Coffee and caffeinated drinks are an essential part of everyday life for many people. Without their morning coffee, most people are not able to get through the work day. There are plenty of ways to enjoy your morning cups, like cold brews and iced coffee.
If you aren’t familiar with the plethora of caffeinated drinks available, you might not know the differences between each beverage. For example, some people think that cold brew and iced coffee are the same things, but there are actually a few distinctions.
So, today we’ll compare and contrast cold brew and iced coffee. When you finish reading, you should have all the information you need to determine which one is best for you.
What Is Cold Brew Coffee?
Cold brew coffee is made by steeping ground coffee in room temperature water for several hours. Typically, it takes 12 to 18 hours for the coffee to be ready. Once that time has passed, the grounds need to be strained.
Making cold brew is easy but it is such a slow and long process. As a result, it has a strong and rich flavor. Most people add some combination of milk, cream, and sugar to their cold brew coffee, like with traditional coffee. You should not use any hot water in the brewing process.
This type of coffee is popular because it is smoother and milder than traditional coffee. Additionally, it has less acidity, making it easier to drink for people with more sensitive pallets. Its lack of acidity is a result of the cool temperature. Cold water does not bring the chemical changes that result in the acidity you can find in traditional coffee.
What Is Iced Coffee?
Simply put, iced coffee is hot coffee chilled in ice. You can already see the most significant difference between iced coffee and cold brew coffee. Hot water is involved in the brewing process.
You can make iced coffee with any regular hot coffee brewer, then dilute and chill it with ice cubes.
Cold Brew Vs. Iced Coffee – Side By Side Comparison
Cold brew coffee and iced coffee are two popular caffeinated drinks. On paper, they are very similar. However, while there are some significant similarities, there are also several notable differences. Here we will be comparing the two drinks side by side so that you know what makes them two distinct drinks.
If you are going to have either of these drinks outside of a Starbucks, you need to get the right equipment. Unfortunately, you use different sets of equipment for each drink.
Cold-brew coffee requires a cold brew coffee maker, a mason jar, or a French press. You can also use any containers that allow you to steep grounds in cold water. Finally, you should use a cheesecloth or filter paper to filter the coffee grounds.
Iced coffee requires only hot coffee and ice. It’s very similar in composition to traditional coffee. As a result, you can use a regular coffee maker to brew it. For example, a drip coffee machine should work fine.
You can also use a pour-over, French press, Aeropress, or espresso machine instead of a drip coffee machine. Finally, you will need ice cubes to chill the coffee once you finish brewing it.
The main difference between cold brew coffee and iced coffee is in how you prepare them.
You can prepare cold brew coffee by steeping coarse coffee grounds in cold water for 12 hours or more. The maximum amount of time you should steep the coffee grounds is 24 hours. For cold brew, you can make ready-to-drink coffee (1:10 to 1:18 coffee to water ratio) or coffee concentrate (1:4 ratio or so). If you make coffee concentrate, you can dilute it with cold water using a 1:1 ratio, then enjoy.
Conversely, iced coffee is very easy to make. You can brew hot coffee the same way you normally would and then chill it in ice. Then, you can either refrigerate hot coffee after brewing it or brew it directly over ice. Keep in mind that melted ice dilutes the coffee, so use a slightly lower ratio as you make the hot brewed coffee.
At the end of the day, the thing that matters most is the flavor. If you do not like the flavor, you will go with a different drink.
Cold brew coffee is unique because it takes longer to prepare than other methods. As a result, it has a distinct taste not found in other caffeinated drinks. The longer extraction process means it can access stronger flavors found deep within the beans. Notably, you can get a sweet chocolate flavor from beans if you extract them for long enough.
Also, since brewing coffee at a lower temperature, bitter and acidic compounds are more difficult to be extracted. When you take a sip of cold brew coffee, you will notice a smoother flavor with less pronounced bitterness and acidity no matter what beans you use. It’s a more forgiving brewing method.
Conversely, traditional iced coffee starts from regular hot coffee. How the iced coffee taste depends on your brewing methods and your coffee beans, the final cup retains your coffee’s original characteristics and flavor profiles.
For example, suppose you brew the coffee with fruity and acidic Ethiopian coffee using a V60 pour-over. In that case, you can still sense all of those flavors in the iced coffee. So in some specialty coffee shops, you can find coffee served cold with premium single-origin coffee beans. Japanese iced coffee is one of the most popular options.
Another to consider in the brewing process is the water temperature.
Specifically, you should brew iced coffee at 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is the same that you would use for regular brewed coffee.
Cold-brew coffee brewing temperatures do not need to be as specific. You can brew it in room temperature or cold water.
Another notable difference in the brewing processes of these two drinks is the time it takes to brew them. Notably, it takes 12 to 24 hours to steep the coffee beans for cold brew coffee. Although it’s a slow brewing process, once the cold-brewed coffee is made, you can grab a cup whenever you want.
Conversely, iced coffee only takes a few minutes to make, depending on your brewing methods. Typically, you can drink your iced coffee 5 to 10 minutes after you start brewing it.
Since cold brew method takes longer to brew, you want coarsely ground beans. Medium coarse beans are ok too, but we prefer to use coarse ground coffee, so there is less risk of over-extraction. The finer the grinds, the faster the extraction. So that if you want to shorten the waiting time, you can grind the beans slightly finer accordingly.
Conversely, the speed at which you make iced coffee means you should use finer ground beans. You should follow the instructions on your coffee maker to determine how finely you should grind your beans. For example, an espresso machine will use finely ground beans, whereas an Aeropress will use medium-fine ground beans. Medium grind size is ideal for pour-over and coarser for French Press. If you want to know more about the grind size for each brew method, check out our coffee grind size guide.
We touched on this briefly in one of the sections above, but we want to delve into caffeine content a little deeper here.
While you might enjoy coffee and similar beverages for their flavor, the primary reason to drink them is for their caffeine content. Which cold coffee has more caffeine?
Depending on the extraction method and the coffee origin, the caffeine content can vary wildly between cold brew coffee and iced coffee. Typically, cold brew coffee has a higher caffeine level than iced coffee. The reason for this is that it sits for long periods.
You can make a large batch of cold brew concentrate and dilute it into many cups of cold coffee that last for the whole week. Some coffee shops use a commercial cold brew bucket that makes 2.5 gallons per batch. Since cold brewing is at a lower temperature, you can keep it fresh in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
When it comes to ice coffee, it’s for single-serve or a few cups only. Since most hot brew coffee makers for home use have a smaller capacity. And they are not concentrated, so you can’t further dilute them into multiple cups. Fresh brewed iced coffee is safe to drink within 24 hours, but it won’t taste as aromatic as it was just brewed.
After reading through all of the differences between cold brew and iced coffee, we hope you won’t be confused anymore.
However, there is a good chance you cannot make a decision simply by reading. As a result, you should go out and give both of them a try. You can even try several cups of cold brew and iced coffee over the next few weeks to decide.
Both delicious coffee are good options to keep you caffeinated on a hot summer day. The decision of which one you prefer comes down to your flavor preferences.
If you prefer sweeter drinks, you are better off with the cold brew. However, if you are brewing them yourself and do not have much time to make a drink, you will need to go with an iced coffee.