Though I’ve been a fan of hot coffee since my 20s, it took me over 15 years to even try a chilled coffee beverage. I always thought I wouldn’t like the taste of cold coffee, but I was so wrong!
Since I had my first iced coffee at a drive-through in scorching heat five years ago, it’s been my go-to chilled drink every summer at home and when I visit coffee shops.
I’ve since developed a taste for cold brew, too, so here I am to tell you all about cold brew Vs. Iced coffee.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: What’s the Difference?
According to the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), cold brew coffee is “coffee that has been steeped in cool or room temperature water for a prolonged period (12-24 hours), which produces a concentrate that can be diluted with water of milk.”
So it’s completely different from regular brewed coffee.
This brewing method results in a smooth and less acidic cup of coffee with a distinct flavor profile.
On the other hand, Iced coffee is made by brewing hot coffee and cooling it by letting it chill in the fridge or pouring it over ice. You can use various brewing methods with iced coffee, including pour-over, drip coffee, or French press.
It’s also served cold in a variety of ways. For example, you can add cream, milk, sugar, or flavored syrups.
The Key Differences Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee
There are four main differences between the two:
- The brewing method
- The taste
- The strength
- How it’s served
Let’s look at these in more detail.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: The Brewing Method
As I mentioned, making cold brew coffee involves steeping coarsely ground coffee using room temperature or cold water.
The brewing process is long and takes between 12 and 24 hours.
Iced coffee, however, uses chilled hot coffee – and the brewing process is exactly the same as your hot coffee favorite.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee Taste
The taste of cold brew is smoother and less acidic compared to iced coffee. This is due to the slow steeping process, which extracts fewer bitter compounds from the coffee grounds.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee Strength
The cold brew method produces stronger coffee than iced coffee due to its higher coffee-to-water ratio. The longer steeping process also means more caffeine is extracted. You’ll have an even stronger coffee flavor if you use a dark roast.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: How It’s Served
Cold brew coffee is typically served straight as it is, diluted with water or milk, or over ice.
On the other hand, iced coffee is served mixed with ice, milk, sugar, and flavored syrups, much like traditional hot coffee. For example, it can also be made with almond or oat milk.
How to Brew Cold Brew Coffee
Brewing cold-brew coffee requires equipment and patience, but the process is relatively simple.
If you don’t have a cold-brew coffee maker, you will need the following equipment:
- Coarse ground coffee
- Cold water
- A jar or pitcher
- A cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer
- A coffee filter
- A funnel
- A large bowl or measuring cup
- A refrigerator
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to make your own cold-brew coffee:
- Coarsely grind your coffee beans. You’ll need about 1 cup (8 ounces) of coffee grounds for every 4 cups (32 ounces) of water.
- Add the coffee grounds to the jar or pitcher and pour cold water. Stir the mixture until the grounds are fully saturated.
- Cover the jar or pitcher with a lid or plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. Let the coffee steep for 12-24 hours, depending on how strong you like your coffee.
- After the coffee has steeped, strain it through the cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer into a large bowl or measuring cup. You can also use a coffee paper filter and a funnel to strain the coffee.
- Discard all the coffee grounds and transfer the cold brew coffee to a clean mason jar or pitcher.
- Serve the cold brew coffee over ice or dilute it with water or milk, according to your taste.
Adjust the coffee-to-water ratio and steeping time to achieve your desired strength and flavor. You can also experiment with coffee beans to discover new flavors and aromas.
Since cold brew coffee takes a while, you’ll find this more expensive when you visit a coffee shop.
How to Brew Iced Coffee
There are several ways of making iced coffee. My favorite way of doing it is using a pour-over cone. You can, however, brew hot coffee in any coffee maker.
The process takes just a few minutes.
Here is the equipment needed for iced coffee:
- Coffee beans
- A coffee grinder
- A pour-over cone
- Filter paper
- A kettle
- Regular ice cubes
- A pitcher or cup
With all of the equipment in hand, follow these steps for a delicious iced coffee:
- Grind the coffee beans to a medium-coarse consistency.
- Boil water in a kettle and let it cool for a minute or two until it reaches around 200°F (93 °C).
- Wet the filter paper in the pour-over cone with hot water to remove any paper taste and preheat.
- Discard the hot water and add the ground coffee to the filter paper in the pour-over cone.
- Slowly pour the hot water over the coffee grounds in a circular motion, starting from the center and working your way outwards until the coffee is fully saturated.
- Let the coffee drip through the filter into a pitcher or cup filled with ice cubes.
- Stir the coffee and ice cubes together to chill the coffee.
- Serve the iced coffee with additional ice cubes, milk, sugar, or other desired flavors like a simple syrup.
You can adjust the amount of coffee, water, and ice to your preference to achieve your desired strength and flavor.
You can also experiment with different brewing methods, such as cold brew or a French press to make iced coffee.
If you like a stronger iced coffee, you can fill an ice cube tray with coffee and keep it in the freezer so the resulting iced coffee isn’t watered down too much when the ice melts.
Comparing the Flavor Profile of Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee
Cold brew coffee has a mellow flavor profile. It’s less bitter and acidic compared to hot coffee. This is thanks to the cold water extraction process, which results in a different chemical composition.
As such, cold brew coffee has a full-bodied and rich coffee taste. Depending on the beans used, the roast level, and the brewing time, cold brew can have a range of flavor notes.
Common undertones include chocolate, nut, caramel, fruit, and floral.
On the other hand, ice coffee has a similar flavor profile to hot coffee. That said, the flavor perception can differ due to the cold temperature.
When it’s cold, the coffee taste will seem less pronounced. Adding ice, milk, and syrup will also dilute the flavor.
The Pros and Cons of Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee
There will always be advantages and disadvantages to different types of coffee. Here are the pros and cons of cold brew and iced coffee:
Cold Brew Pros
- Lower acidity
- Smooth taste
- Longer shelf life
Cold Brew Cons
- Longer brewing time
- Higher caffeine content (could be an advantage, depending on preference)
Iced Coffee Pros
- Quick and easy to make
- You can use any type of coffee
- You can alter the flavor a lot depending on what you add to it
Iced Coffee Cons
- It can be more acidic
- Melts the ice, which dilutes the flavor.
What About Nitro Cold Brew?
Nitro cold brew coffee has become a specialty coffee drink in recent years. The cold brew goes through a second stage and infuses nitrogen gas. This gives it a creamy and foamy texture, much like draft beer when compared to a regular cold brew coffee.
The nitrogen infusion process gives the cold brew a smooth and velvety mouthfeel with a rich and creamy head that lingers on the surface of the coffee. It’s truly delicious!
Typically, nitro cold brew is served from a pressurized keg or canister. When the coffee is dispensed, nitrogen bubbles are released, which creates a cascading effect and a thick, creamy foam. The result is both visually appealing and a deliciously smooth coffee.
Conclusion: Should You Choose Cold Brew or Iced Coffee?
Despite being cold drinks, cold brew, and traditional iced coffee are very different and serve different purposes. If you’re not immediately desperate for your cold coffee, making a cold brew concentrate will give you delicious coffee the next day.
Alternatively, the quicker option is iced coffee. Regular hot coffee and iced coffee are made the same way, so iced coffee is easy for anyone to make. If you’re worried about the ice diluting the coffee, you can prepare coffee ice cubes in advance.
Two other considerations are your taste preferences and caffeine tolerance. For example, the caffeine content of cold brew coffee is higher but doesn’t taste as strong because it’s a smoother and less acidic brew.
Overall, I recommend both cold brew and iced coffee for different cold coffee tastes – and I always try to keep coffee ice cubes in my freezer to have a stronger iced coffee taste.
However, if you do discover you have a preference for cold brew, you can even buy a cold brew coffee maker to make things easier.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Make Iced Coffee with Instant Coffee?
You could… but it really doesn’t have the same taste.
Which Types of Iced Coffees Are Available?
Whatever your favorite coffee type, you can get it made as iced coffee. Whether a latte, cappuccino, or flat white, the coffees are made similarly and served as cold coffees.
Is Cold Brew a Coffee Concentrate, or Is It Drunk Ready-Made?
This depends entirely on individual tastes. When brewing coffee as a cold brew, most people use it as a coffee concentrate and keep it in an air-tight container like a mason jar in the fridge. Then, their coffee is served diluted with water and milk or poured over ice.
What’s the Best Way to Brew Cold Brew?
If you make a cold brew, it’s best to make it in large batches since it takes so long to process. Your cold brew can keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.