Whether you prefer iced coffee vs cold brew is a matter of taste, and perhaps the amount of time and money you want to spend to get that allusive perfect cup. But iced coffee is not the same as cold brew, and there are important distinctions between the two. In the last few years, coffee freaks have been going mad about cold brew and you can find it being served in many quality cafes. As the names imply, both cold brew coffee and iced coffee are served cold, but that’s the only thing they have in common. Iced coffee is not a brewing method; it is a way of serving coffee. On the other hand, cold brew is a relatively new coffee brewing method, and that’s why it is winning so much attention. Which one is better? The short answer is it depends. This post will help you understand the key differences between iced coffee and cold brew and you can decide for yourself which one is better. It will come down to the taste in the cup.

What is iced coffee?

Iced coffee is hot coffee that has been left to cool. In other words, you brew the coffee as you normally would and leave it to cool. The coffee is served over ice, making it a refreshing summer drink. If you want a coffee you don't have to wait for, then you can brew the coffee over ice, but the taste is inferior. Good iced coffee will retain the flavors from the method of brewing, as long as it doesn't oxidize too much. Because sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold liquid, it must be added to the hot brew or added as syrup to the cold coffee. When hot coffee is left to cool, the level of bitterness is increased, so a bit of sugar goes a long way to improve the taste.

What is cold brew?

Regular hot coffee is brewed with water just below boiling point, but cold brew is made by exposing the grounds to room temperature water. Unlike hot coffee brewing, cold brew takes much longer because of the cold water temperature. The long-brewing time results in a concentrated coffee that is diluted before serving. Because cold brew is a concentrate, a batch goes a lot further and can be diluted to a level you enjoy.  There are many different ways to make cold brew, we’ll focus on the simplest way; steeping coffee at room temperature. Emma Chamberlain has a great article showing you how to make cold brew. Cold brew has an extraction time of anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.

All coffee brewing begins with using the right quality beans. Cold brew is no different! But, finding the right roast level is key. The longer extraction time of cold brew diminishes complexity so a light roast doesn’t work well for this brewing method and produces a muddy taste. Most home brewers like a medium-dark or dark roast for cold brew because these beans create a rich, smooth coffee, with lower bitterness than coffee brewed using hot water.

What about steeped coffee bags?

Steeped coffee bags are maybe the easiest way to make cold brew at home. They look a bit like the regular single serve tea bags, but they contain very finely ground coffee beans. Steeped bags can both be used to brew hot coffee and cold brew. In order to make a cold brew with steeped bags, you pour water in a mug, with steeped bags. then all you have to do is to store the mug in the fridge and let it sit 6-12 hours or overnight. During the time in the fridge, the coffee will slowly extract and after 12 hours you will be left with a perfectly brewed cold brew.

Does cold brew have more caffeine than iced coffee?

Sorry, but this is another question that is hard to answer, and it depends on who you talk to. Traditional hot brewing has a shorter brewing time than cold brew. Some people believe faster extraction time exposes fewer solids, resulting in a lower caffeine level. The argument that cold brew has less caffeine is based on the number of variables available. With cold brew, you can control the coffee ratio, water temperature, extraction time, and the degree of dilution when serving. More flexibility leads to greater control over caffeine levels. So, is there more caffeine in a cold brew? It depends on how you do it.

Does cold brew have less acidity than iced coffee?

Remember, iced coffee is hot brewed coffee cooled and served on ice. It follows then that iced coffee has the same acidity level as regular coffee. Cold brew, on the other hand, is sixty-seven percent less acidic according to a Toddy study. Most of us drink coffee on an empty stomach, and the higher acidity of hot brewed coffee is hard on the stomach lining. This is why some people opt for cold brewing where more fatty acids are broken down to create a less acidic brew.

Is there a flavor difference between iced coffee and cold brew?

Absolutely. depending on the length of extraction, the coffee can be full of complex nuances. Cold brew, with its long extraction rate at cooler temperatures, mutes the complexity of the beans and creates a mild, smooth coffee. There are plenty of variables to play with, so play around and find the best flavors for you. Cold brew creates a less bitter and smooth coffee than other brewing methods make it easy to drink it black if you want to avoid milk and sugar.

Does it cost more to make cold brew?

No. If you make your cold brew by simple emersion in a jar, there is no more cost than to make coffee in a French press. You can buy special equipment to make cold brews such as the Toddy Cold Brew System, or the Osaka Mount Fuji Cold Brew Dripper. Those are only two systems, and there are plenty more. You ought to try making cold brew using the simplest method, see how you like it, and then decide how you want to continue cold brewing. There is another advantage to cold brew, you don’t need to spend money on expensive beans. A quality blend is sufficient for cold brew. Because cold brew is a concentrate, a batch will make more cups of coffee, saving you money despite the effort. Cold brew does require twice as much ground coffee as traditional brewing, but cold brew is a concentrate so this makes no real impact on cost.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: What should you drink?

It all comes down to taste. Iced coffee does retain the flavor profile of the beans, and you sure get a cup of coffee much faster. If you want more ice in the cup, that’s no problem at all. Also, you can play around with brewing methods producing different results.

It will be a day or two before you can enjoy a cup of cold brew. The flavor will be milder than iced coffee, but the taste will be smooth and rich. The flavor of cold brew may take longer to get used to, but once you’re hooked, you’ll be drinking it every day.

Which one is better? Who cares? There is no reason to raise the battle cold brew vs iced coffee. Good coffee shops will serve both, and both have their place in the coffee brewing repertoire. Cold brew is fun to make, and well worth the extra effort. The most wonderful thing about iced coffee and cold brew is they make the world’s favorite drink – coffee!