You’ve probably noticed that many restaurants and quick-serve spots have gotten on the cold brew coffee bandwagon throughout the past few years. However, many people aren’t sure what cold brew coffee is and how it differs from iced coffee.
If you’ve never tried either and wondered about cold brew vs iced coffee, you should learn more about each product to help you make a decision. You may also want to taste each one from your favorite coffee shop to understand how different they actually are.
In this article, we aim to demystify iced coffee and cold brew differences. By the end, you'll be well on your way to understanding what makes each beverage great in its own way, but also why we think cold brew is better.
The Primary Differences Between Cold Brew & Iced Coffee
The main difference between cold brew and iced coffee lies in the first part of the term "iced coffee."
Iced coffee is any coffee beverage that has ice in it, whereas cold brew is a method of preparing the coffee. In other words, you can have a cold brewed iced coffee, but not every iced coffee is cold brewed.
In fact, most iced coffees are not cold brewed.
Hot Coffee vs Cold Brewed
For an iced coffee to be cold brew also, you must prepare the coffee with cold or room-temperature water over time, depending on the cold brew coffee maker you choose.
Most cold brew coffees are also brewed as a concentrate, which means it is very strong and may require you to dilute it before serving it.
The Flavor Differences between Iced Coffee and Cold Brew
Another difference between iced coffee and cold brew is the flavor each has.
Iced coffee, starts with coffee that is brewed the traditional way (with hot water). It’s usually brewed in a coffee maker, and the brewing time is faster.
Once the coffee is made, it is chilled in the refrigerator or poured over ice to make it cold. You can make this type of coffee using many brewing methods, but the overall product can be bitter or weak, depending on the type of beans and how much ice you use.
Iced Coffee = Usually Bitter, stripped of flavor nuance, and highly acidic
Cold brew, on the other hand, provides a smoother taste and a lower acid content. However, the brewing process can also mute the overall flavor potential of the bean, something to consider if you enjoy a particular single-origin. It works best if you use a medium to dark roast single-origin bean variety, or a blend that is rich in flavor.
Cold Brew Coffee = Smooth body, nuanced sweeter flavors, and low acidity
If you find you cannot stomach bitter iced coffee without flavor enhancers, consider switching to a cold brew. The low acidity means fewer tummy aches and less need for added sugars.
How Do You Make an Iced Coffee?
Making iced coffee is as easy as pouring any coffee over ice and serving it.
Your brewing methods to produce an iced coffee are vast, and it is very simple and quick. Just make sure that if you used hot coffee, allow enough time for the entire beverage to cool over the ice, so that it doesn't taste watered down.
You can either leave your hot coffee out to cool at room temperature, or place your hot brewed coffee in the fridge to cool faster.
Either way, you'll want to make sure your coffee is cool enough as to not immediately melt all the ice it touches.
If your desire is to make iced coffee, I recommend brewing it a little stronger than you usually would, so that the ice you inevitably add to the drink won't water it down too much.
Otherwise, you can always go to the store to pick up ready to drink (RTD) iced coffees or visit your local coffee shop to get your fix.
How Cold Brew is made compared to Hot Brewed Iced Coffee
Cold brew coffee introduces the coffee grounds to room temperature or cold water and lets the coffee steep for a time, while iced coffee, in a sense, is traditionally brewed coffee that is cooled using ice or refrigeration.
1. Timing and Temperature for Cold Brew Coffee vs Iced Coffee
Primarily, cold brew coffee is brewed with water that has a temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it takes a lot longer for the extraction process, with brew times anywhere from 6 to 24 hours.
If you plan to make iced coffee, you'll typically brew it hot and then chill it after, either with ice cubes or refrigeration. You can brew it in any standard coffee maker, which means you have piping hot coffee within minutes.
The best brewing temperature for iced coffee is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Iced coffee needs to be chilled before you drink it. The method for chilling it affects the flavor and caffeine.
2. Caffeine Differences for Coffee Grinds and Roasts
Few studies have been conducted to determine the caffeine levels of cold brew coffee vs. iced coffee. Some experts argue that because there is a greater ratio of water to coffee, the caffeine content is also higher in cold brew.
However, the charts we have on this page suggest that cold brew may have lower caffeine concentrations than traditional coffee used to make iced coffee.
Still, this does not take into account that cold brew recipes generally call for more grounds than iced coffee brews.
Some use the cold brew method does produce a concentrated version, which is usually diluted further upon serving.
Of course, the caffeine content listed on the package of beans or coffee grounds is what you get when you brew it the traditional way.
That being said, if you choose to chill your coffee with ice cubes, it will dilute as the ice melts, which can change the caffeine concentration. If you choose to instead cool your hot brewed coffee in the refrigerator, there is no dilution.
If the above didn't confuse you, have a look at this graph, which may confuse you, but that's not the point.
Don't be confused, it's just showing you a concentration of chlorogenic acid over time, based on bean roast and grind, and then the same data but for caffeine.
Nothing to be afraid of...Have a look!
3. Flavor Changes in Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee
Cold brew vs iced coffee can taste much different, so it can be helpful to understand how the brewing process changes the flavor.
Iced coffee can retain its flavor throughout the hot brew process, though it shouldn’t be left to sit for extended periods because it can oxidize.
To some, cold brew coffee is an acquired taste. With the way the coffee is extracted, the flavors of the bean can be muted, which can cause the coffee to lose complexity.
If you decide to try both methods for yourself and use the same coffee beans or grounds, you’re going to notice a significant change in the flavor.
Quality cold brews should always be made with the highest quality beans to provide the drinker with a full-flavored coffee-drinking experience.
Cold brew coffees are usually sweeter, lighter, and milder in flavor. While it can take some time to get used to it, you can find a variety of options to try.
While most people don’t think much about the science behind coffee, there are a lot of scientific features that go into making a delicious cup. Different temperatures and brewing methods can influence the acid level and flavor of the finished product.
The most important thing to note is that colder temperatures extract less flavor and acid, which is why brew times take a lot longer for cold brew vs iced coffee and also why cold brew is known to be milder and smoother than traditional iced coffee.
4. Beans for Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee
Surprisingly, there is no simple formula for choosing coffee beans for cold brew vs iced coffee. Instead, you should realize that cold brew coffee is simply the result of the beans you have brewed a certain way.
The brew method determines what is different between cold brew and iced coffee, if there is a noticeable difference at all. Still, I find that if you want to make cold brew with the immersion method, it is best to use a medium dark roast blend over a single-origin. Why?
Cost mainly. Single-origin beans cost more. Since you use more of them in cold brew, it's best to save some money and go with a blend.
The process for making a cold brew batch can flatten the flavor of the beans you choose. That's why I prefer bean blends with a lot of flavor notes over a single-origin, which may not pass the desired flavor through a cold brew batch.
Regardless of my opinion here, it all comes down to your personal preference, so it’s best to explore different roast types and options to find out what you like most for your cold brew or iced coffee creation.
5. Water Quality is Crucial for Cold Brew or Iced Coffee
The water used to make coffee (of any kind) is essential. That's why I like to recommend pH balanced filtered water over standard bottled or tap water.
With cold brew coffee, the beans and water sit together for extended periods, so the brew is subtle.
Therefore, the water’s quality is an integral part of the drinking experience.
For iced coffee, the hot coffee has to have excellent quality so that the chilled version retains the flavor.
There is no real way for some guy on the internet to answer which type of coffee is good for you. It depends on the kind of coffee you like.
If you like cold brew coffee, great! If you like iced coffee, wonderful! If you like grit in your coffee, please leave my website. I'm kidding, please stay and learn how to prevent grit from getting into your brew.
Everything said, after reading this article, I hope you have a better understanding about the differences between cold brew vs. hot coffee.
Let us know what you prefer in the comments. Do you have a delicious cold brew or an iced coffee recipe that we just have to try?