Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: An Expert Explains the Difference

The Director of Coffee for the Brooklyn-based coffee roaster Partners shares the key differences in how they're made and their flavor.

<p>Simply Recipes / Adobe Stock</p>

Simply Recipes / Adobe Stock

Stop by just about any coffee shop these days, and next to the hot brewed coffee and espresso drinks, you'll find iced coffee or cold brew coffee—and sometimes both.

Regular iced coffee and cold brew are delicious caffeine delivery systems, but there are a few key differences between them, including how they're made and their typical flavor profiles.

For a look at all the things that make these two coffeehouse favorites different—plus tips on how to make them at home—I checked in with Cary Wong, the Director of Coffee for the Brooklyn-based coffee roaster Partners. I also frequently make both types of cold coffee and drink my fair share of them at coffee shops, so I consider myself a bit of an expert too.

Read on for everything you need to know.

Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew: How They Are Made

Iced coffee is simply brewed hot coffee that's served over ice. You can make iced coffee at home by using whatever method you normally use to make hot coffee, such as a drip brewer or pour-over, allowing the coffee to cool down a bit and then pouring it over ice. It's as simple as that.

Cold brew, as the name suggests, is brewed without heat. To make cold brew, you steep coarse coffee grounds in cold or room temperature water in the refrigerator or on the counter for 12 or more hours. Then you strain it through a cheesecloth, flour sack, or paper filter and pour it over ice. You can also use a French press to steep and strain cold brew. Some people also like to make an ultra-concentrated cold brew and then dilute it with water just before serving. Finally, there are also special cold brew makers, such as this one from OXO.

<p>Simply Recipes / Michelle Becker</p>

Simply Recipes / Michelle Becker

Do Cold Brew and Iced Coffee Taste Different?

I've found—and many others agree—that cold brew tends to have a smoother, sweeter, and less bitter or acidic taste than traditional iced coffee.

"Cold brews' flavor profiles are known to have lower acidity than the typical iced coffee," agrees Wong. He adds that depending on how you brew your iced coffee, it can have a more bright and/or lighter-bodied taste than a typical cold brew.

Whether you'll prefer the flavor of regular iced coffee or cold brew all comes down to individual taste preferences, Wong says. "I enjoy my coffees with more brightness and complexity, so I like to make a flash brew when drinking iced coffee," he adds. (Flash brew is made by using the pour-over method to hot-brew coffee directly over ice, so it has more in common with regular iced coffee than cold brew.)

Does Cold Brew or Iced Coffee Taste Stronger?

Cold brew has a reputation for being simultaneously smooth and bold-tasting, and Wong suggests drinking cold brew if you are looking for a "heavy-bodied coffee." He also likes that if you are diluting cold brew concentrate with water, you can adjust the strength level by modifying the ratio of concentrate to water.

All of that said, how strong your cold brew or your traditional iced coffee tastes depends a lot on the type of beans you use, the grind, the brewing method, and the brewing length.

Waiting to add ice to hot-brewed coffee until it's cooled to room temperature can help you avoid the dreaded watery iced coffee—you can also use ice cubes made of coffee.

Does Cold Brew or Traditional Iced Coffee Have More Caffeine?

"I always get asked this question, but there are a lot of variables that can change the answer," says Wong. "Given the complexity of the many variables, such as types of roast, coffee volumes, etc., providing an accurate answer is a bit difficult."

Rest assured that heat is not required to extract caffeine from coffee grounds, so unless you use decaffeinated coffee beans, your cold brew will deliver caffeine just like a regular iced coffee. Despite its smooth taste, cold brew can pack more of a caffeine punch than regular iced coffee because of its long steep time and the large amount of grounds used to make it.

The Takeaway

While traditional iced coffee is made by pouring hot-brewed coffee over ice, cold brew is made by steeping ground coffee in cold water for up to 24 hours before straining it. They're both delicious when made properly, so why not make room for both in your coffee routine?

Read the original article on Simply Recipes.