I remember the first time I saw them: dozens of perfect, tiny squares, their sharp lines pressed against the inside of a glass they generously filled to the brim. The squares were made of chestnut-colored frozen coffee and topped with oat milk, a TikTok iced-coffee “hack” that, on closer inspection, isn’t a hack at all. But never mind that. It was majestic, a sort of boba for Bauhaus heads—orderly, structured.
I do not know how many “tiny ice cube” videos exist on TikTok today, but it is not enough. The platform seems to have discovered the silicone molds used to make the perfect half-inch-by-half-inch squares (and their circular brethren) around 2020. Since then, I have watched them form the base of cocktails, add flair to juices, sodas, teas. I’ve seen the molds filled with matcha, coffee, milk and all manner of unidentified Technicolor liquids. I’ve watched people eat them with a spoon, or cube by cube like popcorn. I delight in their uniformity, but also in their impracticality.
Each mold makes 160 ice cubes. If I were better at math, I could tell you how many of these 160-cube trays would equal, by volume, a single 15-cube Tovolo ice cube tray. Alas, I cannot. What I can tell you, with confidence, is that for me, nothing about the allure of the diminutive cube is about function. Camper English, one of the world’s foremost experts on cocktail ice, whose forthcoming book is appropriately titled The Ice Book, is blunt on this point: “They are mostly useless as ice cubes and hard to get out of the trays.” (Watching people struggle to get the cubes out of the trays is also an amusing subgenre of tiny-ice TikTok, I might add.)
English remembers first seeing tiny ice in The Aviary Cocktail Book, which was released in 2018.
@cafejenn dropped ice everywhere but the show must go on✨ #miniicecubes #icedlatte #homecafe #coffeetime #아이스라떼 ♬ Chopin Nocturne No. 2 Piano Mono - moshimo sound design
The book features a memorable drink called the Zombie Panda, which is crowded with tiny spherical ice made of raspberry liqueur, citric acid, simple syrup and water. It looks like a ghostly lava lamp. “I’d never seen them before that,” English says. I should mention that The Aviary’s former bar director, Micah Melton, does argue for the utility of tiny ice as a flavor distributor: It melts faster than your typical 1-inch cube, and if you’re freezing anything other than water, it can have the intended effect of changing the drink as you drink it.
But I find thinking about the cubes’ high-concept applications to be, frankly, a buzzkill. Their appeal is more ethereal. I feel a cosmic urge to cup them in both hands, display them to no one in particular and dump them out onto a table like a bunch of loose diamonds. Look at my treasure, I might say. But I will never do this; tiny ice belongs on TikTok, and in my mind’s eye, like a memory. English seems to understand what I am talking about. “There’s something about them that makes you want to scoop them and throw them and listen to them,” he says. “I feel like they trigger a similar satisfaction to rolling a handful of dice or the sound of cereal hitting the bowl or tipping over a bucket full of loose change.” If you ask me, imagining that satisfaction is where the true satisfaction lies.