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What’s the Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee: A Quick Comparison

Ordering coffee can sometimes be confusing and overwhelming. Gone were the days when your options are limited to classics like espresso and Americano. Now, you’ve got a whole lot of variations, including cold coffee drinks. With this, you are probably wondering – what’s the difference between cold brew and iced coffee? 

While both are flavorful, aromatic, and refreshing, they have significant differences. From the way they are brewed to the overall flavor profile, I’ll highlight what makes them uniquely different from the other. Then, it’s up to you to decide which one to order or make at home. 

What’s the Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee?

They are both coffee-based drinks, but some differences set them apart, including the following: 

Brewing Technique 

One of the biggest differences between the two is the brewing technique. Especially if you plan to make one yourself, it is crucial to know how to prepare both types of coffee to ensure optimal quality. 

bottle of cold coffee with ice and glass

Making iced coffee is similar to regular coffee. It starts by brewing, then it is cooled down, and ice is then added. This means that it can be a leftover coffee, so you are unsure of its freshness unless you make one yourself. 

On the other hand, cold-brewed coffee is never hot at any point. It goes through cold water brewing, which is also the one that is responsible for its distinct qualities. It is an entirely different experience compared to making any other coffee. 

Another important thing to note is that cold brew is a concentrate. You can double or triple the amount to increase the strength of your drink. Whereas, if you double or triple the amount in a hot coffee, you will end up with under-extraction and a sour flavor. 

Brew Time 

No one has the luxury of time to wait. Whether you are ordering from a coffee shop or making one at home, you should think about how long it takes to prepare your cup of joe. Between the two, cold brew takes longer to prepare. 

Iced coffee starts with making regular coffee and putting it on ice as it cools down. On average, it will take only a few minutes. Meanwhile, cold brew coffee takes 14 to 24 hours to make, so it requires more patience and effort. 

Caffeine 

The caffeine in coffee is the one that is responsible for its distinct flavor, especially bitterness. Plus, it also impacts the effects of coffee. The higher the caffeine is, the more it can result in palpitations and restlessness, among other things. 

cold brew coffee with milk

If you have the same sizes, caffeine is often higher in cold brew than in iced coffee. However, other factors will come into play. For instance, the slower the brewing process is for either method, the more caffeine you can extract. 

Flavor 

People have differences when it comes to how they like their coffee to taste. Some like it bitter while others love it sweeter. Iced coffee is light and refreshing. It is more bitter, which makes it the perfect option for people who prefer a strong kick. 

Meanwhile, if you want something subtler, then you cannot go wrong with cold brew coffee. It has low bitterness, so it isn’t too overwhelming, especially for new coffee drinkers. Because it uses cold water, it does not break down most of the components of coffee that are responsible for its bitterness. 

Take note, however, that the specific flavor of both iced and cold brew coffee will depend not just on the technique of brewing. Your choice of beans is also a deciding factor. So, know the flavor profile that you want so you can pick the right coffee to use. 

While we have individual differences, cold brew tastes better than iced coffee most of the time. It steeps coffee grounds for at least 12 hours, so it has a condensed and mild flavor. It does not have a bitter after-taste. Make it more flavorful by adding ingredients like almond milk, but only do so if you are into sweet coffee. 

Another good thing about cold brew is that it is more versatile. You can explore more possibilities to enhance its flavor by adding different ingredients. It can even be a great ingredient to a coffee-based cocktail. With iced coffee, the options are more limited. 

Acidity

cold black coffee with ice cubes

The choice of brewing method releases different acids in coffee, which is also largely responsible for its overall flavor. The acidity can be anywhere from 4.85 to 5.10. Aside from the brewing method, the roasting of the beans and the grind size also impacts the acidity. 

Between the two, cold brew is less acidic. It does not pull most of the acids from the beans, minimizing the acidity by up to 66%. This can also result in a less robust flavor, which is ideal for people who like their coffee subtle. More so, it is good for people who have digestive or stomach problems from too much acid. 

Meanwhile, iced coffee is more acidic because of heating. The heat releases the acidity from the coffee. Also, it has a bright and crisp acidic flavor. You can drink it without worrying about discomfort. 

Shelf Life 

Over time, coffee becomes stale and will have an inferior taste. It is best to enjoy your caffeine fix while it is fresh. Nonetheless, for something like cold brew, you will need to wait hours to enjoy the best flavors. 

From the two coffee types that we are comparing in this article, cold brew lasts longer. Iced coffee can last up to 12 hours at room temperature. In the fridge, it will last only three to seven days. Cold brew, especially when you store it as a concentrate, can last up to one month in the fridge. But as with anything else, they are best consumed when fresh. 

Regardless of the coffee that you have, proper storage is a must. If you cannot consume it immediately, refrigerate rather than leaving in room temperature for a long time. Store in a clean container with an air-tight lid. If you have a cold brew, it is better to keep it in its cold brew form instead of being already diluted. 

Price 

Coffee is getting more expensive these days, especially if you buy it from cafes. You can save money by making one at home, which is what we’ll be talking about next. Still, the cost will depend highly on the beans that you are using. 

If you are buying from a café, iced coffee is cheaper. The reason for this is that it is quicker to make. On the other hand, cold brew is expensive because the brewing process can take up to one day, making it more complicated to produce. 

How to Make Iced Coffee

Rather than buying from fancy coffee shops, why not make iced coffee yourself? Here’s how to do it: 

Step 1: Start by brewing your coffee using your choice of beans. Use 1.5 cups of cold water for 0.5 cup of ground coffee. Adjust the measurement as you wish, depending on how light or robust you want the coffee flavor to be. 

Step 2: Pour the hot coffee in a pitcher from a pot. Add sugar or any other sweetener if you want. Slowly stir the mixture until the sweetener has dissolved. Add 1.5 cups of water. 

Step 3: Fill a glass with ice. Transfer the coffee from the pitcher to the glass. Stir and let the coffee cool down. Enjoy your caffeine fix. 

How to Make Cold Brew Coffee 

With the time and effort to spare, you can make cold brew coffee at home by doing the following: 

Step 1: Grind your beans. For the best quality, choose the freshest available beans. We do not recommend using instant coffee for this recipe. We recommend grinding the beans coarsely, which will make them easier to strain. 

Step 2: Put the coffee grounds in a jar. Add filtered water on the top. The ideal ratio is one-part coffee for every two parts of water. This is a strong concentrate, so you might want to dilute it if you prefer a subtler flavor. 

Step 3: Stir lightly for coffee to mix with the water. Let it sit for 12 for 24 hours. Let it steep longer if you want the coffee to be stronger. 

Step 4: To get rid of the grit and sludge of coffee, strain it. Put a fine-mesh strainer on top of a bowl or jar and pour the coffee. Cover and store in the fridge. 

Step 5: When you are ready to enjoy your caffeine fix, pour the concentrate into a glass with ice. Dilute it by adding more water or ice. You can also add almond milk, creamer, or any other ingredient depending on the flavor you want to incorporate in your drink. 

Final Thoughts 

They’re both cold coffee drinks, but they are barely the same. Now that you know what’s the difference between cold brew and iced coffee, it would be good to try both. Experience the subtle difference in taste and flavor. That way, you’ll discover for yourself which one suits you best.

Avatar for Krista Haws

Known among her friends as 'the caffeine fiend', Krista loves all things coffee. From an extremely short, strong espresso to a 3 day cold brew, Krista loves them all.

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