait for ice cream to melt. Enjoy bites of it as you sip your drink.
Variations of coffee float
- Caramel macchiato float — cold brew coffee + cold milk + caramel sauce + vanilla or caramel ice cream
- Hazelnut latte float — iced coffee + cold milk + hazelnut syrup + vanilla ice cream
- Spiked coffee float — iced coffee + shot of liqueur (e.g., Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlúa or amaretto) + vanilla or coffee liqueur ice cream
- Salted caramel coffee float — cold brew coffee + cold milk + caramel sauce + pinch of salt + salted caramel or vanilla ice cream
- Minty mocha float — chilled mocha coffee + mint chocolate chip ice cream
- Almond coffee float — iced coffee + almond milk + almond syrup + coconut ice cream
Note: In any of these variations that call for milk, you can sub with chilled half-and-half for a more creamy drink.
Coffee float is already crowned with ice cream but why stop there?
Use whipped cream, crushed nuts or cookies, chocolate shaving, caramel or chocolate sauce, shredded coconut, crushed candy, maraschino cherry (or a dusting of cocoa powder like I am using) — and give the float your own special touch.
Absolutely — You can use electric hand or stand mixer (works great for larger quantities), hand whisk (requires more effort) or even a spoon (requires even more mixing effort and time). Do not use blenders or food processors as they lack the whisking motion required to incorporate air.
It's called Dalgona — a Korean-style whipped coffee, though you'll find that it is also made in other parts of world under different names. It's made by whisking together instant coffee, granulated sugar and hot water until a thick and creamy paste forms. And this paste/mixture is combined with hot or cold milk before serving.
No — assemble the coffee float just before serving. A float isn't really a float if the ice cream has melted. But you can prepare and chill the whipped coffee base in advance. It stays good in the refrigerator for several hours. Don't forget to chill the milk too!
Yes you can — but espresso has a stronger flavor so use half the amount of instant espresso compared to instant coffee. The intensity of flavor may vary between different brands so adjust quantity to your liking.
Yes — bottled, ready-to-drink coffee can work as an option. But if you're making coffee float for the first time I'd advise against buying coffee that you haven't tasted before — just to avoid surprises. Use the coffee you know and like.
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee - regular or decaf (Note A for substitutes)
- 1 tablespoon granulated light brown/golden sugar - (Note B for substitutes)
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon - around 1/16 teaspoon
- ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- ¾ cup (177 ml) whole milk - (Note C for substitutes)
- 1 scoop vanilla ice cream
- cocoa powder - for dusting on top. Optional. (Note D)
- ice cubes or crushed ice
- In a tall / large glass, add instant coffee, sugar, ground cinnamon, vanilla extract and hot water.
- Use a handheld milk frother and whip these together for 1 to 2 minutes or until you get a thick and creamy paste (look for stiff peaks). If you don't have frother, see the FAQs in the post above for alternate methods of whipping.
- Add some ice cubes or crushed ice to this paste.
- Then pour cold milk into the glass. You may need more or less of it depending on your glass size and dilution preference. Stir well to mix everything together. Or leave as is if you prefer to keep it pretty and mix later.
- Add additional ice at this point if needed. Some ice needs to remain near the surface to support the floating ice cream.
- Place a scoop of vanilla ice cream and dust a little cocoa powder on top.
- Serve immediately with a long spoon and a straw. Enjoy!
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