Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: What’s the Difference?

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Iced coffee and cold brew can look similar, and they are both coffee drinks served over ice. Yet, there are significant differences in their brewing method, taste, and caffeine level.

Iced coffee can be traced back as early as the 19th century. In comparison, cold brew has been a recent addition even at major coffee chains and retailers. Despite a late start, cold brew quickly became a bestseller in the US.

Although cold brew is becoming more and more popular, both drinks can thrive in their own ways and offer a perfectly chilled pick-me-up. Read on to find out how iced coffee and cold brew differ.

Cold brew vs iced coffee: let’s get started!

What is Iced Coffee?

Another cold coffee drink is iced coffee, which is brewed with hot water and the traditional method. This classic summer drink can be immediately poured over ice or once it has cooled down.

The hip TikTok Starbucks iced coffee drinks are customized iced coffees that went viral on the social media app.

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brewing is an extraction method that does not use hot water, and it is easy to make at home. Due to the brewing method, cold brew will taste more smooth and less bitter because it is never exposed to heat.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: Brewing Method

The brewing method is one of the most significant differences between cold brew and iced coffee. Cold brew is made by steeping coarse ground coffee in room temperature water for a minimum of 12 hours and up to 24 hours, then filtering out the grounds.

Because cold brew relies on time rather than quick heat to extract the full flavors and caffeine, it is usually more expensive than iced coffee. 

Cold brew with milk

Cold brew concentrate packs quite a punch, so we recommend diluting it with milk, water, or ice in a one-to-one ratio. If you are brave, you can drink it undiluted.

Iced coffee is prepared as a regular brewed hot coffee using any brewing method you prefer, but typically using fine grounds. The heat applied for brewing makes this process much quicker, and you can have your iced coffee prepared and ready to drink in less than 5 minutes. 

You can also wait a bit until it cools down, or you can refrigerate it. When hot coffee is poured over ice, it tends to dilute the beverage. We recommend preparing your own coffee ice cubes to enjoy the full coffee flavors.

What do They Taste Like?

We have seen that two completely different brewing methods are being used for each type of chilled coffee drink, resulting in very distinct taste profiles.

Cold brew is all about the body, with smooth and sweet notes with hints of chocolate. Thanks to the low temperature and long extraction period, this method can access even the most enduring flavor compounds in the coffee beans. The result is a complex, thick and creamy structure that combines with the sweetness is sought after by many coffee drinkers.

So what does iced coffee taste like? Hot water and the quick extraction will bring out the traditional coffee taste. Think of slight bitterness and fine wine-like acidity that many coffee drinkers love.

Moreover, if iced coffee is prepared and chilled well, it can lock in some of the coffee beans’ brighter flavor notes and fruitiness. This fruitiness is something you will not find in a cold brew.

Iced coffee

Does Cold Brew or Iced Coffee Have More Caffeine?

It depends, generally speaking, cold brew will have more caffeine than iced coffee. Firstly, because the brewing method is much longer and will extract more caffeine.

Besides, cold brew, especially the concentrate, will be using significantly less water than an iced coffee. The ratio of coffee to water is much greater in a cold brew, and the iced coffee is more diluted.

Iced coffee is not only more diluted but also the time to extract the caffeine can be measured in minutes and not in hours when cold brewing. Sure, there are other differences to brewing as well: using hot water vs. cold water.

While a cup of cold brew concentrate is definitely going to be stronger and pack more caffeine than an equal-sized iced coffee cup. Cold brew concentrate can be easily diluted by adding equal parts of water to it, and if you fancy, then some milk and a few extra ice cubes.

Based on the amount of liquids added, the strength of coffee in your cup can vary. You can always make a very strong iced coffee and prepare a weaker cold brew if you prefer. 

Is Cold Brew Better than Iced Coffee?

Which coffee is better is a personal decision you will need to make, similar to the type of coffee roast you prefer. We gave you all the facts and explained the most important differences to make this decision easier.

If you are someone who favors a sweeter coffee, with lower acidity levels, then you will enjoy a cold brew more. Also, if you are looking for a stronger caffeine boost than cold brew, concentrate could be the right choice for you.

On the flip side, if you would like to enjoy the same fruitiness and slight bitterness that your hot coffee drink has, then iced coffee is the winner. A lower caffeine intake and a quick preparation time are a few more reasons for you to choose iced coffee over a cold brew.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: Final Thoughts

There is no winner in the cold brew vs iced coffee debate. Both are great to kickstart your day! Next time you have to choose between these two, you will be well prepared.

We recommend that you try making both options at home to see which one suits you more. Perhaps you will find that you need a sweet cold brew some days, and other days you prefer a crisp, iced coffee.

Happy brewing!

Featured Image Credit: Vasiliy Budarin, Shutterstock