For us coffee lovers, nothing beats a lovely iced coffee on a hot summer’s day. Whether you enjoy it black, over ice, or with milk and sweeteners, this doesn’t matter. Cold coffee is the perfect pick-me-up on those hot, sticky mornings and can really get you buzzed for the day ahead.
If you’ve ever ordered a cold cup of coffee from the barista in your local coffee shop you may have noticed that they offer you either an ‘Iced Coffee’ or ‘Cold Brew Coffee’. I have to admit, I was confused the first time I saw the two options together. I figured they were the same thing and there must be some mistake.
Cold brew and iced coffee are actually two completely separate drinks. One is brewed very slowly using cold water, whereas the other is brewed as hot coffee and then served over ice. To find out how to make these coffees and whether or not the brewing method really makes a difference, I’ve put together this complete guide on cold brew vs iced coffee.
Let’s jump right in and start with cold brew, what it is and how it is made.
What Is Cold Brew?
Cold brew coffee is, just as the name suggests, a method of brewing java using cold water. It is made using coarsely ground coffee steeped in iced water or water at room temperature for 12 or more hours. The cool water and slow extraction time give a gentle, sweet brew that can be enjoyed over ice or warmed up before you drink it.
How To Make Cold Brew
To make cold brew coffee you’ll need several items. If you’re using whole beans then you’ll need to set the coffee grinder on the coarsest setting. If you’re using pre-ground coffee then make sure it’s a very coarse grind (similar to French press grind).
Alongside the coffee you’ll need an airtight container and a method to strain away the coffee grounds once it has finished brewing. A cold brew coffee maker ticks all the boxes but if you don’t have one of these then a French press or a mason jar and tea strainer works well.
You want to add the coffee to the water at roughly a 1:7 ratio so if the jar holds 500ml of water then add around 70 grams of coffee. This ratio can be adjusted to accommodate more or less coffee depending on your taste preferences once you get the hang of this brew method.
Add the coffee to the water and place the lid on the jar. Pop it in the fridge overnight or for at least 12 hours but it can stay in there for as long as 18-24 hours. This brewing process can also be carried out using room temperature water if you prefer.
After this time has passed you need to strain away the coffee grounds. This can be done in any way that suits you.
The resultant liquid is called Cold Brew concentrate and is very intense. This can be topped up with cold water until the desired taste is achieved.
Cold-brew can be served with milk, over ice or you can warm it up on the stove or in the microwave if you prefer. You can even use the concentrate as an espresso substitute to make a latte or cappuccino-type drink.
What Is Iced Coffee?
Now onto traditional iced coffee. This type of coffee is brewed in the opposite way to cold brew but the end result appears pretty similar. The coffee is brewed hot and then poured over ice to give a lovely cool, refreshing cup of java to enjoy on a hot summer’s day.
How To Make Iced Coffee
Making iced coffee is pretty simple. You can use pretty much any brew method that suits you but I will describe the French press method here.
Start with coarsely ground coffee and add this to your french press. The amount of coffee you add should fall somewhere in the region of 1:17 coffee to water. So for a 500ml french press, you want around 30g of coffee.
Boil the kettle and let it rest for a minute as you want the water temperature to be around 195-205F. You can check this using a thermometer to be more precise. Place the French press containing your coffee onto a set of weighing scales and zero it. Add the same weight of hot water as the coffee (if 30g of coffee then 30g of water etc) and start a timer.
You want to try and make sure that the water has dampened all the coffee so that it can ‘bloom’. This is a degassing process where the coffee lets off excess carbon dioxide and bubbles quite enthusiastically.
When the timer reaches 30 seconds, add the rest of the water and gently stir the mixture. Wait until the timer reaches 4 minutes and then you’re good to press the plunger. Press slowly and gently with even pressure.
Now you have your hot brewed coffee, you have two options. One is to pour it straight over ice to cool it down. The second is to allow it to cool for several hours in the fridge and then serve it ice cold. If you don’t like your coffee watered down then a good trick is to make a batch in advance and freeze the coffee in an ice cube tray. This gives you coffee ice cubes that will maintain the strong coffee flavors even as they melt.
There are a few key differences when it comes to these two brew methods.
The period of time taken to make cold brew vs iced coffee can vary a lot. Cold-brew needs to be left steeping for at least 8 hours for the flavors to infuse but can take as long as 24 hours. This is fine as long as you remember to prepare it the night before but you can’t whip up a batch in an instant if the notion suddenly comes to you.
Iced coffee can be made in the space of 4 minutes as long as you don’t mind adding hot coffee to cold ice. This makes it much better for the spontaneous coffee enthusiast or if you find planning ahead to be a real chore.
Cold brew, thanks to the gentler extraction process, really highlights the sweeter notes found in coffee. It can bring out more fruity and floral flavors and lacks any bitterness. The coffee concentrate can be quite intense in flavor and caffeine content but this can be adjusted with water or milk to give a huge variety of different coffee drinks.
Iced coffee runs the risk of tasting burnt or bitter if you use water that is too hot or leave it to brew for too long. The french press brew method gives a rich, intense brew that holds onto the darker notes found in coffee.
Another point with iced coffee is if you use plain ice cubes you will water down the resulting brew. This can lead it to taste weak and bland but this issue is overcome if you leave it to cool in the fridge or use coffee ice cubes instead.
Cold brew coffee is famous for its low levels of acidity. This is what enhances those sweeter flavors and it will never taste sour. This makes it a good option for those with sensitive stomachs, especially if a dark roast coffee is used as darker roasts contain less acidic compounds.
Iced coffee, because it’s brewed hot, can end up with higher levels of acid. This is especially true if a lighter roast coffee bean is used. The acid does help impart some of the complex coffee flavors so does have a purpose in your java but it may not suit everyone to drink it.
Which Is Best?
Cold brew vs iced coffee is a difficult call to make as they have a lot of similarities. For me, I think the answer has to be cold brew is the best cool coffee option. I love the delicate sweetness that comes from brewing coffee in this manner and I don’t mind planning ahead to ensure it’s waiting in the fridge for me each morning.
This being said, if I have forgotten to prepare my cold brew, iced coffee can go down a real treat and I always have coffee ice cubes waiting in my freezer to avoid a watery cup of joe.
The best option for you really comes down to personal preference. Give them both a try and see what you think. In the end, they’re both super refreshing on a hot day and provide that all-important caffeine buzz when you need it most!
Cold brew, although it sounds like the same thing as iced coffee, actually differs quite a lot due to its brew method. The taste and acid levels also differ between these brew methods so there’s plenty to consider if you’re trying to choose between the two.
My best advice is to give each option a go and see which suits you best. Happy brewing!