Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: What’s The Difference?

By Robert Parsons June 17, 2021

If you are a cold coffee drinker, chances are you’ve already experimented with cold brew or iced coffee beverages. If you haven’t tried them both, you may be curious to learn the difference between them. After all, they are both cool and caffeinated pick-me-ups made with ice.

However, while both beverages may appear to be similar, they are quite different. When you get into the nitty-gritty, you will realize they differ in brewing method, taste, and the way they’re served.

If you think cold brew and iced coffee are interchangeable terms, think again! Keep reading to get the full scoop on cold brew vs iced coffee.

What is Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is exactly what it sounds like – coffee that is cold. It is made using heat (the same way you’d make a hot cup). The difference is that instead of drinking it instantly, you need to let your brew cool down. Then, pour it over ice, add any syrup flavorings to sweeten, and enjoy! How does it taste? Well, it tastes just like coffee except much more refreshing!

The Good  

If you are on a time crunch, iced coffee is the way to go. Just brew your java like you normally would, let it cool, and pour it over ice. If you wish to sweeten it, add some vanilla, hazelnut, or caramel syrup. You can also get sugar in syrup form. Some people do not like the feeling of sugar particles in their mouths. Our best advice is to get the syrup form or add the sugar while your brew is still hot!

The Bad

Iced coffee uses hot water to extract the flavor from the grounds. This means that your cup will taste just as acidic as if you were drinking it hot. You may even feel like the acidity is stronger in iced coffee. It just feels this way because the coffee is ice cold. However, the acidity is the same.

If you’re someone with a sensitive stomach, you may not be a huge fan of iced coffee. Cold brew – which we’ll get to next – offers very low acidity making it a better option for those that want to avoid acid reflux at all costs.

Moreover, the method of making iced coffee dilutes the flavor because you’re brewing it using hot water. Then, once the ice starts to melt, your coffee starts to taste watered down. An easy tip for this is to make your brew extra strong or make caffeinated ice cubes! How? Simply brew coffee, let it cool, and pour your drink into an ice tray. Freeze them and use them in your next cup of joe.

What is Cold Brew?

Cold brew coffee is made with cold water. This alone offers a completely different experience than brewing your java using hot water.

Coldwater doesn’t use heat, which means it doesn’t extract the goodness from grounds as quickly. The process of making cold brew coffee takes 12+ hours. It uses medium to coarse grounds that are steeped in cold water for hours. Those who enjoy stronger brews let it steep for longer.

After the steeping process, you’ll need to filter out the grounds to get a cup without sediment. Since cold brew is naturally stronger, serving it with ice is perfectly fine. After you’re done steeping your coffee, the grounds need to be filtered out. This will leave you with a concentrate that can be mixed with water or milk and poured over ice.

The Good

This method is always brewed cold – NEVER requiring any heat. This alone offers several benefits. One of our favorite benefits is that this method doesn’t eliminate caffeine as much as hot brewing does. This affects flavor quite a bit. You’ll have bolder coffee that’s less bitter and less acidic.

If coffee stimulates acid reflux for you, consider cold brew. It’s less acidic than iced coffee and much stronger. The concentrate produced is twice as caffeinated as regular java. It also tastes less bitter and more chocolatey than traditional coffee.

The Bad

The biggest disadvantage is the time cold brew takes. You’re looking at least 12 hours. Also, you won’t get the aroma that hot java brings. For many, this is an important part of the coffee-making and drinking experience.

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Which is Better?

The biggest difference between iced coffee and cold brew is that your cold brew will never be exposed to heat. It uses time rather than heat to extract the flavors and caffeine. In return, cold brew offers a smoother, less acidic flavor when compared to regularly brewed cups. 

If you’re someone who is always on the go, you may enjoy iced coffee better since it’s the quicker alternative. Just remember that you technically could store cold brew in your refrigerator for days. While you finish the brew in your fridge, get some more steeping.

Cold-brew vs iced coffee – they both have their unique benefits and disadvantages. We know you’ll love either one. One just requires more work than the other. However, in our opinion, this extra work is worth the taste received.