Iced vs Cold Brew Coffee: The Difference Explained
Many coffee lovers around the world tend to enjoy a chilled version of their favorite caffeinated drink when the summer rolls around. Iced coffee is a very popular variant, but it is often confused with cold brew. However, these drinks are actually made using a very different method and yield contrasting results! Both are cold coffee at the end of the day, so what actually is the difference? Well, if this is a question you have pondered when picking between the two in your favorite coffee shop, you’ve come to the right place!
What is Iced Coffee?
The more popular of these two chilled drinks is the iconic iced coffee. It starts off life just as any cup of joe would, with freshly brewed hot coffee. The key to its flavor is to use strong coffee. This is generally done using one or two shots of freshly brewed espresso or strong, concentrated black coffee.
If you are wondering how to make the perfect iced coffee, here is a quick overview. First things first, add plenty of ice to your glass to keep it suitably cold. Next, ensure the freshly brewed hot coffee has cooled down to room temperature, if not below. This will prevent your ice from melting and diluting the strong coffee flavor.
Next, add your milk and sweetener of choice in a circular motion around the lip of your glass, to create that artistic ripple effect shown below…
What is Cold Brew Coffee?
Cold brew coffee is quite different from iced coffee, most notably in the way it is actually made. Cold brew coffee does exactly what it says on the tin. There are a few more steps involved, but the results are arguably even more satisfying!
With cold brew coffee, you actually steep ground coffee in cold water for an extended period of time. This means that the coffee flavor and essential oils are extracted using time rather than the traditional heat, so the longer you leave it the stronger it gets!
The brewing method is kind of similar to that of a french press but just protracted over a 12-hour period.
First of all, you need to use coarsely ground coffee beans as these work better for water submersion methods of brewing coffee. Simply add cold, (preferably filtered) water to these coffee grounds and leave them to brew overnight.
Once the coffee is ready, simply pass it through a filter to remove the course grounds and it is ready to serve. You can serve cold brewed coffee over ice, or with a splash of milk and sweetener to taste.
Whilst we have established that iced coffee and cold brew coffee are both popular chilled versions of hot coffee, that is pretty much where the similarities end!
Here are some of the major differences that set these cold coffee variants apart:
The first thing to consider when deciding between iced or cold brew coffee is the taste. I don’t want to get too sciency, but the contrast in the coffee extraction method between these two drinks actually makes a big difference to their taste.
Since the acidic oils in coffee beans tend to be extracted more quickly and aggressively when coffee is brewed using hot water, iced coffee is actually stronger, bolder, and more acidic than cold brew.
Iced coffee also tends to be made with extra strong, double-concentrated coffee as opposed to a simple coarse grind steeped in water. This also results in a more punchy taste.
Overall, iced coffee will tend to be stronger, more acidic, and more bitter than cold brew coffee. However, both of these chilled drinks are more subtle and mellow than their hot coffee brothers.
As I have mentioned, the biggest difference between iced coffee and cold brew is actually the way they are made. The brewing method couldn’t be more different. In fact, the only thing tying the two together is the use of ice!
Cold brew coffee is a long, drawn-out process that yields a more mellow flavor, whereas iced coffee is straightforward, quick, and easy to make. Cold brew coffee is also more likely to draw out the individual flavor profiles of a particular coffee bean variety than iced coffee. This is because the grounds are steeped for a much longer time period and there is no chance of burning off any of that delicate flavor.
This table summarises the differences between iced and cold brew coffee:
|Iced Coffee||Cold Brew Coffee|
|Brewing Method||Strong, hot coffee is allowed to cool, then added to an ice-filled glass with milk and sweeteners.||Coarse ground coffee, steeped in cold water overnight.|
|Taste||Strong, bold, and nutty. Creamy due to more milk and sweeteners being added.||Mellow, and nutty, brings out individual flavors of the coffee beans.|
|Coffee Grind Size||Very Fine (for espresso)
Course (for a double concentrated coffee maker or french press)
|Time to Make||10-15 minutes||Over 12 hours|
Which Chilled Coffee is for You?
If you are in a rush and are looking for a quick, easy, punchy, and refreshing coffee to perk up your day, then an iced coffee is the way to go. It is very easy to make and can be customized to your heart’s content. The simplicity of pouring slightly cooled, freshly brewed coffee over ice and adding your favorite milk, cream, or sweetener is a very attractive proposition.
However, if you have a bit more time on your hands and want to curate a flavourful, full-bodied chilled drink, then a cold brew would suit your needs. There is more time and effort involved in creating cold brew coffee, but the rewards are well worth it. Cold brew is a more palatable drink to a wider audience, making it perfect for hosting dinner parties or barbeques. Since the ground coffee is allowed to steep and brew for such a long period of time, you get a real depth of flavor that an iced coffee simply can’t match.
If you love chilled coffee drinks and want to add some variety to your coffee brewing repertoire, check out the 39 iced coffee drinks every coffee lover should try!
Overall, whilst iced and cold brew coffee may seem similar on the face of it, they are actually worlds apart! Where iced coffee offers convenience, a bold flavor, and a sharp caffeine hit, cold brew is a work of art that has a much richer depth of flavor.
If you are new to the world of chilled coffee, then both are definitely worth a try. I would recommend a couple of strong espresso shots for iced coffee, and a medium roast, single-origin arabica bean, coarsely ground for cold brew. This will ensure you get the biggest contrast between the two drinks, whilst highlighting the differences between the brewing methods.
Is Cold Brew Better than Iced Coffee?
Not necessarily. Iced coffee is faster to make, has a stronger taste, and is generally milkier than cold brew coffee.
However, cold brew coffee tends to have a greater depth of flavor due to its longer steeping time and water submersion brewing method. Cold brew coffee also tends to have a higher caffeine content due to this method.
Cold brew coffee is also more readily available in the single-serve form in supermarkets or malls than iced coffee, which is usually only served in coffee houses.
Is Cold Brew Stronger than Iced Coffee?
Cold brew coffee tends to have a weaker flavor profile in terms of bitterness or boldness compared to iced coffee. However, it can actually have a higher caffeine content due to its lengthy brew time, which is why some may consider it to be the ‘stronger’ drink.
Is Cold Coffee Better for Your Stomach?
Due to the lower acidity of cold brew coffee in particular, it tends to create fewer stomach issues than hot coffee or even iced coffee.
Why Does Chilled Coffee Taste Sweeter?
Cold brew coffee tends to have a sweeter taste than iced coffee due to the lower levels of acidity. This is a result of the lack of heat extraction, which gives hot coffee its traditional bitter flavor. Both iced coffee and cold brew tend to taste sweeter and less strong than hot coffee.