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Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: 6 Key Differences

While they sound similar, cold brew and iced coffee are brewed differently. And have distinct flavor notes and caffeine levels. Here are the differences between cold brew vs iced coffee.

Cold brew is a slow, cold-water extraction process. The flavor is sweeter and less acidic than traditional coffee. Iced coffee is regular coffee poured over ice cubes. Both drinks have their fans. But they differ in many ways, including shelf life, caffeine levels, flavor, and brew time.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: 6 Differences

Here are the key differences between cold brew and iced coffee.

In the following comparison, the first metric is cold brew and the second is iced coffee.

  1. Brew Time: 12+ hours vs 5 minutes
  2. Water Temperature: Cold water vs almost boiling
  3. Flavor: Cold brew is less bitter and noticeably sweeter than traditionally brewed coffee.
  4. Caffeine: Similar caffeine levels. Actual levels depend on the beans used and the brew method of iced coffee. More on the dilution of cold brew coffee below.
  5. Shelf Life: Cold brew lasts up to 2 weeks, iced coffee should be consumed the same day it is brewed. Does anyone like reheated coffee?
  6. Drink Experience: Cold brew is rich and delicious while iced coffee dilutes as the ice cubes melt. The first half of the drink will be better than the second half.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee Caffeine Levels

Cold brew coffee is brewed as a concentrate and almost always diluted.

And because cold brew is usually diluted 50/50 with water, and often with milk/cream, it usually contains less caffeine than a regular cup of hot-brewed coffee.

What is Cold Brew?

Cold brew is a method of brewing coffee that doesn’t involve hot water. Most coffee brewing methods involve extraction by hot water.

But the entire cold brew process uses just cold water. Cold brew coffee can be made in the fridge or even on the counter.

Cold brew basically steeps coffee grounds in cold water. The lower temperature extraction means that the coffee has lower acid levels, has sweeter flavor notes, and often has less caffeine.

Brew time ranges from 12 to 24 hours.

Here’s more about how cold brew coffee is made.

What is Iced Coffee?

Typical iced coffee is just regular coffee served on ice.

Iced coffee can be made in any method, but is often made by a standard coffee shop drip coffee maker.

The water temperature when brewing iced coffee is almost boiling. The ideal temperature is 195°F (91°C) to 205 °F (96 °C).

Iced Coffee Drawback

Because iced coffee is just hot coffee poured over ice, the flavor dilutes dramatically as the coffee melts the ice. So much so that it will probably become undrinkable.

There are ways around this, like freezing coffee in ice trays. Then you can pour hot coffee over frozen coffee cubes, avoiding the dilution problem.

Some coffee shops get around this by adding excessive amounts of sugar syrup and flavoring.

Here’s more about how to make iced coffee.

coffee ice cubes
Coffee ice cubes

Is cold brew the best way to make iced coffee?

For a lot of coffee lovers, the answer is “yes” because it reduces the bitter taste that can be produced when making iced coffee from hot coffee.

And I like it because it’s already cold, so it stays colder longer when it’s poured over ice.

Iced Coffee vs Cold Brew Coffee

Why might cold brew be a better way to make iced coffee?

Let’s break it down:

  • Iced coffee is brewed with hot water (that hot coffee is then cooled over ice) which means more of the oils and acidic flavors are released, this can result in a bitter taste.
  • Cold brew coffee is brewed with cold water so that does not happen because the oils and acids are not as soluble in cold water. The sweet compounds in coffee are soluble in cold water so cold brewing results in a smooth/mellow flavor.
  • Cold brew can also be easier on people with a sensitive stomach, and because its brewing process brings out the sweet flavors – better for people who are trying to cut down on sugar.

If you want to make your iced coffee from cold brew coffee you’ll need to plan ahead.

This is because it’s best to let it brew for 12 to 24 hours before you use it, or you won’t get the benefits of the mellow flavor.

iced coffee vs cold brew coffee

Your Turn

Which drink do you prefer? Cold brew vs iced coffee? For me, cold brew coffee is my favorite. But a good iced coffee on a hot day is always welcome.