By: Lillie Wright
The debate between iced coffee and cold brew continues as the temperature rises. Is there a difference between the two? What makes one better or worse? Does cold brew have more caffeine than iced coffee? We’re diving into the differences and processes between everyone’s favorite summertime sippers.
One of the main differences between iced coffee and cold brew is the brewing process. There are several ways to make iced coffee, from refrigerating leftover hot coffee to fancy machines that brew with cold water. Any coffee maker can brew the hot coffee needed for an iced coffee, from a simple drip machine to a fancy pour-over or French press, making it accessible to anyone who wants to make it. Traditionally served in a cold cup with ice, iced coffee is a summertime staple for many coffee fans, allowing them to still enjoy their coffee without overheating from a traditional hot brew. On the other end, cold brew comes from a unique brewing style. Coarse ground coffee load into a cloth bag with a filter in a vat of cold, distilled water overnight. The longer water has to penetrate the beans, the more caffeine and flavor come out. A spout at the bottom of the vat dispenses a cold brew concentrate. Cold brew is more challenging at home because it requires specific equipment. Not everyone can access distilled water or large buckets that can withstand 14 gallons of water. Baristas also need unique bags and filters that hold the grounds while they soak. While you can store iced coffee in any container, like a large pitcher, cold brew needs an airtight container to keep it from spoiling.
Many people focus on flavor when discussing cold brew versus iced coffee. Iced coffee tastes similar to traditional coffee, just in a colder form. It has brighter, fruitier notes than hot coffee’s warm, dark, earthier tones. If someone wants to experience more of the distinct flavors of iced coffee, they should ask for light ice, as it dilutes the taste as it melts. Some say iced coffee tastes more bitter since it is brewed at a high temperature before cooling, but additions like cream, sugar, and flavoring help balance these bitter notes. Iced coffee tends to have a thinner, more diluted texture due to the hot water brewing and subsequent cooling, which can water down the drink. Cold brew is an excellent way to dive headfirst into the flavors of coffee. Because the grounds sit in water overnight, their flavor has ample time to bloom. Cold brew has a rich, creamy texture from the slow brewing process. The coffee’s natural oils have less time to leech into the concentrate, resulting in a thick, luxurious mouthfeel. Cold brew is stored as a concentrate that baristas must cut with water before serving. It is also less acidic since it is never exposed to heat. Cold brew has a general pH of 6.5 (7 is neutral), and hot coffee has a pH of 4.5. This makes cold brew easier to digest and less likely to cause issues like acid reflux or heartburn. Many people use cold brew concentrate in cocktails, desserts, and beers since its intensity means it can stand up to other flavors.
Another significant difference between iced coffee and cold brew is their caffeine level. Iced coffee contains slightly less caffeine than hot coffee because the ice dilutes it as it melts. A 12-ounce iced coffee at Starbucks contains 165 milligrams of caffeine, whereas their signature dark roast boasts an impressive 260 milligrams. Iced coffee is an excellent choice for those who enjoy the flavor and social aspect of coffee but don’t want to feel “buzzed” after drinking. Sometimes there is also a deaf option for iced coffee, allowing people who cannot consume much caffeine during the day to enjoy a cup still. Cold brew is known for its caffeine level. Starbucks cold brew slides in under their dark roast with 250 milligrams in a 16-ounce drink. This number includes the water and ice added to the finished drink, so one can imagine how much caffeine is in the concentrate. Cold brew is perfect when you need a potent pick-me-up or have had a bad night’s sleep. One cup will keep you going for most of the day. The caffeine level can also change depending on what kinds of beans are used for the grounds. Light roast coffee has more caffeine than dark roast coffee, so an iced coffee or cold brew made with light roast coffee will have more caffeine than a dark roast. Milk also changes the amount of caffeine by diluting the coffee. The more milk added, the less caffeine the drink will have.
Cold brew has a longer shelf life than iced coffee. Due to its low acidity and oxidation during brewing, cold brews can last up to a month when stored correctly in the refrigerator. Taste does not diminish over time since the product is not exposed to air. Since iced coffee is chilled hot coffee rather than a concentrate, it has a short shelf life and is best consumed within a day or two of brewing for optimum flavor and potency. Both iced coffee and cold brew can be made in large batches, but the cold brew concentrate lasts much longer. This difference in longevity also affects the price. Cold brew tends to be more expensive than iced coffee because of the associated labor and specialized equipment. It is worth every penny for those who live and die by the cult-favorite drink.
Iced coffee is a staple menu item at almost every coffee shop today. It is affordable to make and has virtually no learning curve. If a shop has hot coffee, they can make iced coffee with no special equipment or storage needs. If a customer orders iced coffee and the shop is out, they can make it in a pinch by placing hot coffee in a cup and pouring ice over it. It will not be as good as chilled coffee, but it will work when needed. Cold brew is more complex. Many shops have not heard of cold brew, do not understand it, or cannot afford the special equipment needed. Cold brew requires someone who understands proportions, ratios, and has been trained on the equipment. When the concentrate is finished processing, someone must bottle, label, date, and store it. It is a much more labor-intensive project, and some shops either don’t have time or don’t see the appeal. Cold brew is popular with younger generations, so shops in areas with an older population will probably not offer it.
Cold brew and iced coffee both have die-hard fans who will drink them whenever they can, even in the cold months. Bitty and Beau’s Coffee offers both drinks for guests to enjoy year-round and a multitude of accessories to accompany them. From milk/milk alternatives to sweeteners and fun flavors, guests are free to make their perfect creations. Check out our website or find a location near you. We can’t wait to show you how, no matter which cold drink you choose, It’s More Than A Cup of Coffee.