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Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: Yes, They’re Different!

The best kind of coffee is cold coffee.

I don’t know about you, but no matter what the weather is outside, I prefer my coffee over ice.

Don’t get me wrong- hot coffee has its place. When I go out to eat for brunch, I enjoy a nice cup of hot coffee with my meal.

But given the choice, I’m almost always going to go with cold coffee. Why? Allow me to break it down for you…


What’s the difference between cold brew & iced coffee?

If you want to swipe through the differences at a glance, check out this web story I put together.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee

To put it simply: iced coffee is any coffee served over ice.

No matter which brewing method was used initially, as long as it is served over ice, it’s considered iced coffee.

In other words, iced coffee = any coffee served cold.

The difference lies in the actual brewing method. Iced coffee starts out as hot coffee (the way we all know how to brew coffee), and cold brew is actually brewed cold, as the name implies.

To me, the most important difference between ice coffee and cold brew is in the flavor.

When compared directly, cold brew coffee will have very little acidity and bitterness, and the flavor is smoother and a bit sweeter.

When you brew hot coffee, the hot water extracts the oils from the coffee beans, which is where the acidity comes from. Since cold brew is brewed without any hot water, those oils aren’t extracted, and the result is very low in acidity.

If you find that the acidity of hot coffee bothers your stomach, switching to a cold brew may help significantly!


How do you make iced coffee?

Iced coffee with milk

Iced coffee is as simple as pouring regular coffee over ice.

You can use any coffee grounds and any brewing method you prefer. Whether you make a pot of drip coffee in a coffee maker, use a pour-over, a French press, or even instant coffee, it can be served iced!

Making your own iced coffee couldn’t be simpler, but there is one very important tip worth noting.

If you don’t let the coffee cool before pouring over ice, your coffee is going to taste very watered down.

Think about it: if you pour a steaming hot cup of coffee directly over ice, the ice is going to immediately melt. If you brewed the perfect cup of coffee, it’s now going to be very diluted from the melted ice. So, you have two options:

  1. Allow the coffee to fully cool before serving, either by leaving it out or placing in the fridge.
  2. Brew your coffee extra strong knowing that the ice is going to dilute it a bit.

When you order an iced coffee from a coffee shop, there’s a decent chance that the coffee you are getting is actually a day old. Many places will save coffee from the day prior, store it in the fridge, and serve it cold the next day for their iced coffee.

While it’s not fair to assume that all coffee shops do that, it’s certainly not uncommon! If you’re looking for fresh coffee, be sure to keep that in mind.

If you don’t feel like brewing your own, you can also purchase plenty of ready-to-drink iced coffee.


How is cold brew coffee made?

Cold Brew Coffee facts

More than just a fad, cold brew is truly the best coffee in my opinion.

The brewing process for cold brew is simply steeping coarse ground coffee in water for 12-24 hours. The coffee slowly steeps, either at room temperature or in the fridge, which results in a different flavor than hot coffee.

Cold brew is most commonly made as a coffee concentrate. One major benefit of a concentrate is that you can more easily store the cold brew in the fridge without taking up a ton of valuable space.

With a concentrate, you pour it into a cup and then add water or milk, typically at a ratio of 1:2 (coffee concentrate to water).

But, the beauty is that you have full control over how strong the cup is! By starting with a concentrate, you can dilute it perfectly to your taste preferences.


Can you make cold brew at home?

How to make cold brew concentrate

To make things as easy as possible for you, I put together a full guide to making your own cold brew at home which you can read here. Everything from the best type of coffee to use, to my favorite equipment, and everything in between. By the end of that guide, you’ll be a cold brew master.

But, if you don’t feel like reading another post, I’ll give you a quick summary here.

The brewing process for cold brew is actually very simple. While there is special equipment you can buy to make the process easier, you don’t need any special equipment to make a great cold brew at home.

As a coffee lover, I make my own cold brew concentrate often, so here is my own cold brew recipe you can make at home without any special equipment.

  1. Add 10 ounces (about 285g) coarse ground coffee to a pitcher. NOTE: You can use regular ground coffee as well. Coarse coffee will yield the best result and make straining the coffee grounds easier, but any coffee will work.
  2. Add 5 cups of cold water and mix everything up well to ensure all the coffee grounds are wet. If you use less coffee to begin with, just stick with the same ratio: For every ounce of ground coffee, add 1/2 cup of filtered water.
  3. Let steep at room temperature for 16 hours. Steeping the coffee at room temperature actually extracts more flavor and yields a much bolder, stronger coffee, so I prefer that! Also note that anywhere from 12-24 hours should work great, I just prefer 16 hours.
  4. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Rinse the pitcher, pour the coffee back in, then repeat one more time. If your coffee was ground too finely, you may want to use a cheesecloth (or coffee filter) to make sure none of the grounds slip through.
  5. Pour into a mason jar or smaller container (you should get 3 cups of cold brew concentrate), and add to the fridge to enjoy it cold!
  6. When ready to serve, use a 2:1 water to coffee ratio. I pour about 1/3 cup (roughly 2.5oz) of coffee concentrate over ice and then pour 2/3 cup water over that for the perfect cup of cold brew.


Does cold brew or iced coffee have more caffeine?

Generally speaking, cold brew has more caffeine than a typical cup of traditional iced coffee. However, that’s not automatically going to be the case. If you were to compare equal-sized portions from different coffee shops, you’ll find the caffeine content vastly different.

Even just comparing Dunkin and Starbucks gives us a different picture.

At Dunkin, a medium iced coffee will give you 297mg of caffeine, while a medium cold brew has slightly less at 260mg.

At Starbucks, a Grande (medium) iced coffee has only 165mg of caffeine, while the cold brew has 205mg of caffeine.



So, which is stronger?

If you compare the same amount of cold brew to iced coffee, the cold brew is going to have more caffeine. This is because the ratio of coffee to water is so much greater, with iced coffee being more diluted.

That being said, the final product may not actually be stronger. RememberStarbucks vs dunkin caffeine full comparison how we said that most cold brew begins as a concentrate?

This concentrate is VERY high in caffeine, possibly 3x higher than its hot coffee counterpart, but we add water or milk to this concentrate before serving. Based on the amount of liquid added, the strength of that coffee will vary.

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll find a cold brew to be a bit stronger and higher in caffeine. So, if you need that extra boost in the morning, turn to a cold brew.

But with that being said, if you make your own at home, you can whip up a batch of Decaf Cold Brew! I do this all the time (click here for my instructions) and mix it with regular cold brew coffee to make my own half-caff version.


Why is cold brew more expensive than iced coffee?

Nitro cold brew

The cost of cold brew may be off-putting to you. Why pay $5 for a cup of cold brew when you can get regular hot coffee for $2?

Hot coffee can be brewed up in minutes, taking very little time and effort- not to mention, it does not require a lot of beans to make a cup of coffee.

Cold brew, on the other hand, requires significantly more beans to produce and takes 12-24 hours to brew.

The combination of time, labor, and coffee beans make cold brew a bit pricier (but in my opinion, absolutely worth it). In that case, it makes sense why cold brew is more expensive, but why in the world is iced coffee more expensive than regular brewed coffee? I mean, it’s just hot brew poured over ice, right?

That’s the million-dollar question.

Iced coffee is a scam.

There, I said it.

It’s just one of those unfair things in life we have the accept.

Theoretically, iced coffee should be cheaper than hot coffee… once you add ice, you’re not only diluting the coffee, but getting less coffee per cup vs hot coffee.

Life hack: If the iced coffee is significantly more expensive, order a regular coffee and ask for ice on the side. Once you let the coffee cool for a few minutes, you can pour it over the ice and have yourself some cheaper iced coffee!


Which lasts longer, cold brew or iced coffee?

Cold brew mason jar

Cold brew keeps very well in the fridge and will taste great for up to 2 weeks. Plus, if you make it as a concentrate, it’s a great space-saver in the fridge.

Iced coffee will generally taste the best within the same day it was brewed, but you can save it for a day or two in the fridge.

After the first day, you may find that it starts tasting a bit sour. If you’ve ever made yourself a batch of cheap (or old) coffee grounds, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Many coffee shops will use day-old coffee for their iced coffee, and you won’t notice too much of a difference in that case. Any more than a day, however, and you’ll really be pushing your luck.

If you want to be able to have coffee throughout the week(s) with minimal effort, a simple batch of cold brew is what you’ll need.


Can cold brew or iced coffee be served hot?

Hot coffee

This is a little “trick” that many people are not aware of: cold brew coffee can be heated up!

The name “cold brew” simply refers to the brewing method, but it doesn’t mean it necessarily needs to be served cold.

If you take the cup of cold brewed coffee (not the concentrate) and heat it up in the microwave or on the stovetop, you’ll have the smoothest cup of hot coffee you’ve ever tasted!

If the acidity of coffee bothers you, but you’re in the mood for a hot cup of coffee, heat up some cold brew for a smooth cup of coffee that is virtually acid-free. This is actually my favorite way to drink hot coffee.

As far as iced coffee is concerned, of course, it can be served hot!

However, that’s basically just reversing the whole reason it was iced in the first place. Since iced coffee is quite literally just brewed coffee added to ice, skip that extra step and order yourself some delicious hot coffee instead.


What’s the difference between cold brew and nitro cold brew?

Nitro cold brew comparison

We can’t talk about cold brew without mentioning my good friend, nitro cold brew.

Nitro cold brew is cold brew coffee that is infused with nitrogen. You’ll find it served out of a tap, similar to a beer. When you infuse coffee with tiny nitrogen bubbles, the result is an even smoother, sweeter cup of cold brew.

The nitrogen also creates that beautiful cascading effect and foam, so if you’re into a nice aesthetic, you’re going to love it.

Nitro cold brew won’t be served over ice- if it was, you’d lose that cascading effect. Don’t worry, the nitrogen keeps the drink plenty cold.

Since there is no ice, the coffee is going to be even stronger than if you ordered the same size of cold brew (since the total volume of coffee will be higher). Because of this, most places will only have one size option for nitro, and you won’t be ordering a gigantic cup of straight nitro coffee.

Keep in mind that nitro is going to be the most expensive option on the menu. Since cold brew is already pricey, infusing it with nitro and adding that extra step is only going to bump up the price even more.

While it may be too expensive to enjoy this specialty coffee daily, I highly recommend giving it a try to taste your tastebuds for a ride!

With nitro, you likely won’t even need to add any sweetener, because it’s wonderfully sweetened on its own.

Dive into my full breakdown of nitro cold brew, and make your own nitro at home with my nitro cold brew recipe.

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About Matt Rosenman

With over 15 years of experience in health and fitness, Matt Rosenman is the expert voice behind Matt’s philosophy is simple: no foods are off-limits, and a healthy lifestyle shouldn't be complicated or restrictive. As a former certified personal trainer with a bachelor’s degree in Health Behavioral Sciences, Matt brings well-rounded expertise to his blog. From revamping classic recipes with a nutritious twist to breaking down fast food menus, his goal is make healthy living less confusing for everyone. Featured in major publications and with a strong following on social media, Matt is committed to making “healthy” uncomplicated—no matter where you are in your health journey. Join Matt on his mission to simplify health without sacrificing flavor. Learn More