Iced coffee vs. cold brew: A rivalry that has taken the coffee world by storm in the past few years but has left me asking a few questions about what the differences between the two really are.
Well, don’t worry folks! In this post, I’m going to dive into the brewing processes, flavors, and nutritional information of both iced coffee and cold brew so you can order with confidence next time you’re in line at Starbucks or your local coffee shop.
Iced coffee is simply hot coffee that has been cooled and poured over ice. This is the traditional drink that comes to peoples’ minds when they think of cold coffee. You can make your classic iced coffee a party favorite by turning it into Irish Iced Coffee, a refreshing, delicious cocktail, and pick-me-up all wrapped up in one!
Given that iced coffee is simply hot coffee cooled down, sometimes the complaint is made that it tastes watered down or diluted. A quick and easy way to get around this when making iced coffee at home is to pour some coffee into an ice cube tray and let it freeze overnight. Once you’re ready to make a cup of iced coffee, cool it down with coffee ice cubes to get the perfect temperature without sacrificing flavor!
In order to make a classic iced coffee, water is heated to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit and then poured over coffee grounds. As most of us know from our morning coffee routine, it only takes a few minutes for the hot water to extract all of the delicious flavors from the grounds.
Types of Coffee
Before I dive into the details of cold brew, I’m going to give you a quick coffee crash course in the most common types of beans and roasts!
- Robusta: Robusta coffee plants can grow in many more climates than Arabica coffee plants, so these beans are cheaper but are often more difficult to find because they’re considered less tasty than Arabica beans. However, they have almost double the amount of caffeine than Arabica beans which makes them perfect for espresso!
- Arabica: Although coffee lovers could argue on end about which is the superior bean, it’s commonly accepted that arabica beans are superior. And good thing because they make up 60% of the world’s coffee production! Arabica beans are known for being sweeter and less bitter than Robusta.
- Light: A cup of light roast coffee surprisingly has the most caffeine because the beans are roasted at the lowest temperature. As a result of the brewing process, light roast coffee tastes the most acidic. This roast goes especially well with milk!
- Medium: Medium roast coffee is by far the most popular because it is a nice balance of both light and dark roast.
- Dark: Dark roast coffee has the least caffeine per cup and the beans have an oily coating that may be visible in the cup. Most European coffees are dark roasted. This roast goes well with a splash of cream but is often enjoyed black!
Cold brew coffee is a less bitter and less acidic version of cold coffee that has gained popularity in the past few years. What’s the secret ingredient to the smooth, rich taste of cold brew coffee? Time.
Unlike iced coffee which relies on heat to extract the oils from the coffee grounds, cold brew relies on time.
Cold water (this is where the name cold brew comes from!) is poured over coffee grounds and left to steep anywhere from 12-24 hours. The longer those grounds steep, the stronger your cold brew will taste! After the grounds are done steeping, the cold brew concentrate is filtered out and ready to be served.
A good way to think about cold brew is that it is the coffee equivalent of overnight oats (check out these Espresso Overnight Oats that will help you start your morning with an energizing, healthy meal for those days when you have to run out the door!).
Just like with overnight oats, heat is never added to the coffee grounds. instead, time is used to pull the flavor from the coffee.
Types of Cold Brew
Given the newness of cold brew and all the different varieties out there, I’m going to give you a quick and easy way to differentiate between all the different kinds.
- Concentrate for Cold Coffee: This is the most common way to drink cold brew. The concentrate is mixed with water or milk (for a richer, creamier taste).
- Concentrate for Hot Coffee: Although far less popular, cold brew concentrate can also be mixed with hot water or milk for anyone who wants a less acidic, smoother cup of Joe in the morning.
- Concentrate as a Base: Given how strong cold brew concentrate is, it makes a wonderful base for coffee drinks because it easily cuts through the flavor of milk or milk substitutes.
- New Orleans Style Cold Brew: In New Orleans, they add chicory to the coffee grounds as they are steeping in the cold water. Once the concentrate is filtered, they add lots of milk and sugar to make perhaps the richest variation of cold brew out there.
Is there a nutritional difference between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee?
Although cold brew tastes decidedly smoother and less bitter than iced coffee, there’s no scientific research to support the claim that cold brew actually contains less acid.
There is evidence, however, that cold brew has decidedly more caffeine than iced coffee, but both still have less than the average cup of hot coffee.
A cup of cold brew from Starbucks contains about 200 milligrams of caffeine where a cup of iced coffee contains only 165 milligrams of caffeine, and a cup of hot coffee contains 310 milligrams of caffeine.
Is coffee really bad for you?
Luckily for all of us caffeine lovers, there’s increasing evidence that shows that coffee might actually be good for you.
In fact, some studies have shown that coffee can help protect you against certain illnesses like:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Liver disease, including liver cancer
- Heart attack and stroke
Of course though, as with most things, caffeine is definitely best in moderation. Especially when drinking cold brew, it’s important to keep track of your caffeine intake because too much caffeine can lead to an increase in blood pressure and heartburn.
Now that you know the cold brew and iced coffee basics, let’s take a look at some of the history behind both iced coffee and cold brew!
History of cold brew coffee
Much like some of the tastiest treats out there, cold brew originally came from Japan where it is referred to as Kyoto-style coffee due to its popularity in the city. The earliest record of cold brew being brewed in Japan comes from the 1600s. Some hypothesize that the Dutch introduced cold brew in Japan because it was how they brewed coffee on their ships.
Nowadays, cold brew is an art form in Japan where it is sometimes brewed drip by drip or in long, elegant towers.
History of iced coffee
Iced coffee was reportedly invented by the French at the Battle of Mazagran in Algeria in 1840. When the French forces ran out of milk to add to their coffee, they settled for water.
They decided to drink it cold to combat the heat and voilà iced coffee was invented! To this day iced coffee is referred to as café mazagran.
While iced coffee and cold brew are undoubtedly delights on their own, the addition of a sweet treat to any meal makes it go from good to great!
If you’re a lover of cherries, I recommend this Cherry Coffee Cake as a delicious summertime cake. The best part? You can have this cake for breakfast (yes, cake for breakfast!) or as an after-dinner treat.
One of the best parts about coffee cake is, without a doubt, the delicious, buttery crumbles on top that could be a dessert in and of themselves. If you can’t get enough of the crumbles, we recommend trying our Rhubarb Coffee Cake. This cake takes the delicious tart flavor of rhubarb and combines it with those delicious, sweet crumbles to make coffee cake magic.
To conclude, the main difference between iced coffee and cold brew is the way in which each beverage is made and the part of the world where they originated.
Luckily for us, recent studies have shown that coffee has some unexpected health benefits, so get out there and start brewing! Don’t be afraid to experiment with both brewing styles at home. While you’re brewing, maybe whip up a coffee cake so you can have your (coffee)cake and eat it too!
Have you tried making your own cold brew or iced coffee?
Tell me about it in the comments below! I always love to hear your thoughts. And tag me #theforkedspoon on Instagram if you’ve made any of my recipes, I always love to see what you’re cooking in the kitchen.