The Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee
You’re not alone if you’ve been throwing ice over 12-hour-old, lukewarm coffee and calling it iced coffee. And you’re not wrong, it is iced and it is coffee.
But It might surprise you to learn that there’s a lot more to your favorite iced brew than to just add ice - especially if you want it taste more like coffee and less like coffee flavored water.
Where things start to get even more complicated, is when both iced coffee and its swankier big brother, cold brew, both show up on the same menu. But if you’ve been begrudging your local coffee shop for tacking on a few extra bucks to your classic iced coffee, you may want to cut them some slack.
As it turns out, cold brew isn’t just a fancy pseudonym coined by snobby iced-coffee connoisseurs. In fact, the only two things these two brews really have in common is that they’re coffee and they’re cold.
Listen, we know you don’t want to keep sipping on bland, re-warmed, coffee over ice.
So, we’re not only going to enlighten you on the difference between iced coffee and cold brew, but we’re also going to elevate your summertime coffee drinking game by walking you through the best ways to brew both of these delicious drinks.
Don’t worry, we’re not looking to overcomplicate the art of iced coffee. Iced coffee, in its simplest form, is just regularly brewed coffee served over ice. Voila!
If you’re crunched for time on a hot summer day, this is absolutely the easiest option to get your iced coffee fix. However, it’s worth mentioning that there are a variety of ways to make a tall glass of heavenly brewed beans.
Room Temperature Iced Coffee
This is what we like to refer to as the ‘I forgot I still had some coffee left over from this morning’ style iced coffee.
Unfortunately, this is usually the first introduction iced coffee novices get to iced coffee, and it it’s always pleasant.
Allowing coffee to sit at room temperature seems like a great idea to keep your ice from melting so fast and diluting your drink.
Unfortunately, letting coffee sit around for a long time generally results in an overly-oxidized, bitter brew. In other words, it’ll taste like it’s been sitting on the kitchen counter all morning.
Sure, you can probably mask the sour flavors with extra cream or sugar if you’re in a pinch, but just know that there are better brew methods out there.
Chilled Iced Coffee
If you’re not a big fan of the room temp or piping hot coffee over ice, let it chill out.
This method is as simple as making a strong batch of coffee, putting it in a pitcher, and letting it sit in a refrigerator.
While you’re waiting for your coffee to cool, try intensifying the flavor by making your very own coffee-flavored ice cubes.
The jury is still out on this iced coffee making method. Like room temperature iced coffee, your freshly brewed coffee will continue to oxidize in your refrigerator. So, the longer it sits in the fridge, the more stale, sour, or tasteless it will become.
The Japanese Method
Coffee elitists will be the first to tell you that everything tastes better when it starts with pour over. Well, as it turns out, pour over iced coffee drinkers share the same sentiment.
The Japanese Method involves using a pour over (or similar brewing method) to slowly drip or pour hot coffee over ice. Generally speaking, half of the water used in this method is hot and used to extract the beans, while the other half is the ice.
You’ll want to beef up your quality and quantity of coffee beans a bit to combat dilution. However, because the hot coffee is slowly dripping over the ice cubes in a ‘slow cooling’ process, rather than being poured directly over ice, the richness of the blend is well-retained.
In fact, pour over iced coffee fanatics insist that this superior iced coffee method unlocks the full potential of a quality coffee bean, while others go as far as to say it’s better than cold brew (gasp).
Don’t fret If you don’t own a pour over, there are several alternative ways to experiment and test out your Japanese iced coffee skills.
Some cold brew coffee lovers describe cold brew as iced coffee with a little extra TLC. The reality is, the difference between the two brews boils down to brew time and temperature (no pun intended).
You might have guess by the name, but cold brew is brewed using cold water vs. hot water. As a result, these anti-heat beans will typically need a much higher coffee-to-water ratio and coarser grind.
And you can say goodbye to instant gratification - the secret to tasty cold brew is time. Lower brew temperatures make for an extended extraction period.
In other words, cold brew requires coffee grounds to steep in a container of filtered water for up to 24 hours. The longer the coffee sits, the stronger it gets.
Cold brew advocates insist that cold brew is worth the wait. This brew method is much bolder than its iced coffee counterpart, is far less watered down, and retains more of the natural oils and flavors of the original bean.
Like iced coffee, there are a number of ways to perfect the art of cold brew and an infinite number of recipes to try.
We recommend you pick up a cold brew apparatus and start experimenting!
Caffeine Content in Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew
If you’re a highly caffeinated coffee drinker, you’re probably wondering which brew will give you the most bang for your buck. The answer is a resounding cold brew.
Generally speaking, when you’re concocting a batch of cold brew, you’re actually creating what is referred to as ‘cold brew concentrate.’ This concentrate can yield nearly three times the caffeine of a normal cup of joe depending on the quality of beans, steep time, and grind size.
It’s important to keep in mind that cold brew concentrate is meant to be cut with water, milk, or cream and these will all reduce caffeine content, and in some cases level the playing field.
It’s hard to go wrong with either of these warm weather favorites. We generally recommend steering clear of lukewarm, day old coffee over ice, but hey, if that’s what you need to get going - we don’t judge.
At least now you know where to go if you want to change up your iced coffee or cold brew routine!