No, us neither.
It seems like in 2020, our favorite drink became an officially cold beverage thanks to the sharp rise of iced coffee and now that summer is approaching, it’s highly likely only more people are going to jump on the bandwagon.
Popularised by recipes such as Starbucks frappuccino, adding some chill to your morning mocha is now an accepted quirk and it’s fair to say that some drinkers have never gone back to warm ways, solidifying themselves firmly in the cold crew camp.
For those of you not so au fait with the workings of colder coffee, you’ve probably overheard or read the term ‘cold brew’ being used from time to time and will have understandably assumed it to be an alternative moniker for our iced coffee obsession.
However, as it turns out, our love for frostier flavors has actually spawned several methods of preparation, with cold brew coffee being an entirely different beast from an iced recipe, producing a whole new taste experience.
But what exactly is the difference between cold brew and iced coffee?
And more importantly, which one is most likely to become your caffeine craving for the summer?
What Is Iced Coffee?
We’d never want to insult your intelligence and so forgive us when we tell you that all that’s required of an iced coffee is your java and some ice cubes.
In essence, this is why it’s become an institution of the coffee culture in recent years because it’s creation is simple and so anyone can try it.
To partake, make your standard pot of hot coffee and then pour over a tall glass of ice cubes.
For the drink to fully change temperature, you’ll probably also want to wait for around 15 minutes.
Fast, flavorsome, and frozen, it’s an unsurprisingly tasty treat that offers itself up to numerous coffee recipes by just adding ice.
So why on earth is cold brew coffee even bothering to come for its crown?
What is Cold Brew Coffee?
Rather than being just a synonym for a chilly drink, cold brew is actually a literal term that refers to the unusual and unique brewing method of unlocking coffee flavor without classic hot water extraction.
Unfortunately, there are no prizes for guessing that this form of glacial java instead utilizes a cold/ room temperature water extraction method, made from slowly steeping coffee and water for 16 to 24 hours before placing it in the fridge.
This can only be properly achieved by using a specialist cold brew coffee maker or a French Press, which will produce a beverage that brings out the natural flavor of the beans whilst boasting a naturally colder temperature.
In short, it’s a much more authentic way to enjoy the iced coffee experience.
But the real question is… Is it a better way?
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Which is Better?
Ultimately, which drink is the best choice for you comes down to what criteria you believe to be most important when weighing up the options.
Does flavor conquer all? Or do you have a busy lifestyle that needs fast fixes and quick results?
To outline the pros and cons of both beverages, we’ve pitted them off against each other in several key categories in order to determine the true champion of chilly java!
Assuming you own a freezer, iced coffee is hands down a more cost-effective way to get yourself a cool caffeine fix.
Although cold brew coffee makers are a lot cheaper than standard coffee machines, even a good quality cheap model will probably set you back around £45, with the very best in the business selling for as much as £150 or more!
It is possible to make cold brew with something like a French Press, but again, it’s going to cost you some bob!
Winner: Iced Coffee
Brewing a standard hot coffee can be tedious at the best of times, but at least it never takes longer than a few minutes.
With iced coffee, the waiting game is roughly the same, simply adding a couple of minutes after pouring to allow the ice cubes to effectively alter the temperature of your drink.
The same can’t be said for cold brew.
In order for them to successfully extract all the flavor from the beans, cold brew coffee makers can take a thumb-twiddling 24 hours to produce a drinkable result.
This means you will always have to prepare your cold brew in advance and there’s no chance of ever whipping yourself up a spontaneous cold caffeine fix.
Winner: Iced Coffee
All you big brains out there will be all too aware that ice eventually has to melt when not kept in frostier conditions.
Therefore, if you don’t drink an iced coffee quickly, you’ll soon find it dilutes and makes for a watery, spoilt coffee that won’t stay fresh.
Cold brew on the other hand has been naturally made to excel in flavor at cooler temperatures and so can be kept in your fridge for up to 2 weeks before it begins to spoil!
Winner: Cold Brew
Admittedly, this category is a bit trickier to quantify as flavor tends to be a very subjective matter.
However, as far as we’re concerned, there is only one winner.
As iced coffee is originally brewed hot, its taste is the same as what you’d expect from a standard coffee and it’s generally more bitter and acidic in flavor with a medium, well-balanced body.
Conversely, cold brew harbors a completely different sensation for your tastebuds, the brewing process creating a fuller-bodied and smoother liquid.
It’s also naturally sweeter and less acidic in taste with many drinkers commonly describing a kind of chocolatey tang.
Considering iced coffee can often become diluted and watery after several minutes, we think cold brew manages to edge this one, but we do realize that for some coffee connoisseurs, bitter is better.
Winner: Cold Brew
It’s easy to forget that for many of us, the entire reason we drink coffee is to get a much-needed caffeine fix, keeping us more alert and awake on those groggy Monday mornings.
Therefore, it’s sometimes wise to go for a coffee method that is going to provide you with the most caffeine!
Cold brewing gives you a prolonged slow release of caffeine throughout the day rather than the quick-fix energy shot offered by hot/iced coffee, meaning less caffeine crashes towards the end of the day.
It’s also a lot stronger than the standard cup of joe despite having a more mellow flavor, as the coffee grounds to water ratio is so much lower, making it 60% stronger than normal coffee.
This means a little goes a long way and so if you like a strong dose of caffeine, you no longer have to use a ridiculous amount of grounds in every cup if you turn to the cold brew method!
Winner: Cold Brew
Coffee Side Effects
Unfortunately for some unlucky coffee cravers, their favorite beverage doesn’t always seem to agree with them.
Coffee has long been a cause of digestive debacles and stomach issues due to its acidic quantities, which tend to irritate sufferers of reflux and heartburn.
However, cold brew coffee may well be the solution for sensitive stomach coffee lovers who still want to enjoy the positive benefits of java.
This is because cold brew coffee is naturally less acidic than standard brews as, without higher temperatures, the acids in coffee are not soluble.
In short, those who often struggle with hot coffee can drink cold brew without any nasty heartburn side effects.
As iced coffee is initially extracted with hot water, it will unfortunately not boast the same properties.
Winner: Cold Brew
As you can see from our analysis, cold brew coffee came out as our winner 4 to 2, but with taste being pretty subjective, it could have easily ended in a draw.
As previously mentioned, which option is best for you probably depends on your palate and lifestyle more than anything.
For always on the move, busy workaholics who need coffee fast and never like paying over the odds – iced coffee is undoubtedly your best bet.
However, if you’re someone who values flavor and is a perfectionist when it comes to brewing, you can probably put aside cold coffee’s negative time constraint issues and simply relish in your sweet, long-lasting, super-caffeinated beverage.
Cold Brew vs. Hot Coffee: The Science
When reading the comparison above, it’s understandable if you were slightly baffled by just how much a difference in brewing methods can affect the strength and taste of a coffee.
We know we certainly were!
But just why exactly does this small change in temperature cause such significant amounts of change in our drink?
Well, let us explain.
For the average joe, making a standard coffee is a fairly simple process that either involves adding hot water to instant coffee, or even more easily just pressing a few buttons on a machine.
But if you take your coffee a little more seriously, you’ll know that to get a truly corking cuppa, time and temperature are everything when it comes to brewing.
Hot coffee (which you may then turn into iced) relies entirely on temperature to extract flavor and qualities from your grounds.
The heat of boiling water causes the compounds to release rapidly, meaning your drink is brewed in just minutes.
However, this heat also causes natural oils and acids within coffee to degrade faster, potentially giving your beverage a bitter and acidic flavor.
This means you have to be careful when dosing your coffee, as a higher ratio of grounds to water is going to equate to a seriously bitter coffee, hence why if you over extract an espresso shot by well over 30 seconds, it tastes pretty poor.
Now let’s talk about cold brewing.
Cold water is nowhere near as effective at breaking down coffee compounds, although it can do it, it just needs lots of time.
By sacrificing the speed of extraction, the coffee infuses with the water in a different way and breaks down different properties.
While many of the sweet chemical compounds found in coffee are soluble in water, other chemical compounds which provide bitterness can’t be broken down without heat.
This means cold brewing extracts sweeter more agreeable flavors only, giving it a smoother and mellower taste.
It also ensures that you can get a seriously strong coffee without it actually tasting more offensive, as the coffee ground-to-water ratio for cold brews is naturally higher.
How To Make Cold Brew Coffee
Okay let’s not play coy here, we both know that now you’ve read all the nitty and gritty that separates the two types of chilled coffee, you’re absolutely hankering for a refreshing cold brew.
And the good news is, despite how long it takes, it really isn’t difficult to rustle up with the right equipment and can even be attempted without the proper tools if you’re not willing to splash out!
Here’s how to whip up your very own frosty affair:
What You’ll Need
1 cup of coffee beans (Use a coarse grind, NOT medium or fine)
5 cups of water (filtered water optional)
1 jar/ large container
1 sieve/coffee filter/cheesecloth
1 cold brew coffee maker/french press (our recommendation for best results)
Step By Step Guide
- Using a measuring jug, work out how much coffee and water you need so it is in the ratio of 1:5, one part coffee to five parts water.
- Once you know the measurements, grind your coffee into a coarse consistency and then add to your water in a large container or brewer and then stir.
- Now it’s the easy but boring bit, where you simply need to let this mixture steep in your fridge for 16 – 24 hours. It’s also fine to steep at room temperature if you don’t have the space.
- Once suitably steeped, the leftover grounds need to be filtered out. If using a French press or brewer, you can do this by simply following their filter function. However, if using no equipment, you’ll need to do it yourself with a cheesecloth or paper filter and begin filtering in the style of drip coffee.
- Once filtered, place your mixture in the fridge to keep cool, it will last you up to two weeks!
- To serve, add milk or water at a ratio of 1:1 to help dilute the strength and then add ice cubes to maintain a chilly temperature!
Dan is a former competition barista and has been honing his knowledge of coffee for over two decades.
He has worked in coffee farms in Peru, as well as roasters in Australia. He now trains new baristas and hosts cupping experiences in Austin.