Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: What’s the Difference and Which One’s Better?

Iced coffee is a cafe classic that fuels while it cool—what could be better? Well, in certain ways, cold brew. As if your daily routine weren’t complicated enough, now you’ve got another choice to make! Iced coffee vs. cold brew…the battle of the barista best-sellers!  

But, what’s the difference between these two caffeinated concoctions? Between you and I, I used to work for a notable NYC coffee chain—I won’t name it because the owners were possibly mobbed up—which would sell both interchangeably. Nobody ever seemed to notice, but I always felt bad because the “cold brew” was always more expensive. Well, consider this explainer a redemption for being party to that swindling. Here’s what to look out for when comparing the two!  

The difference between cold brew and iced coffee

One big difference between cold brew and iced coffee is the brewing process. To make cold brew, you steep the grounds, slowly, in cold water. The steeping process takes about 16-20 hours, so it’s often an overnight ordeal. Iced coffee, however, is brewed hot using your standard coffee maker, before it’s cooled and served over ice. Certain floral notes in the coffee bean can only be extracted using the hot water process, so iced coffee tends to have brighter, acidic, and more pronounced flavors than cold brew.

So, there! Iced coffee has it! 

Well, not so fast. Get this: Cold brew may be a tad healthier than regular coffee. Since it has less acidity, many people find it tastier to drink black and thus have less need to mask the standard coffee bitterness with the cream, milk, and sugar that add calories to the drink. It goes down smooth, without the hassle of selecting between oat milk or almond milk.

And what of the matter of storage? Well, due to its lack of acids, cold brew can hold up for days and still taste fresh. Hmmm…it seems cold brew may be pulling into the lead. But, before we declare a winner, we’ve got to talk caffeine. We know what you folks really care about: Which one will wake us up faster???

Is cold brew stronger than iced coffee?

Cold brew has more caffeine. Why? Simply because the ratio of coffee to water is so much greater in the cold brew, with humble iced coffee being more diluted. Cold brew gets the caffeine award, too. What an upset! 

So, depending on your personal tastes, and with the caveat that you’ll probably need a few extra bucks since it’s usually pricier, cold brew is superior to iced coffee in many ways. Iced coffee will always be there for you, and I’m sure many people out there can’t tell the difference between the two, but take it from me (the fellow who used to begrudgingly help two shady business owners sell iced coffee as cold brew because he needed the minimum wage), cold brew costs more for a reason: It’s the good stuff!

About the Author

Joe Rumrill

Joe Rumrill is a fictional one-eyed spinach-loving sailor created in 1929 by E.C Se- Wait, no, that's not right... Joe Rumrill is a stand up comedian and writer currently based in Los Angeles. His favorite thing about food is a close tie between the taste and the nutrients one gets from it. His least favorite thing about it is the "gritty, dirt-like quality some food has", but he's most likely referring to the time in third grade he was dared to eat playground sand.

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