Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Here’s What You Need to Know

June 26, 2018Paige Billings
Coffee or Die Photo

When the sun is reaching peak height in the afternoon sky, temperatures are over 95 degrees, and you have the option of cold or hot coffee — both with the same amount of flavor and caffeine — what do you prefer more?

Cold brew, obviously.

This drink has been popular for almost four centuries now, but has been brought back to life in the past 10 years, especially during warm summer months. It has become all the rage in the coffee scene and has even pushed aside iced coffee as the preferred source of summer caffeine.

Iced coffee is technically easier to make though. You just let drip coffee cool, throw in a few ice cubes, and drink up. But iced coffee is more harsh on the palate when drinking black.


The bitter taste you get from dark or burnt coffee is unappealing, and even if you let your cup of coffee cool to room temperature and then sip it, you’ll get a sharp metallic sensation in your mouth. That’s obviously not a desired flavor profile. Essentially, that bitter taste is what you get with an iced coffee, and if you add enough cream, that flavor subsides. It’s brewed hot, cooled, then chilled and consumed cold over ice. It’s like dumping a bunch of ketchup on a bad steak just to make it tolerable enough to eat.

Cold brew, on the other hand, can trace its roots back as early as the 1600s, when individuals in Kyoto, Japan were brewing coffee in a cold-brew style by soaking beans to create a concentrate, then adding water or tea to dilute before drinking. This ancient technique was slow; they created their coffee drop-by-drop to slowly saturate the ground coffee, bringing a smooth taste to the beans — much like making cold brew in a Toddy System.

So why is cold brew better? For starters, it’s concentrate has a softer taste and feel than iced coffee. Cold brew is the process of taking ground beans, soaking them in water overnight (12 to 24 hours), then straining the grounds out of the coffee before chilling your concentrate yield. Whether you brew at home or purchase from a store, cold-brew concentrate is a 1:1 ratio of concentrate to either milk or water. For a creamier coffee, add milk; for a drink similar to iced coffee, ask for water.

Although the process is slightly more complicated than that of an iced coffee, the results are significantly better. If you’re going to enjoy a cool, refreshing drink, you might as well do it right. And if you’re having friends and family over for that weekend barbecue, serving up cold brew coffee will definitely impress!

Paige Billings
Paige Billings

Paige Billings is a staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. She believes that cupcakes and a cup of coffee can solve most any problem. Although she got her start at Williams-Sonoma as a merchandising analyst, she has since combined her passion for coffee, recipe development, design, and photography into her career as a coffee and food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Her delicious and beautiful recipes can be found on her blog, Instagram, and in the secret pages of her ongoing cookbook. Paige has lived everywhere from California, where she grew up, to Montana, where she graduated from Montana State University. She now works out of her Florida home with the help of her eager taste testers — her husband, Drew, and her dog, Moose.

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