Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee: What Is The Difference?

During hot summer months, the only way to cool down is to switch your hot cup of espresso with a cold brew or iced coffee.

No, those are not synonyms.

But if you don’t know what makes them different, don’t worry.

Today, I’ve prepared a cold brew vs iced coffee rundown that will teach you everything there is to know about these two drinks.

Let’s start!

What is a Cold Brew?

cold brew coffee in a clear glass

In 2015, Starbucks introduced cold brew coffee to their standard menu. Right away, this beverage skyrocketed as the hot trend among coffee drinkers. But while cold brew was fairly unexisting on coffee menus across the States just a decade ago, the drink was invented way back.

The earliest records of cold brew coffee date back to 17th-century Japan. From there, it was brought to Europe by Dutch traders who found cold brew to be quite practical for long journeys.

Now you might be wondering – what’s so great about cold brew?

Cold brew coffee is made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for 12 hours or more. Coffee made using this brewing method is quite different from coffee that’s brewed hot. Cold brew is less acidic than your regular hot coffee and slightly milder.

But that doesn’t mean cold brew is not a strong drink.

Thanks to the long brewing process, cold brewed coffee has high caffeine content. This makes it a perfect drink for getting a quick energy kick.

As I’ve already mentioned, cold brew is lower in acidity compared to most hot brewed coffees. This means it’s much gentler on your stomach, so it’s suitable for people struggling with acid reflux after drinking coffee.

Now, in case you’re wondering, you don’t have to wait for half a day every time you want a cup of cold brew. This type of coffee is brewed in large batches, so you’re set for up to a whole week. 

What’s also great is the fact that making cold brew requires no special equipment and you can easily do it at home.

How to Make a Cold Brew?

Making cold brew can’t get much simpler. You just need two ingredients – cold water and fresh coffee grounds. You’ll also need something to serve as a container, something to stir as well as something to filter the coffee. 

If you prefer drinking cold brew with ice or milk, go with a cold brew concentrate, which uses a 1:4 coffee to water ratio.

On the other hand, if you want to drink coffee straight from the jar, go with a higher ratio. Depending on your personal preference, choose a ratio between 1:5 and 1:9.

Now that we covered all the details, here’s a step-by-step explanation of how to make a cold brew concentrate.

  1. Add five ounces of coarse coffee grounds into a large glass container.
  2. Slowly pour 20 ounces of cold or room temperature water over the grounds, constantly stirring the grounds until they’re completely saturated.
  3. Once done, seal the container with a lid or plastic wrap. Put it inside the fridge, where it will steep slowly for at least 12 hours. Depending on how bold you want your cold brew to turn out, let it brew longer, up to 24 hours.
  4. Take the container out of the fridge and remove the lid. Filter the grounds by using whatever you find that works best. This can be a strainer, sieve, paper filter, or even a French press.
  5. Rinse the container you used for brewing and pour the coffee back in. Put the lid back on and store it in the fridge until you feel like having a cup.

And that’s pretty much it. While the brewing process time consuming, it’s also highly rewarding.

What is an Iced Coffee?

iced coffee

Iced coffee is exactly what the name says it is – coffee served over ice. 

You can make this drink with any type of hot brewed coffee, such as drip coffee or Moka pot. Then, if you want to go all-in, you can also add milk, sugar, syrup, and even whipped cream to make your iced coffee a truly delicious treat.

The beauty of iced coffee lies in the fact that it’s fully customizable, so you can tailor it according to your personal preferences.

How to Make an Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is the perfect way to cool off during the hot summer months. But since it’s so easy to make at home, you can enjoy it whenever you want.

Most coffee shops have their own take on this drink, but in your house, you set the rules.

First, you need to pick your coffee base. This is where you choose between different brewing methods, be it drip coffee, pour-over, French press, or even instant coffee. 

Made your choice? 

Okay, so here’s what you need to do to make a regular iced coffee, step by step:

  1. Make coffee using your preferred brewing method. 
  2. Once brewed, set the coffee aside until it cools to room temperature. Usually, it takes about 10 minutes for freshly brewed coffee to cool down. If you want to speed up the process, you can put the cup inside the fridge for a couple of minutes.
  3. After it cools, pour the coffee into a glass filled with ice cubes.
  4. Optionally, you can make your iced coffee fancier by adding milk or flavoring syrup.

No matter how impatient you might be to start sipping on your iced coffee, you can’t rush the process. This is especially true in the second step – cooling down your brew.

You see, if you pour coffee over ice before it’s completely cool, it will cause the ice to melt. And within minutes, you’ll end up with a very watered-down and bland-tasting cup of coffee.

The Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee

While they might appear similar at first, cold brew and iced coffee are two completely different drinks. 

Ingredients

Coarse coffee ground is the best option for making the cold brew. The larger the ground particles, the slower the compounds get extracted. And since cold brewing takes more than half a day, going with the highest ground size is your best bet against over-extraction.

Dark roast has a prominent strong and smokey flavor profile, and these notes really get enhanced through the cold brewing process. 

Compared to other types of roasts, dark roast always gives pretty much consistent results. So even if you let the coffee steep for longer than planned, you won’t see much of a difference in flavor. 

The ideal grind size for iced coffee depends on the brewing method you’re using. So for instance, you’ll need a coarse grind for the French press, a medium for drip coffee and pour-overs, and a fine ground coffee for espresso and Moka pot.

As for the type of roast, that’s up to your personal preference. But generally, a light roast is best for short brewing methods, such as pour-overs. 

Dark roast, on the other hand, is more suitable for steeping methods, such as the French press. 

Water Temperature

barista pouring hot water

The cold brewing method, as the name suggests, uses cold water to brew coffee. 

As you probably know, water temperature is in direct relation to extraction speed. So for instance, water heated up to a temperature between 195 and 205°F needs no more than a few minutes for proper coffee extraction.

But water cooled down to room temperature takes way, way more. In the case of cold brewing, we’re talking about many hours, not minutes.

Brewing Method

Cold brew uses immersion, one of the oldest methods for brewing coffee. Basically, you’re adding coffee grounds directly into the water, and letting them steep for 12 to 24 hours. Once you’ve had enough, filter the grinds and your brew is ready for drinking.

The slow brewing method means all the compounds have enough time to properly extract. What’s more, since it doesn’t use heat, cold brewing tones down the bitterness and sourness of coffee.

Iced coffee can be made with different brewing methods, but one thing they have in common is – they use hot water to make coffee. 

Since heat intensifies extraction, you should keep a close eye on the length of the brewing method of your choice. If you leave it too long, the coffee will be bitter. But stopping brewing ahead of time will result in higher acidity.

Flavor

woman drinking iced coffee

These two cold coffee drinks aren’t much alike in terms of flavor. As you already know, different compounds extract at different times and at different temperatures. 

Oils in the coffee bean are the main source of acidity in coffee, and they are among the first compounds to start dissolving. But only in hot water, that is.

With the cold brewing method, oils are never released. That’s why this type of coffee tastes less acidic and slightly sweeter. It also brings out the deep, chocolaty notes that smooth out the flavor and make cold brew easily palatable.

Compared to cold brew, iced coffee has a more intense flavor, richer mouthfeel, and higher acidity levels. 

Serving

Neither of these two drinks has a standard serving you need to strictly stick to. But in most cases, cold brew is served in 8-ounce tall glasses, while iced coffee can be anywhere between 14 and 24 ounces in size.

While iced coffee is always served with ice (obviously), cold brew is already chilled in the fridge. So whether you add ice or not is up to your personal preference.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: Which is Better for You?

Which one of these coffee drinks is a better option? Well, that depends.

If you prefer a well-rounded and mellow flavor, go with a cold brew. But if you prefer more intense notes, iced coffee might be a better option.

Neither of these drinks is healthier than the other. But low acidity levels in cold brew make it suitable even for people with acid reflux.

Since it can be made with different coffee roasts, grind sizes, and brewing methods, iced coffee is definitely the more versatile of the two.

FAQ

iced coffee and cold brew on the table

Still have questions about these two coffee drinks? Here are the answers that should solve your doubts.

Does cold brew have more caffeine than iced coffee?

Cold brew generally has more caffeine than iced coffee, mainly because it’s brewed for a much longer time.

But the actual caffeine amount in both drinks depends on multiple factors. These include the type of roast and coffee-to-water ratio.

Is cold brew sweeter than iced coffee?

Cold brew is much sweeter and less intense than iced coffee. This is thanks to low acidity levels, which are a result of using cold water for coffee extraction.

Does iced coffee or cold brew have more calories?

The main ingredients of each of these drinks are water and coffee grounds. And neither of them has any calories. However, adding milk, sweetener or flavoring will definitely increase caloric content.

Final Words

So there you have it – two cold drinks with completely different flavors.

Cold brew is a mellow and well-rounded beverage that’s easily palatable even for coffee beginners.

Iced coffee is a more intense and acidic cup of java, that can be made with practically any brewing method you want.

If you’re looking for a coffee drink with more texture than these two, you’re also in luck.

A variation of cold brew – named the nitro cold brew – is textured like dark beer and has an even thicker mouthfeel than your average cup of latte. Try it out!

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Viktoria Marks
Viktoria is a writer and a journalist who can't imagine sitting by her computer without a large cup of java in her hand. She loves sampling coffee from all over the world as much as writing about it.