Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee – Which Can Bring A Better Taste?

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What do you think when it comes to cold brew vs iced coffee? Both of them are the most loved beverages with caffeine in the world. Also, we make both of these brews from coffee ground and water, then serve them with ice. Are they different from each other?

The answer, undoubtedly, is YES. Well, the differences lie in their brewing method, taste, caffeine content as well as how long you should store them in the fridge or at room temperature. For more understanding of the differentiation, why don’t we look at the quick comparison first?

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: The Quick Comparison

Simply put, the most obvious similarity between these beverages is the amount of water and ground coffee needed for the brewing process. Despite that, they require different brewing methods to bring out flavors that are not entirely the same.

Below, we list the four typical differentiations: 

  • Iced coffee means precisely how we name it – the coffee mixed with some ice. Also, it comes to the world as the most straightforward caffeinated drink to make. You only need to make hot coffee by a machine and then add ice. On the contrary, cold brew refers to a more complicated process at room temperature. In particular, you can enjoy it hot or with ice cubes
  • The time needed for the two is also different. With the latter, the iced drink takes 5-10 minutes only. In simpler terms, it does not matter to use an old product made yesterday and add ice to have a tasty iced drink to enjoy the following day. By contrast, the cold brew needs more time to get done. The process is likely to take between 12 and 24 hours
  • Cold-brew seems to be more expensive than its counterpart. The higher amount of coffee and water in use typically costs more expenses. Also, a multi-hour process needs more intensive attention from the barista
  • Iced coffee extracts more acidic content than the other. This output will not be friendly to your stomach. Thus, this drink is not a good idea for those who suffer from indigestion

For more detail, it is time to dig deeper into each difference. 

Difference In Brewing Method

Iced Coffee

Of these two brews, this type comes as the faster one. When knowing how to make a hot coffee, you can make this drink much more quickly. It often takes only a few minutes, for sure.

Things to do only include brewing coffee grounds in hot water, as usual, cooling it down, and adding some ice. Instead of waiting for the hot liquid to cool down at room temperature, you can place it in the refrigerator to save time. Plus, the longer you keep the drink hot, the higher its flavor will degrade.  

The drawback of this method is that it dilutes your beverage. Don’t worry too much. You totally can slow the ice-melting in the cup by making an extra-strong brewed drink. It means that you double the ground coffee amount used in the maker. 

Another way for water-down prevention is to use ice cubes made from coffee. After pouring coffee into the ice-cube tray, you freeze it and then use it to make your iced coffee. 

Cold Brew

The making process for this one is not as simple as for its rival in this battle. The most significant difference between these drinks is the brewing time.

It is a common thought that the longer the brewing time, the stronger the drink’s flavor will be. Hence, the ice, in turn, cannot make a dilution. 

After brewing, the barista can serve this caffeinated beverage with some water or milk. The point is to use time rather than heat for extraction, so the drink tends to be bitter than its rival.

For better understanding, the following instruction can help. No special equipment is needed; it requires a bowl or a pitcher only.

  • Step 1: Add approximately 285g of ground coffee into the pitcher. We prefer the coarse ground to the regular type for a more straightforward filtering stage in this step. That said, any type can work
  • Step 2: Pour the water (about 5 cups) into the pitcher and ensure that everything gets wet evenly. For less coffee and water, you can use the ratio of 30g coffee to ½ cup of water as a reference
  • Step 3: Steep the mixture at room temperature from 12 to 24 hours. The longer time helps to extract more caffeinated flavor
  • Step 4: Rinse the pitcher slightly. Then, strain the brewed output through a mesh filter into a bowl. This straining process needs to get done twice
  • Step 5: Pour the drink into a container and place it in the refrigerator. After that, serve it with ice, water, or milk.

Difference In Flavor

The Flavor

In terms of iced coffee, hot water always does a better job of preserving the brighter flavor. However, the trade-off may come when it is cooling down. If that process cannot get done well, it will bring out an unpleasant bitterness.

To put it simply, it contains an acidity that tastes like wine. Hence, it becomes bitter after getting chilled. 

On the other hand, cold brew does not encounter the same story since it focuses on the body and sweetness. It is why you will feel a bit sweeter with a thicker texture when enjoying a cold brew. This taste is thanks to a slow brewing method at a consistent temperature level. 

To sum up, we highly recommend this approach if you cannot prepare fresh beans. For around 20 days after roasting, they probably begin to lose the original flavor. As a solution, cold brew enables baristas to bring them a new life with a better taste.

The Mouthfeel

Not only in the flavor, but these brews also differ in the mouthfeel.

The barista uses a smaller batch with a paper filter to make an iced coffee. These layers, in turn, remove almost all sediments along with oil in coffee grounds. As a consequence, you will have a smoother and lighter-bodied drink.

Meanwhile, cold-brew drinks appear in larger batches with thinner paper filters or cloths. So, you will find some sediments dropping into your cup. Then, they make the cold brew a bit more texture. 

Difference In Caffeine Content

Despite the differences mentioned above, these caffeine-packed beverages are not necessarily different regarding caffeine content. In detail, the amount depends on how much coffee you use for the brewing. Honestly, the recipes can change this content dramatically.

For years, it has been a common thought that cold brew bears a higher level of caffeine content. But the reality goes in the opposite direction.

The baristas can completely control and make the coffee with their desired caffeine level. These caffeinated beverages from one café may contain more caffeine than the same drink from another. 

An Example

Once again, it is unnecessarily the case that cold brew comes with stronger caffeine than its counterpart or vice versa. The key lies in the brewing recipes. When comparing the equal amount of the same coffee drink from different café, you will find out the difference in the story.

Let’s take Starbucks and Dunkin as an example. 

In Dunkin, the caffeine content takes up around 297 mg of a medium-sized iced coffee. By contrast, a cold brew in the same size contains 260 mg of caffeine only. In Starbucks, the caffeine level in an iced coffee and a cold brew is 165 mg and 205mg, respectively. 

Health Benefits Of The Two

In addition to differences, there are also similarities in other contents. And we love the potential perks for health here. 

First of all, in each cup of these brews, there are about three calories along with 118 mg of potassium. According to the US Agriculture Department, this combination plays an essential role in helping nerves function and muscles contract.

These beverages also offer many antioxidants to boost the immune system and your overall health. They will weaken the cell-damaging radicals. 

Another highlight is that roasted coffee contains as many polyphenols as wine and tea. This compound excels in slowing the process of cellular aging and improving your heart health. 

However, the brewing method can somehow affect the antioxidant activity. In detail, a cold brew can enhance the antioxidant activity better than the hot one. 

So we can say that the two both perform well in terms of health perks.

Lifespan Of These Beverages

Iced Coffee

After brewing, the hot drink takes time to cool down slowly. Then, the barista will add some ice to create iced coffee. At that time, the beverage tends to become stale, and the flavor starts to water down. In other words, due to the cooling down process, it will not be as great as its freshly-brewed taste.

This drink typically bears the best flavor within the same day of brewing. But it is still fine if you want to save the beverage for the next two days. In this case, we suggest keeping it in the fridge. 

On the first day of storage, it often starts tasting slightly sour. If the old or low-quality coffee ground is in use, this change will be more distinct. Hence, choosing fresh ones is never a bad idea. 

However, the fact shows that many cafes use old ingredients after days to make the iced drink for more caffeine. Unfortunately, not many people notice the difference in its taste then. 

Cold Brew

You know that cold brew results from a super-high concentration in which more coffee grounds (than the iced counterpart) get extracted in water. Thus, this brewing method allows you to store the beverage in the fridge for a week on average. 

The drink will not stay fresh when that time passes due to bacterial growth. Consequently, its lifespan drops so quickly. 

Also, diluting your cold brew with water or milk will shorten its lifespan. Because of dilution, the drink can last from 2 to 3 days only. 

Which One Should You Choose?

It seems hard to decide the winner in the debate between these caffeinated brews. Generally, the two of them have some perks and drawbacks on their own.

If you always have a coffee aficionado and value its flavor, we suggest giving the cold brew a shot. Cold-brew takes a lot of time and effort to make, but the taste is well worth it. 

Also, if you have problems regarding indigestion, cold brew should be your priority, as we explained above. The cold brew, after the steeping process, tends to become less acidic than the hot brewing stage. As a consequence, it will be much easier to go through the digestive system.  

For those who have to limit their caffeine use, it would be better to choose iced coffee. This drink boasts a lower caffeine content than its counterpart due to its shorter brewing time.

That said, you should drink these fantastic beverages only rather than adding some cream, sugar, or milk as a healthier way of enjoying it. 

Conclusion

Now, you get an answer for the comparison. The two have their own moments in different aspects. And the choice all boils down to your preference.

There are a lot of things to love about cold brew as well as iced coffee. Numerous people find their interest in the former while many others are keen on the latter. Also, lots of drinkers like both. We prefer the cold brew for its deeper flavor.

What is your choice between cold brew vs iced coffee? We are so eager to hear about your favorite. Leave a comment below, and see you in the next post.

Almost 20 years already spent committed to coffee and more than 3 years of experience as a barista at Starbucks. Madelyn Doyle graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutritional Science from the University of California and finished the Coffee Skills Program at the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).