Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: What is the difference?

When temperatures start to rise, our morning cup of hot coffee no longer seems that appealing.
If the thought of getting your caffeine hit in this warm way puts you off entirely, it might be time to make the switch to one of the colder options, at least for the summer.
There are two big players when it comes to cold coffees: iced coffee and cold brew. Even if you’re used to drinking a hot coffee every morning, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of the cold brew vs iced coffee debate before and wondered how exactly they differ from each other, if at all.
What is the real difference between cold brew and iced coffee?
The main difference in these types of coffees is how they’re brewed, with a cold brew taking many hours and cold water to achieve, and iced coffee made with hot coffee poured over ice or mixed with milk. Although they might look similar, they have quite a few differences aside from brewing methods, including the taste and caffeine content.
With the weather heating up, there’s never been a better time to learn about your potential new coffee obsession.
Whether you choose ice coffees or cold brews, it’s a nice change of scenery from a piping hot cup of coffee, and we’ll show you exactly what each of them is about so you can find your new favorite.

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

homemade cold brewed coffee
One of the biggest misconceptions about cold brew coffee is that it earned its name because of the temperature of the drink.
In actual fact, it’s named cold brew because that’s how it’s made, using only cold water to brew the coffee over a longer period.
To make cold brew takes a lot longer than iced coffee, which is why a lot of people buy theirs already made. You’ll need coarse ground coffee beans that have been steeped in room temperature for at least 12 hours. The longer you leave the beans to steep, the more flavor you’ll get.
When the steeping is done and you’re satisfied with the taste, you’ll then have to filter out the coffee grounds. The leftover coffee can be stored for up to a week in the fridge and be mixed with a range of ingredients to get the desired taste.
Traditional Vietnamese methods see the cold brew mixed with condensed milk and ice, to sweeten and cool it further, or you can use ice alone, regular cow’s milk, almond milk, or anything else you fancy to add to your brew. Because the steeping method takes longer, the caffeine content stays high but the flavor is smoother and less acidic, so it’s well worth the wait.

What is Iced Coffee?

homemade iced coffee
Iced coffee is just as the name suggests, coffee that’s been served over ice, and its brewing method is entirely different from a cold brew drink.
Most iced coffees are made as you’d make any other hot cup of coffee, but using hot water to brew the beans and extract the flavor and caffeine.
However, where iced coffee differs is what you do with the final product. Rather than adding frothy milk or more hot water, iced coffee is made by combining things like milk, ice, cream, almond milk, soy, or any other cold dairy alternative, topped with ice. There’s no shortage of what you can do with an iced coffee, and they can be enjoyed very sweet or without any sugar.
To make iced coffee is easy which means there’s no fancy knowhow or tools needed, and it can be done with instant coffee, coffee pods, espresso machines, or a French press. You simply brew the coffee as normal and mix it with ice, adding on any further flavors or ingredients you want to your drink.

The Flavor of Iced Coffee vs Cold Brew

two glasses of iced coffee
If you’re someone who cares about how good their coffee tastes, and not just the caffeine content, you’ll probably already have a favorite in mind when it comes to these two.
Cold brew coffee is generally a smoother and stronger taste that can be enjoyed just with ice, whereas iced coffee gets diluted down and is more enjoyable for some to drink.
Iced coffee is usually the weaker tasting version of the two and this is due to the method of brewing a regular cup of coffee but diluting it with ice and milk. Some people might prefer to make a double cup of coffee to get the same flavor and caffeine hit they’re used to, but it’s an individual choice.
Cold brew still has the coffee taste but isn’t always mixed with milk and other sweeteners, depending on how you like it. This type of drink suits coffee lovers who enjoy the taste of their favorite caffeinated and don’t try to cover it, but there’s no stopping you from mixing whatever flavors you fancy into it.

Caffeine Content of the Drinks

Caffeine content is just as important to a coffee lover as to how their drink tastes, and iced coffee and cold brew are quite different in this regard as well.
Generally, a cold brew coffee has a higher level of caffeine per drink than an iced coffee, but this also depends on how it was made.
On average, a 16 oz cold brew from Starbucks that has brewed for 20 hours will have about 200 milligrams of caffeine in it. This compares to just 165 milligrams of caffeine for an iced coffee of the same size from Starbucks.
Hot coffee has even more caffeine than this though, but again it depends on the method of brewing, such as if an espresso machine or a coffee pod machine was used.
Due to the fact there are many types of beans, brewing methods, and final packaging for coffee, it’s hard to say which is more caffeinated. The best way to determine is by brewing your own coffee to find a caffeine level you like or reading the label or nutritional information when you choose one, but this isn’t always 100% accurate either.

The Rise in Popularity of Cold Coffees

Coffee has traditionally been a drink enjoyed hot in the United States, but that seems to be changing here and in the rest of the world.
The cold brew and iced coffee market has shot up in recent years, and a lot of young consumers especially tend to prefer their drinks on the colder side.
Where cold brew once used to be something that people made themselves at home, it seems that most major brands that deal with beverages are coming out with their own versions. Coca Cola, Starbucks, and Nestle now all have cold brew drinks available, giving them a chance to tap into the market that’s already exploded.
According to reports, a third of cold brew drinkers in the US buy their favorite beverage at lunchtime and enjoy it as a refreshing drink for any time of day. This is in stark contrast to hot coffee that’s most commonly purchased in the mornings, leaving coffee houses very quiet after their big AM rush, and making the drink even more popular.
Another reason for the huge boom with cold brew coffee is that it’s nutritionally a lot better for you than other cold, sugary drinks. A single cold brew on ice has only two kilojoules per cup, so you could drink it all day without putting on any weight, but you might end up overdosing on the high amount of caffeine.

How to Make a Cup of Cold Brew

To sample what all the fuss is about, you make your own pot of cold brew at home quite easily.
This method is more about patience rather than effort, and once it’s put on to steep there’s very little else to do. Follow these steps to try out cold brew at home and experience a new way of drinking your morning cup of joe.

  1. Place one full cup of coffee beans into a grinder that’s on the coarsest setting. Pulse or grind for a few seconds but before they resemble a fine powder.
  2. Put the ground coffee beans into a large glass vessel with enough space for your cold brew.
  3. Slowly pour four cups of room temperature filtered water into the glass and then use a wooden spoon to stir them together. Make sure all of the grounds are covered with water.
  4. Cover the glass or jar with a lid or plate to keep it free from contaminants and leave it to steep for at least 12 hours.
  5. Place some cheesecloth or paper towel over a strainer and pour the brewed coffee into a new glass.
  6. Refrigerate for up to a week to enjoy whenever. Add ice, condensed milk, almond milk, or any other ingredients and enjoy as you please.

How to Make the Perfect Iced Coffee

tips for make iced coffee at home
Iced coffee can be enjoyed as a dessert treat or the tastiest way to get your morning coffee.
There’s a lot of variation with how it can be made and depending on the strength you want and the flavors you like, you can create a unique iced coffee every time. Here are the basics on how to make the perfect iced coffee at home.

  1. Make up a sugar syrup first by combining a cup of water and half a cup of water to a saucepan and then heating it slowly and gently until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Make yourself a cup of long black coffee using your preferred method, whether it’s instant coffee, a coffee pod, or an espresso machine. This can be either a single or double cup.
  3. Once the coffee has cooled to room temperature, add in a few ice cubes of the pre-made sugar syrup to your desired sweetness. This stays in the refrigerator for weeks and can be used each day with your iced coffee.
  4. Mix in your favorites like almond milk or skim milk, or simply pour it over ice and enjoy.

Related Questions

Cold brew and iced coffees are two favorites when it comes to caffeinated drinks, but there’s a lot more to them than people realize.
We’ve answered some commonly asked questions on iced coffee and cold brew coffee if you still want more information on what they’re all about.

Does Cold Brew Keep You Awake?

Some people assume that because cold brew is a middle of the day friendly beverage that it won’t keep them up late like regular coffee, however, that is incorrect.
Cold brew features around the same amount of caffeine as a hot cup of coffee and shouldn’t be consumed too close to bedtime otherwise it can cause alertness, irritability, and insomnia.

Is Cold Brew Healthier Than Iced Coffee?

The method for brewing hot coffee and cold brew coffee results in the same number of kilojoules, but some argue that cold brewing retains more antioxidants.
Where the added calories and unhealthy ingredients come into it depends on what’s added to your coffee, so for the healthiest option, it should be served on ice only.

How Many Cups of Coffee a Day Is Healthy?

Caffeine affects everyone differently so it’s difficult to say what amount should be adhered to by everyone.
As a general rule, no more than four cups of coffee should be consumed in 24 hours to stick to safe guidelines, which equates to around 400 milligrams of caffeine. If you experience negative side effects like anxiety or irritability, you should reduce the amount of coffee you have each day.
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