What Is the Difference between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee?

what is the difference between cold brew and iced coffee

Imagine this. It’s the middle of the summer. The sun is shining so brightly you can barely see, and the air is so hot that it’s almost impossible to function normally. And that’s when you see it – a coffee shop serving delicious cold coffees. You enter and are blessed with the godsent called air conditioning. There, as your body temperature is going back to normal, you’re faced with a very difficult decision – should you go for a cold brew coffee or for an iced coffee? That’s the question.

Although some people might think that those two are the same thing, the truth is that they are completely different drinks. So, what exactly is the difference between iced coffee and cold brew? And which one should you choose? That’s something we will be talking about in the article below.

Cold Brew Coffee vs Iced Coffee

The correct answer to the question ‘What is the difference between iced coffee and cold brew?’ is that there are many.

The main difference between cold brew coffee and iced coffee is the brewing process. While preparing iced coffee is a process that shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes, making a pot of cold brew coffee can take even more than a day. Let us elaborate by explaining how exactly cold brew coffee is made.

If we wanna be technical, we should actually call it cold brew coffee concentrate rather than just cold brew coffee, as the ice you’re adding later on, when you’re serving it, actually dilutes it, making the beverage weaker. Of course, you can drink the concentrate straight. However, if you’re not a fan of strong coffee, such as espresso, we wouldn’t recommend doing it.

Going back to the brewing method for cold brew coffee – it’s actually very simple, but, as we already mentioned, it requires time. Cold brewed coffee is made by steeping ground coffee beans with cold water (it can also be room temperature water, as long as it’s not hot). Here’s how to prepare it:

  1. Prepare the ingredients – coffee grounds and water – as well as a large mason jar or pitcher.
  2. Place the coarse ground coffee beans in the jar/pitcher and add water. Stir gently. Place a kitchen towel or a cheesecloth on top of the jar/pitcher, so that the opening is completely covered. You can ensure that it stays in place by using a rubber band.
  3. Leave it for at least 12 hours (you can also just leave it overnight).
  4. Once enough time has passed, prepare another jar/pitcher and place a fine-mesh sieve with a clean cheesecloth on top of it. Pour the coffee into it. Remember not to stir the coffee grounds before you pour over your mixture, as it might cause your cold brew concentrate to become cloudy.
  5. When you’re done, throw away the used cheesecloth. As for the coffee grounds, you can check out our article on how to repurpose them – who knows, maybe you’ll get inspired.
  6. Grab the sieve again, and place a coffee filter in it. Put it over another clean jar/pitcher, and pour the concentrate into it without stirring – instead, allow it to drip into your container on its own. Keep in mind that it might take some time.

And you’re done! The mixture in the last jar or pitcher, depending on which one you choose, is your cold brew coffee concentrate. Place it in an airtight container and put it in a fridge to make sure it doesn’t go bad – you can leave it there for up to three weeks.

If you want to learn more about cold brew coffee, you can always check out this article we published a while back.

Iced coffee, on the other hand, doesn’t require any specific brewing method. It’s a regular coffee poured over some ice, which means that you can make it in your good old coffee maker if you have one. If you don’t, simply boil water and pour it over ground coffee. Let it cool down, and once you’re sure the ice cubes won’t melt right away, add ice to a cup and pour the coffee over it.

Tip: If you’re someone who likes stronger coffees and you want your iced coffee to have a kick to it as well, make sure that you double the amount of ground coffee beans you use to make it.

Another method that is slowly gaining popularity among coffee lovers is making coffee ice cubes. How do you make them? Grab an ice cube tray and the regular brewed coffee you made (after it cooled down), pour it into the tray, and freeze. Once you’re ready to have your iced coffee, just pop one or two out and put them in your cup. Voila! You’ve made coffee ice cubes – easy, right?

Difference between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee

Based on everything that has been said so far, we can conclude that there are two main things that differentiate cold brew coffees and iced coffees – that is time and water temperature.

While iced coffee is pretty quick to make, cold brew coffee needs at least 12 hours to become the taste beverage many people know and love. With iced coffee, you need hot water, while cold brew coffee can be prepared with cold water or room temperature water.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee – Taste

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee

Taste is definitely one of the distinct features of cold brew coffee. Since the preparation process is all about slow and drawn-out extraction, the flavors have more time to come out, which is why regular cold brew coffee tends to have a smooth, chocolate-like taste. The iced coffee brewing method, on the other hand, is much more rapid, which results in the coffee having a more bitter and acidic taste, often with fruity notes.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee – Caffeine Content

You might be wondering – Okay, but which of them has more caffeine content? Well, a 16-oz cup of traditional iced coffee has about 165 mg of caffeine. A 16-oz cup of cold brew coffee, on the other hand, has about 200 mg of caffeine. So, when it comes to caffeine levels, cold brew definitely wins.

Iced Coffee and Cold Brew – Which One Should You Choose?

Truthfully that’s not a question we can answer, as everything depends on your personal preferences. If you want a stronger cup of coffee with a more chocolatey flavor, then cold brew will be a better choice. On the other hand, if you like regular hot coffee and just want something cold to settle your thirst during the summer, then iced coffee might be a perfect choice.

Iced Coffee and Cold Brew Coffee – Frequently Asked Questions

Can you heat up either iced coffee or cold brew?

Iced coffee cannot be heated up since it’s a drink that is meant to be consumed cold. If you want regular hot coffee, then skip adding the ice and just drink it as soon as it’s brewed.

Cold brew, on the other hand, can be prepared hot. The easiest way to do it is by using a saucepan. Add your cold brew concentrate to it with some water, and place it over low-medium heat. Keep it there until it reaches the temperature you want. However, be careful not to bring it to a boil, as boiling cold brew can make it taste bitter.

Can you freeze cold brew?

Yes, you can freeze cold brew – as we already mentioned, you can even make ice cubes out of it using a regular ice cube tray. If you decide to make them, make sure that you cover the tray with something so that it doesn’t absorb the other scents from your freezer.

Can you make cold brew in a French press?

Yes, you can absolutely do it, and the process is very simple. Just add your coffee grounds and water to your French press and let it sit for anywhere between 8 and 24 hours, depending on how strong you want the concentrate to be.

Can cold brew be decaf?

Yes, of course! There are decaffeinated coffee beans that you can use instead of regular beans. Just make sure to grind them properly.

Can cold brew go bad if it’s not refrigerated?

Yes, cold brew concentrate can go bad if you don’t store it correctly. Although the process won’t be as noticeable as with milk or juice, you will most likely still be able to tell that your cold brew has gone bad – mainly because of its taste and smell. It will taste more bitter or sour, and it will most likely have a sulfur smell.

To ensure that you’re drinking cold brew coffee up to your standards, either refrigerate it or drink it within a few hours of preparation.

Can iced coffee go bad?

Yes, just like everything, iced coffee also can go bad. If you want to make sure that your iced coffee tastes as it should, it’s best to finish it before it becomes warm or before all of the ice melts. That’s because the taste can drastically change after just a few hours of being left in the open air.

What is nitro cold brew, and how does it differ from regular cold brew?

Nitro cold brew is a type of cold brew that has been infused with nitrogen. It isn’t a common position in coffee shops, but you can definitely find a few that serve it. Can it be done at home? Not really, as you need to have specific equipment.

If you’re wondering if nitrogen is safe to drink, the answer is yes, you can safely use it to prepare drinks. In fact, it is often used as an alternative to carbon dioxide. While the bubbles created by carbon dioxide are larger, the ones created by nitrogen are much smaller and make the drink smooth and creamy, as well as add some sweetness to it. Not to mention that it looks great when being poured.

Now, let’s talk about why nitro cold brew is becoming more and more popular. First of all, it has fewer calories than some other coffees out there, such as a latte. Secondly, nitrogen brings sweetness to the drink, which means that you don’t need to use any sugar. And finally, you don’t use any milk, which is why it is safe for those who have lactose intolerance.

The Bottom Line

Iced Coffee and Cold Brew

During the summer, a cup of cold coffee can be a godsend. Just imagine – you’re walking in the middle of the day, the sun is shining directly into your eyes, you forgot your hat or umbrella at home, so there’s nothing you can cover yourself with, and you feel like you’re about to melt. But then you see it – a coffee shop. You enter, and you’re hit with one of the greatest inventions of all time – air conditioning. Now, there’s just one more obstacle – choosing which cold coffee you want to drink. Cold brew or iced coffee?

As you could see above, those two drinks are actually very different and have different flavors. That’s why which one will be the perfect cold beverage for you will depend on your personal preferences. Either way, we hope that you enjoyed this article and next time you’re faced with the decision of cold brew or iced coffee, it will be easy to make a choice.

Barry Konkin

Barry Konkin is the founder of HotShot Coffee Sleeves. With over 30 years experience in commercial offset printing, Barry utilized his diverse printing background and creativity in developing new coffee sleeve designs that were granted Patents in both the USA and Canada. Barry’s goal is to assist businesses with brand promotion through the use of high quality custom printed cup sleeves. With an understanding of your marketing and operational objectives, Barry can recommend the ideal coffee sleeve solution for you.

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