During the warm weather months, many coffee lovers make the switch to cold coffee varieties to help beat the heat. For years, old fashioned iced coffee was the only game in town for getting a cold cup of joe. Recently, however, cold brew has arrived on the scene and has taken over as the preferred choice among many coffee die-hards.
In the old days, coffee was brewed hot. There was no other way to brew coffee. Today, cold brew coffee is brewed and prepared cold—it’s never heated and contains no melted ice cubes. Since there’s no melted ice in the cup, there’s no diluted flavor.
What, exactly, is the difference between iced coffee and cold brew coffee?
In this guide, we’ll walk through their individual differences, their benefits, and how to prepare both. This way, you’ll never be confused about which warm weather beverage is right for you.
Iced coffee: hot water brewing method
Cold brew and traditional iced coffee are brewed using different techniques and taste differently as well. At their core, both varieties are the same—they’re coffee, served with ice. However, the differences in brewing methods make them utterly distinct from each other.
There are two ways to prepare iced coffee. Both techniques involve brewing hot coffee exactly as one usually would for a steaming cup of java. Consequently, the drinker enjoys the full range of flavors typical of regular hot coffee.
Brewed Over Ice
A good cup of iced coffee uses near-boiling hot water to brew the coffee directly over a bowl or pot of ice. This way, the coffee is immediately chilled. As a result, the full aroma of the coffee retains within the mug via a rapid cooling process. The contained aromas result in a full-bodied taste that is reminiscent of a hot cup of coffee.
Iced coffee brewed directly over ice is the preferred brewing method for most iced coffee lovers. This technique generates a more acidic and crisper taste. When brewed using a pour-over cone or Aeropress, the beverage is usually called a “Japanese Iced Coffee.” This beverage style only takes three or four minutes to prepare.
We recommend the “Japanese” iced coffee brewing technique if you want a stronger, richer, and more refreshing cup of iced coffee. It’s no surprise that most cafes and coffeehouses brew their iced coffee this way.
Cooled Ice Coffee
The older method of brewing iced coffee is a far simpler process. This technique involves brewing a large batch of piping hot coffee, letting it cool for several hours, and then chilling it in the refrigerator.
While the hot coffee chills in the fridge, many of the brew’s natural aromas and flavonoids escape into the air. Consequently, the coffee lacks much of the full-bodied flavor that a good cup of coffee should have. Instead, you end up sipping on a stale beverage served over ice with minimal sweetness and a strange level of acidity.
Typically, fast food restaurants will serve iced coffee prepared in this way because they can save money by saving their old, expired hot coffee.
Cold Brew: Cold Water Brewing Method
Cold brewing techniques produce a vastly different kind of beverage. The downside, however, is that the process takes up to 12 hours for full extraction. Therefore, you won’t often see fast food restaurants prepare cold brew coffee—it just takes too long, and costs too much to make.
When coffee beans immerse in cold water, less acid and caffeine is pulled out. Usually, cold brew contains about one-third as much caffeinated and acidity as hot coffee or iced coffee.
Cold brew coffee brewed in this style usually has a smoother and more refreshing taste than iced coffee and makes a batch that can be enjoyed after storage in the fridge for up to two weeks. Its longevity is one of its key selling points since you can “brew it and forget it” for a couple of weeks before you drink it.
Brewing Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brewing does not use heated water. Instead, coarse coffee grounds steep in water kept at room temperature or colder for 24 hours or more. The colder the temperature of the water, and the longer the beans steep, the stronger the cup of coffee.
Since cold brew doesn’t touch hot water, it produces a less acidic cup of coffee. For some, this may make cold brew the preferred option if you have an irritable digestive system or highly sensitive teeth.
The coarse coffee grounds must be filtered out of the cold brew batch once it is finished steeping. Of course, cold brew uses time and not heat to extract flavor and aroma from the coffee beans—this results in a flavor palette that resembles that of hot coffee.
Key Steps for Making the Perfect Cold Brew
Brewing the perfect batch of cold brew is more of an art than a science. It may take a couple of attempts to nail down a rich, full-bodied batch of cold brew, but the payoff is well worth the time it takes. Below, we’ve listed a few of the most important considerations you must keep in mind when whipping up a batch of cold brew.
- Keep It Coarse: Unlike regular coffee, cold brew must brew with medium-to-coarse ground beans. The coarser the beans, the less bitter the brew will become as it steeps.
- Strain It Slowly: Using cheesecloth and a strainer, patiently strain the grounds from the batch of cold brew. Be mindful not to squeeze the coffee grounds while you strain, otherwise you may lose some of the flavors in the beans.
- Watch The Ratio: A typical batch of cold brew uses one ounce of ground coffee per cup of water, which is about double the ratio of coffee to water used in a batch of hot brew.
Which One Is Healthier?
There is no definitive answer. However, both coffee varieties enjoy the many health benefits associated with brewed coffee. For instance, it is well-founded that coffee consumption can reduce one’s risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, gout, uterine cancer, and heart disease.
Coffee, whether iced or cold brewed, is a wellspring of antioxidants. As you age, cell damage occurs in the body and can result in disease. Oxidation, resulting in cellular damage, is accelerated by exposure to cigarette smoke or air pollution. That’s why the antioxidant-rich foods and drinks like coffee are great for the body—it reverses this harmful oxidation process.
In other words, coffee provides the body with a natural defense against natural degradation. You can think of both iced coffee and cold brew coffee as a shield against toxins in the body.
Sweeten the Deal
Since both iced coffee and cold brew are naturally acidic, try using sugar or a natural sweetener to help mellow out the taste. Cold brew contains more chocolaty flavor notes, while iced coffee tends toward caramel flavors. For this reason, cold brew pairs better with milk and iced coffee with full-fat cream. Try adding a splash to your next delicious cold cup of joe.