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Home » Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: What’s the Difference?

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: What’s the Difference Between These Drinks?

Not all cold coffee drinks are created equal. Just because they are refreshing and give you a needed boost doesn’t mean the brewing process is the same.

So, let’s break down one of such dilemmas: cold brew vs iced coffee.

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Just as its name suggests, cold brew coffee doesn’t use hot water. Yet, the brewing method is relatively simple. You don’t need to spend excessive amounts of money on a coffee shop’s cold brew when you can make cold brew coffee yourself.

Cold brew is an extraction method, not a serving method.

So what is cold brew and what makes it special? Cold brew is less bitter, more delicate, and has a smoother taste (1). These qualities happen because the oils and acids that cause unpleasant flavors are not soluble in cold water. Although cold brew coffee already tastes better than other coffee drinks, you can always find ways to make your cold brew taste even better.

If you wish to make different cold brew drinks, here are some really cool and tasty cold brew recipes to try! Or check out this video, in which Steven from Home Grounds compares the various ways to make cold coffee:

What is Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is another cold coffee beverage, but the brewing process is different. Just as its name suggests, iced coffee is regular coffee served over ice. So, you brew it using a more traditional approach with hot water. That hot coffee beverage is either chilled for a few hours or immediately poured over ice to create the refreshing drink you love to sip on in the summer.

Which Has More Caffeine?

Now that you know not all cold coffee is alike let’s compare caffeine levels.

Most cold brew coffee has more caffeine. The brewing process extracts more caffeine than an auto-drip coffee machine using hot water (2). So, cold brew concentrate will have more caffeine than an equal part of traditionally hot brewed coffee. However, most people dilute the concentrate to create a coffee that is not as strong. It’s really the water to coffee ratio that dictates the caffeine in cold brew coffee. In other words:

The final product (diluted cold brew concentrate) in the cup might have more or less caffeine than its hot-brewed equivalent.

Related: Hot Brew vs Cold Brew

Typically, iced coffee is even more diluted and has less caffeine, but this is not always the case. In the end, it’s up to your own preferences and methods of preparing.

Brewing Methods

Now let’s explore the ideal brewing methods for a cold brew and iced coffee.

cold brew vs iced coffee

How is Cold Brew Coffee Made?

If you are okay with prepping your coffee one day before you plan to drink it, then cold brew is a great option to quench your coffee cravings on a hot day.

All you need is freshly ground coffee, room temperature or cool water, a good cold brewer or a large container like a mason jar or French press, and cheesecloth. Place your coffee grounds into your container and add water. More coffee equals a more potent concentrate. You can learn about the importance of coffee to water ratio in cold brew in this post.

Let this solution sit for 12 to 24 hours, although the precise steeping time for cold brew will depend on your preferences. Next, remove your concentrate and filter through the cheesecloth. You may want to repeat the filtration process to remove all of the fine particles. Finally, add cold water to taste, and you have a fresh cold brewed cup of coffee.

How To Make Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is a much faster way to get a chilled coffee beverage to cool you down. If you know how to make hot coffee, then you can make iced coffee.

First, brew your freshly ground coffee beans in whatever method you prefer. Then, either pour this hot coffee over ice or let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours. Keep in mind that the more time hot brewed coffee sits, the more its flavors degrade.

Any coffee maker can help you make an iced coffee, but these iced coffee makers can help you brew better-tasting drinks.

Final Thoughts

In the debate about cold brew vs iced coffee, you can be confident that either option is great on a hot day. Cold brew takes longer to make but has a less bitter taste. However, iced coffee can be brewed in minutes and still taste delightful.


Cold brew is less acidic, so if you have a sensitive stomach, it may be better than iced coffee. This is due to differences in the way cold brew and iced coffee are prepared. Hot-water brewing accentuates the acidity in coffee, which is why iced coffee could be harder on your stomach. However, if you are watching your caffeine intake, iced coffee tends to be the better option.

Cold brew is more expensive than iced coffee because the cold-brewing process takes much longer and tends to use more coffee. For example, to make cold brew you use one cup of coffee beans and five cups of cold water. To make the concentrate, you reduce this ratio to 1:2. This is a bigger amount of coffee than in iced coffee which requires approximately two teaspoons to one cup of boiling water.

Cold brew stores better than iced coffee. Homemade cold brew concentrate can last up to two weeks in the fridge if stored properly. Iced coffee does not last this long, only up to several hours. This is probably due to their different methods of preparing. With cold brew, you can store the concentrate and dilute it for drinking. Bear in mind that storing of any drink affects the taste.

  1. The NCA Guide to Cold Brew. Retrieved August 26, 2020, from https://www.ncausa.org/Industry-Resources/Cold-Brew
  2. An Easy Cold Brew Recipe You Can Make At Home. Retrieved August 26, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/07/31/894863556/an-easy-cold-brew-recipe-you-can-make-at-home?t=1598430679131
Jovana D
I come from a country where people drink domestic coffee (what the rest of the world knows as Turkish coffee) and where Nescafe designates all instant coffees ever made. So, imagine my first encounter with, say, Hario V60...Yes, it was love at first sight.  Today I’m a moderate coffee connoisseur and a huge coffee lover. My favorite brewing methods are the V60 and traditional espresso-making. Yet, despite my country’s long tradition of Turkish-coffee-adoring, I somehow cannot stand it. That’s just too dark, even for me.

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