Iced Coffee and Cold Brew: What’s the Difference?

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I wasn’t always the coffee-consuming maniac that I am today. In fact, I worked at Starbucks when I was 19 and didn’t even like coffee when I first started. While the job only lasted a couple years, I did get both a deep love of coffee and a husband out of it, so we’ll call it a win. But a decade ago “cold brew” wasn’t even in our barista vocabulary. So that made me wonder, what’s the difference between iced coffee and cold brew, and why does it matter?

The biggest difference is in the brewing method. Cold brew is (surprise!) brewed with cold water while iced coffee is brewed like you would any other pot of coffee. So is that the only difference? Far from it.

Iced Coffee

The basics of regular iced coffee is brewing it hot then pouring it over ice. Did you spot the problem with this method? Pouring your delicious, hot coffee over ice will dilute the brew. This makes for a weak cup of coffee, so iced coffee is usually brewed at double strength before it’s cooled. Alternatively, make some coffee ice cubes and pour your iced coffee over that. It’s delicious, easy, and doesn’t turn your iced coffee into a watery mess.

Making iced coffee is pretty quick and can be done in less than 10 minutes. Since it’s brewed like you would for any other type of coffee, you can generally expect the same full flavors and bitter taste as a regular cup.

Cold Brew

If you want to make a cup of cold brew, it’s going to take more time and effort. You’re looking at a 12-hour wait if cold brew is your thing. Coarsely-ground coffee beans are steeped in cold water for 12 hours (or longer) to produce this style of coffee, and since it’s already cold, you won’t have to dilute anything.

Cold brew tends to be less bitter and acidic than iced coffee. So if you love coffee but aren’t in love with the bitterness, cold brew might be a better choice for you.

What about the caffeine?

Cold brew works by drawing the flavor and caffeine out over time, hence the long brewing time. However, the cold water doesn’t work quite as well to draw out the caffeine, so you get a smoother cup of coffee but without the same caffeine punch.

Do you rely on coffee for the caffeine boost that gets you through the day? Then you might want to stick with iced coffee.

Coffee is so much more than just a beverage, it’s a lifestyle. While I no longer brew a nightly pot of coffee (I sleep much better now, thank you) I’m still pounding cups of coffee all. Day. Long. And now that the weather is warming up where I live, it’s time for iced coffee and the occasional cold brew. So now that you know the difference between iced coffee and cold brew, trying brewing them yourself and see which you like best.

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