Steam & Ice
The hottest place for cool treats
275 Harbison Blvd., Columbia
By APRIL BLAKE » Photos by SALLY SCOTT
On a spring Saturday when the weather is neither particularly hot or cold, customers looking for a break from the rigours of shopping and traffic stream in and out of Steam & Ice. Situated in a shopping center on a busy stretch of Harbison Boulevard, the interior of the smoothie-coffee-milkshake shop becomes a bit more magical upon stepping through the doors. Children are kept busy with milkshakes topped with ethereal poofs of crayon-bright cotton candy, while adults sip on their superfood packed smoothies or dig into fuschia acai bowls loaded with fruit.
“I’ll have a Great Green Smoothie,” a younger girl says at the counter before turning back to her smartphone. After a few minutes, her green, orange, and yellow layered drink is handed to her in a glass bottle bearing bright designs and a lid with a carrying strap. She pauses at the counter before taking the drink, pulling her smartphone up to level with the drink and turns it just so with her hand, to get the perfect angle for a photograph. She snaps a few shots and takes the drink, satisfying the existence of Steam & Ice.
Janee Johnson and Marcia Johnson (no relation), who own Steam & Ice, wanted to make an experience that would be fun for children, adults, older people, diabetics, gluten or dairy-free people, the whole gamut. With the protein shakes and gourmet coffee, she feels like the store is even geared towards those who might not normally come to something that looks on the surface, like a sweets shop. The whole store is meant to be totally Instagrammable, from the bright white walls, to the faux green plants that serve as backdrops for their colorful creations. There’s even a quote wall where people can mix and match words, and use props to take photos in front of the quote. It was practically made for the ‘gram.
Perhaps the most visually enticing treat at Steam & Ice is their milkshakes topped with a colorful fluff of freshly spun cotton candy. The cotton candy comes in shades like green, yellow, and white — far cries beyond the usual bubblegum pink and bright blue offered elsewhere, and in nuanced flavors like marshmallow and mint chocolate chip. It’s fun to watch the skilled employees engage in small battles with the willful swirls of airy sugar, but they do manage to tame it into an edible poof to adorn any of their milkshakes and is delicious as a treat in its own right.
On the healthier side of things, there are smoothies made with fresh fruits and vegetables, often spiked with superfoods like chia seeds and kale. The smoothies are created in a unique way, in craggy layers, to show off what is inside and to give some texture to the drink. Acai bowls are based on the acai berry, a superfood itself that is touted to have anti-aging and weight loss benefits. The bowls are topped with an eye-catching weave of freshly diced and sliced fruits and sprinklings of coconut, hemp granola, or coconut flakes, depending on the type of acai bowl ordered.
The steam in the name of the store refers to their wide selection of hot drinks that is based around coffee. Steam & Ice uses Stumptown Coffee, which Janee calls really smooth. Their coffee drinks are as out there as the cold ones, with orders like a honey lavender latte, a cookie butter latte, and a richly spiced Mexican mocha that includes cayenne for an especially warming kick on a cool day.
Other menu items include tea quenchers, lemon coolers, hot teas, protein shakes, and Janee hints at future items to come, inspired by her travels. Among those new items to come are slushies with cream and fresh fruit in the summer, and even a vanilla charcoal latte with gold flakes come cooler weather.
Steam & Ice is the brainchild of Janee and Marcia, two friends who decided to combine their strengths to create this business plan. With a decidedly visual bent and photo-ready concoctions, the smoothie-coffee-milkshake shop has special touches and add-ons for their drinks that you won’t find anywhere else, from bee pollen to green cotton candy and beyond.
Janee and Marcia began as friends who met working together on a different project. “We felt an instant connection,” said Janee. “It’s been hard to meet other people who are as driven, fun, and ready to take a little risk.”
Marcia is originally from the Irmo area, while Janee is from Iowa, though her life has taken her to California, and even Dubai, where she ran a cafe for several years. Janee’s experience in other parts of the world, especially California, have influenced her when it comes to designing the menu for Steam & Ice. She says she’s been blessed to see what is new and coming in, since a lot of cultures congregate on the West Coast. “Once Thai tea and boba tea took off, people started to get a bit more into things that come from Asian cultures,” said Janee.
Another defining decision of Steam & Ice is their use of reusable bottles for their hot and cold drinks. Cold drinks come in a clear glass bottle with a screw off top and a bright colored strap to carry easily. Hot drinks come in opaque bottles with metal screw top lids. Reusing these vessels come with a financial benefit too, money off of each drink. Janee also notes that they are happy to wash any bottle in store for free, and will refill it with the next drink of choice. This is part of their dedication to being sustainable to the environment.
Need an otherworldly experience that isn’t the traffic that might be clogging up Harbison Boulevard at any given time? The cool, sweet vibes of Steam & Ice and their commitment to making people happy through colors, textures, and unexpected ways of making food fun might be just the thing to make the day magical.