Your Guide to Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee – 3 Key Differences

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Cold brew vs iced coffee - what's the difference?


Cold brew vs iced coffee – what’s the difference? 

Many people don’t know the answer to this question. 

Even worse, many people think they know the answer, but they’re wrong. Sorry to be the one to tell you ;). In fact, arguments over this one question have led to more fist fights in cafes than anything else. 

So to prevent further violence, here’s your answer: 

You brew iced coffee the same way you brew regular hot coffee. You then pour that hot coffee over ice. 

You make cold brew coffee in cold water. 

That’s it – that’s the main difference. 

Not satisfied? Well I’m a coffee nerd so neither was I. 

So I went ahead, scoured the internet, and did some research. 

The rest of this article will dive deeper into the details. There are a few other key differences you might want to know about. So read on…

Cold brew vs iced coffee – the ultimate showdown

Ok let’s state the obvious here. Cold brew and iced coffee are both cold. 

But that’s where the similarities end – they’re more different than they are alike.

Both beverages have a unique taste and different amounts of caffeine. And they’re brewed differently too. 

Here’s a helpful summary:

Cold brew vs iced coffee - what's the difference?

OK let’s start with the first difference – the brewing process.

Cold brew and iced coffee are brewed differently

Iced coffee is brewed hot (like regular coffee), and poured over ice. Simple right? 

Because ice often dilutes the coffee, it’s sometimes brewed at double strength. Or it’s left to cool down first before pouring it over the ice. 

The point to remember is you brew iced coffee the same way as regular coffee. So it’s quick and easy if you want to do it at home – you can use a french press! But be sure to make it extra strong to compensate for the ice water. 

Some coffee aficionados have a problem with iced coffee. Since you’re cooling the coffee down, the iced coffee you’re drinking in a coffee shop may sometimes be the leftover coffee from the day before. This isn’t always the case. And it’ll depend on where you’re drinking it. But it’s something to keep in mind. 

Also, when you brew coffee hot, the heat speeds up the oxidation process. This can contribute to the sometimes unpleasant taste found in iced coffee. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here – we’ll talk about taste in the next section. 

Cold brew is a little more complicated. Instead of brewing regular hot coffee, you steep course grounds in cold water. So it’s actually brewed cold – it’s never heated. The coffee grounds are steeped for 12-24 hours. The grounds are then filtered out. 

To add to the confusion, you can also heat up cold brew coffee.

Since the brewing process is longer the coffee tends to be strong, so it’s fine to have ice in a cold brew. 

Either way, it’s a longer process and not quite as straightforward if you want to make it yourself. But you can brew large batches and keep them refrigerated, so you don’t need to brew as often.

Cold brew and iced coffee taste differently

This is the most important difference – how both coffees taste going down. 

Since iced coffee is brewed hot, it’s usually more acidic and bitter. The heat speeds up the extraction of oils in the coffee. And these oils contribute to that bitter flavor. 

So switching from iced coffee to cold brew can be a good idea. Those who don’t like the acidic bitterness of iced coffee may welcome the change. 

Since cold brew is brewed in cold water, the extraction of oils from the grounds is much slower. So a cold brew will have much less acidity and bitterness compared to iced coffee. In fact, it can taste quite sweet with a smooth texture! 

That said, cold brew will also taste stronger than iced coffee. Why? Because it’s brewed for longer (12-24 hours) so it has more flavor.

Cold brew and iced coffee have different amounts of caffeine

We touched on this above. Cold brew has a stronger taste because it’s brewed for longer. And the longer the brewing process the higher the caffeine content. Of course, you already know this if you’ve read our previous article on caffeine. 

In most cafes cold brew coffee will have higher amounts of caffeine than regular coffees. Now this won’t always be true, as exact caffeine amounts will vary depending on the coffee shop. 

Volume also plays a role in caffeine content. So a larger iced coffee may have more caffeine than a smaller cold brew. But in general, it’s a useful guideline to remember – cold brew will usually have more caffeine.

The health impact of cold brew vs iced coffees

Note: I’m not a doctor so I’m not giving health advice here. The science is also pretty new on most of this, so take the following with a grain of salt. 

But in general, the higher acidity levels of iced coffee mean that it has more of an effect on your gut biome and teeth. Yep, iced coffee is more likely to stain your teeth. Foods with higher acidity break through tooth enamel, resulting in decay. 

Also, an acidic environment in your gut can help certain bacteria to thrive. And this can produce ulcers or stomach upsets. 

This is another reason why people switch to cold brew. It’s much less acidic, meaning it’s easier on your teeth and your gut. Cold brew also has more antioxidants because it’s not heated. The heating process can break down antioxidants, so it has more anti-inflammatory properties when compared with iced coffee. 

But then again, other studies have shown there’s no difference in antioxidant levels between the two

Like I said, the scientific research on this is still in its early stages. So don’t take this as gospel.

To wrap this up…

Cold brew coffee is brewed in cold water for up to 24 hours. It’s less bitter and acidic, but has more caffeine since it’s brewed longer.

Iced coffee is brewed hot like regular coffee and then poured over ice. It’s more acidic due to the heat and has less caffeine. 

Those are the main differences, summarized in the table below:

Cold brew vs iced coffee - what's the difference?

Check out this article for more information on caffeine content. And for an interesting twist on cool coffee, read our article on dirty coffee.

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My name is Colm O’Regan. I’m a self-confessed coffee nut who probably drinks a little too much of the stuff every morning. And I founded Moderno Coffee with the goal of providing the best coffee guides and reviews on the web.