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

For a lot of folks, the arrival of warmer weather in spring and summer means it’s time for iced coffee. Or cold brew. Or wait … aren’t they the same thing? No, not exactly.

True, both are coffee, and both are typically served cold. But they’re not identical beverages. The difference between iced coffee and cold brew boils down to how they’re made.

We asked Tim Melano, founder of Triple Coffee, to help us distinguish between iced coffee and cold brew — and exactly which one he thinks is better.

What Is Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is any type of coffee that you drink over ice. As Melano says, it’s “hot-brewed coffee on the rocks.”

To make iced coffee, you brew coffee as you normally would — whether you opt for a drip coffee maker, French press or pour-over dripper — and then chill it.

What Is Cold Brew?

Cold brew is exactly what it sounds like: coffee that’s been brewed with cold water.

It’s a long process — one that takes between 8 to 24 hours — and it involves taking coarsely ground coffee and steeping it in cold or room temperature water. According to Melano, the reason cold brew takes so long is because water at lower temperatures makes chemicals take longer to dissolve.

The longer you steep the grounds and water, the stronger the cold brew will become. If you steep it long enough, you’ll end up with a concentrate that’ll have to be diluted with either more water, or milk, to avoid having an overly strong coffee.

As for the taste, cold brewing coffee generally results in a less bitter and less acidic beverage than coffee that’s brewed with hot water. When you brew with hot water, that heat is what draws out those bitter and acidic notes from your coffee grounds, which is why some people prefer cold brew.

Once you make cold brew, you can drink it over ice, making it a type of iced coffee, or you can even mix the concentrate with hot water to make a cold-brewed hot coffee.

Is Iced Coffee or Cold Brew Better?

Gear Patrol has gone on the record to say we don’t like cold brew. That doesn’t mean we avoid it at all costs. Part of the appeal of cold brew is its lower bitterness and toned-down acidity, aspects that can be ultra-refreshing on a hot summer day. However, cold water is unable to draw out the delicate nuances of coffee, so we don’t recommend using your finest beans to make a batch at home.

Melano agrees. “We’ve tried making cold brews from our coffees, and we find that a lot of complexity is lost, particularly that crisp elegant acidity that great micro-lot coffees give,” he says.

 

“We find that a lot of complexity is lost.”

Iced coffee, meanwhile, isn’t without its own flaws; to make it, you have to brew hot coffee and then wait for it to chill. In that time, your brewed coffee will start to degrade, losing some of its delicious flavor.

Some ways to combat the loss of flavor is by brewing Japanese-style pour-over iced coffee, in which you brew coffee hot then immediately chill it by letting the coffee drip onto ice cubes. Or you can use the Coldwave chiller, a device that also helps to immediately chill hot coffee.

Not in the mood to brew ice coffee yourself? There’s the canned coffee brand Snapchill, which uses its patented technology to brew hot coffee and immediately chill it. You’re left with all the flavor of hot coffee but in a crisp and cool iced beverage.

So, which one is better — iced coffee or cold brew? Well, we feel like it’s your choice to make. Let us know in the comments if you prefer one over the other.

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