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, most 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 establishment to taste the flavor nuances.
THE PRIMARY DIFFERENCES
For cold brew coffee, the coffee is brewed with cold or room-temperature water, and it takes longer to brew it. It’s also brewed as a concentrate, which gives it a milder taste and a lower acid content. However, the brewing process can mute the overall flavor of the bean, so it works best if you use a strong-flavored bean.
Iced coffee, on the other hand, 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 bean you use.
A QUICK GLANCE
Cold brew coffee introduces the coffee grounds to room temperature or cold water and lets the coffee steep while iced coffee, in a sense, is traditionally brewed coffee that is cooled using ice or refrigeration.
1. TIMING AND TEMPERATURE
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 8 to 48 hours, depending on a few different factors.
- Brew Method - Immersion takes longer to work than cold drip.
- Room Temperature or Refrigerated - Higher temperatures will result in faster extraction.
- Grind Size - The finer the grind, the faster it will extract caffeine and flavors.
Iced coffee is primarily brewed hot and chilled, either with the use of 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. Adding ice can chill it almost immediately, though it can also dilute the coffee. Chilling it in the refrigerator can take a couple of hours, as well.
2. CAFFEINE CHANGES
No studies have been conducted to determine the caffeine levels of cold brew coffee. Some experts argue that because there is a greater ratio of water to coffee, the caffeine content is also higher. Plus, the cold brew method does produce a concentrated version, which is usually diluted further.
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. However, if you choose to chill the coffee with ice cubes, the beverage is diluted as the ice melts, which can change the caffeine content. If you choose to chill the coffee in the refrigerator, there is no dilution.
3. FLAVOR CHANGES
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. 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 brewing and also why cold brew is known to be milder and smoother than traditional coffee.
Surprisingly, there is no simple formula for choosing coffee beans for cold brew or iced coffee. Instead, you should realize that cold brew coffee is much different than hot or iced coffee.
The process for cold brew flattens out the flavor of the bean, so some people like robust, darker roasts. Others claim that lighter roasts are better for cold brew because the finished product doesn’t taste like ash or charcoal.
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. The significant difference for the best beans is that iced coffee needs fresh beans while cold brew coffee can be made with beans that are a few weeks old.
5. WATER QUALITY
The water quality used to make coffee (of any kind) is essential. 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. You may want to use bottled or filtered water for the brewing process. If you do so, make sure that the ice cubes are made of the same water.
There is no real way to answer which type of coffee is best for you. It depends on the kind of coffee you like.
For example, if you prefer a more refined experience, cold brew versions can give you the complexities of specialty coffee without the bitterness of iced coffee. If you prefer your cold coffee to taste like your hot coffee (but chilled), you’ll like iced coffee best.