Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee: Whats the Difference Anyway?


There are so many ways to enjoy it. Hot or cold, it can bring enjoyment as well as bring people together. Coffee served cold can essentially be brewed two ways.

Hot or cold.

Those two ways can make the difference between the taste as well as the amount of caffeine in each cup.

These two cousins get mistaken for one another. Often when searching the internet for recipes, you will see iced coffee recipes that are actually cold brew recipes. Iced coffee has gotten a bad rap in the past because of restaurants not taking the proper care with brewing. It is often bitter because it is yesterday’s coffee refrigerated and not properly cooled.

There is a time and place for both. In fact, time is the biggest difference between the two. Cold brew takes 12 or more hours and iced coffee takes a few minutes.

Let’s look at at what makes these two cold coffee beverages different:

Cold Brew

  • Brewed cold, never heated
  • Brewed as a concentrate
  • Long brewing time
  • Milder flavor, less acidic
  • Brewed only in cold water
  • Can brew a large batch

Iced Coffee

  • Brewed Hot, chilled on ice
  • Brewed at regular or double strength
  • Short brewing time
  • Better flavors from lighter roasts
  • Brewed hot in a variety of ways
  • Best if enjoyed at the time of brewing

Cold Brew

Cold brewed coffee is an easy way to make coffee even if you don’t have a coffee maker. You don’t need any special equipment, just a big pot, water, medium to coarse ground coffee, a sieve or colander, and some cheese cloth. Oh and time. You need at least 12 hours if not 24 to 48 depending on your taste.

You can use any coffee but darker roasts tend to make really great tasting cold brewed coffees. Their roasty flavor give it a nice bold taste. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve even used cheap ground coffee from the store and it tasted fine.

The beauty of cold brewed coffee is that the coffee never gets heated. You just let it sit in cold water at room temperature for 12+ hours and then filter it. This allows the coffee to release its flavor and caffeine, without any bitterness.

Speaking of caffeine, cold brew often has much more caffeine than regular brewed coffee because of the amount of time it is immersed in the water.

It also makes a really smooth cup of coffee that is low in acid, great for people that experience acid reflux or other conditions that keep them from enjoying their coffee. Cold brew is also made infinitely better with the addition of milk and simple syrup or even sweetened condensed milk.

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is simply coffee or espresso that has been chilled or brewed into ice. This quickly cools the brew and preserves the flavor. This process is great for light or medium roasts that need that bit of heat to bring out their flavor profiles.

Because iced coffee uses heat first, there are a multitude of ways to brew it. You can use espresso, a drip coffee maker, a french press, a Keurig, or even pour over. Basically anything that brews coffee, can be used for iced coffee. The great thing about iced coffee is that it doesn’t take as much time as cold brew.

It all depends on what you like, you just need to try it a few ways and experiment. When you are chilling your coffee over ice, just be sure to not let it get too diluted. Brewing your coffee double strength will allow it to not be too weak when served over ice. Iced coffee tastes best when enjoyed right away.

If you are worried about dilution, you can take a pot of brewed coffee and pour it into ice cube trays and freeze. Not only do you chill your drink, you get the benefit of coffee added to your drink instead of water.

Chemex is a great way to make iced coffee using the pour over method because of how it filters the coffee. You can put ice in the bottom of the Chemex and brew directly into the ice. It filters the coffee as much as is humanly possible due to its extra thick filter.

While iced coffee can tend to have a little bit of bitterness to it, it can be overcome with a bit of care. When you brew, make sure that your water is not too hot. The ideal coffee brewing temperature is between 195 F and 205 F. Using too hot of water can cause an over extraction, causing the coffee to develop a bitter taste. The quality of your beans is another factor. Using freshly roasted, and freshly ground beans will yield the best tasting coffee.


Cold Brew

This is a basic recipe that can be used as a template. Simply double, triple or quadruple for how much you will need. It saves for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Use the ratio of 3/4 cup ground coffee to 4 cups of water.

What You Will Need

A large pot or other container to brew in

Colander or sieve


Coffee filter


Coarse ground coffee

  1. Measure 4 cups of cold water and pour into your pot or other container. Add 3/4 cup of coarse ground coffee to the water and stir. Make sure you grind your coffee very coarse, like you would for french press or you will fight with sediment.
  2. Cover the container with a lid or cheesecloth and let sit out on your counter for 12 hours or more. You can let it sit for as long as 48 hours depending on the strength and taste you want.
  3. Once brewed, line a colander or sieve with several layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl that is large enough to hold the amount of water you added.
  4. Pour coffee into the cheesecloth lined colander or sieve and discard the grounds. We recommend composting your coffee grounds.
  5. Place a large coffee filter into the funnel and place over the container you will store your cold brew in.
  6. Filter the cold brew one more time through the coffee filter to make sure all the sediment is removed.
  7. Serve with ice, milk or cream, and simple syrup or other liquid sweetener and enjoy.

Iced Coffee

There are so many ways to brew iced coffee it is hard to decide which way to brew it. But with this recipe, we will use our favorite tool, the Chemex.

What You Will Need

A Chemex (of course)

A Chemex filter

350 ml hot water in a kettle heated between 195 F and 205 F

A scale

A timer

30 g Freshly ground coffee (medium coarseness)

150 g ice or coffee ice cubes

  1. Heat your 350 ml of water between 195 F and 205 F. This is about 30 seconds off the boil if you don’t have a thermometer.
  2. Fold your Chemex filter and place it in the cone of the Chemex and rinse with cold water. Discard the rinse water. This will remove any taste you might get from the filter paper as well as ensure that you aren’t losing any water to absorption with your filter.
  3. Carefully lift your filter and place the Chemex on your scale and measure 150 g of ice in the Chemex. (1 ml of water = 1 g of water)
  4. Replace your filter and measure 30 g of medium coarse fresh ground coffee into the filter.
  5. Start your timer for 3 minutes and begin to pour water into the coffee until it is saturated and wait 30 seconds. This will allow the coffee to off gas carbon dioxide and prepare it for brewing.
  6. After 30 seconds, begin pouring in a circular motion working from the center and moving to the outside and repeating. After 1:30, half your water should be dispensed in the Chemex. Continue pouring slowly so that your last pour ends on 3:00 minutes.
  7. Allow the coffee to finish filtering. After it is finished, remove the filter.
  8. Serve and enjoy over ice.

Serve Over Ice And Enjoy

The greatest similarity between the two is to serve it over ice and enjoy. As the weather will start warming up sooner than later, these recipes and tips will help you find the best way to enjoy your coffee this summer.

If you want to brew a big batch to keep on hand for a quick grab and go option, cold brew is the easiest way. If you don’t want to deal with large batches and cheesecloth filtering, brewed iced coffee is probably your friend.

There is just something like the clanking of ice cubes in a glass cup in the summer heat that is nostalgic. Your coffee can now get you through your day as well as keep you cool when served with ice.

The Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee

During hot days, I drink cold coffee. I love to enjoy my morning brew, but when the temperature in the afternoon gets really high, I opt for a more refreshing drink.

Normally, I would go for iced coffee. I order from a coffee shop and get a dose of iced café latte.

Recently, my social media feed was buzzing about cold brew coffee. Just when you think you have tried all kinds of coffee, a new one comes your way and surprises you.

It’s hard not to love a drink that constantly amazes me, and coffee is definitely for keeps.

I thought that cold brew was just a fancy name for iced coffee, but I am glad I was wrong. There are distinct and important differences between cold brew and iced coffee. It may not be easy to spot, at first, because what you primarily taste with both is cold coffee. But if you stop for a minute or two and let it sink in, you will notice that cold brew and iced coffee have irreconcilable differences.

Let’s check it out, together, and try to pin down which of the two is better.

What is cold brew?

Cold Brew vs Iced CoffeeAs the name suggests, cold brew utilizes cold water to make coffee. Normally, this coffee is brewed at room temperature or cold water over a 12-to-24-hour brew time. There are various recipes for cold brew. The time factor is critical in achieving the desired taste.

Unlike traditional hot brew, where you can get coffee in just two to three minutes, cold brew is not something you can make first thing in the morning. And you cannot have a k-cup cold brew because the brewing time is a critical factor in creating the subtle taste that only cold brew can make.

Since coffee grounds are brewed using room temp or cold water, the taste is mellower and more rounded out, according to Toddy Café.

Cold brew is fairly new on the market. Most artisan cafés have come up with a cold brew. Big names in the coffee industry are also catching up with the latest craze. Some of the most popular brands include Blue Bottle Coffee, Stumptown, Coffee Roasters, and Starbucks.

During the cold brew process, you will get a very strong coffee concentrate. Some coffee shops dilute it with water or half-and-half. It can be quite confusing to consider this cold brew coffee, since the concentrate is watered down so much. However, they will argue that the base is cold brew coffee, so it is still cold brew that you are drinking.

As you already know, temperature plays an important role in the whole coffee making process. Roasted coffee beans have many compounds that can be extracted during the brewing process. Some of these compounds, like oils and fatty acids, are only soluble at high temperature.

During the cold brew process, you take out heat, replace it with cold water and extra time. Cold brew process is slow, at least a 12-hour brew time. Coffee beans are never exposed to high temperatures. Cold water brewing extracts the delicious flavor compounds and some of the caffeine from coffee beans, but leaves behind the bitter oils and biting fatty acids, including undesirable elements such as ketones, esters, and amides. These are the same bitter acids and fatty oils that surface to the top of your hot cup of coffee and give hot-brewed coffee that familiar aftertaste. This is also the reason why many people love to add sugar and cream to balance out the taste of hot-brewed coffee. With the cold brew process, you can have a perfectly balanced and distinctively, smooth cup of coffee.

During the 12-to-24-hour brewing time, cold water seeps through the coarse ground coffee and extracts all its natural flavors. As a result, you get full-bodied coffee minus the bitterness and acidity. And if you love more caffeine, cold brew gives you that strong kick.

Cold brew is created by steeping medium-to-coarse ground coffee in room temperature water for an extended period of time (12+ hours) and then filtering out the grounds for a clean cup without sediment.  Unlike regular coffee, cold brew is never exposed to heat. Cold brew uses time, rather than heat to extract the coffee’s sugars, oils, and caffeine.

What is iced coffee?

Iced coffee, well, it is your regular hot brewed coffee that is cooled down and poured with ice. This was our idea of cold coffee long before the cold brew process came into the picture. If you want to have a cold coffee, you just need to prepare and brew your coffee grounds, let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes, and add some ice to enjoy a refreshing drink.

In coffee shops, they make a normal coffee brew and, while it is still hot, add heaps of ice cubes to give you your glass of iced coffee.

Some people dislike the idea of iced coffee because they feel that the coffee itself is watered down and they get more water than coffee, especially once the ice has melted.

If you want to make iced coffee at home without watering anything down, you can make coffee ice cubes and use them instead of normal water ice cubes. This way, if the coffee ice cubes melt, you still only have coffee. However, coffee shops will not do that. So you might need to gulp down that iced coffee before all the ice gets into your brew and you lose your concentrated flavor.

Cold brew vs iced coffee: The differences

At first glance, cold brew and iced coffee can be confusing.They’re both cold coffees, some would say. However, true coffee lovers will know the difference.

Brewing Method

The brewing process is entirely different. Cold brew uses more time instead of heat to get the full flavor of coffee. As a result, a cold brew coffee has twice the caffeine of a regular hot brew, but is less acidic.

Iced coffee is your traditional brewed coffee that uses heat to extract the flavors of coffee. You can add ice while it’s hot or let it cool before pouring over ice cubes.


Caffeine is one of the compounds that give coffee its bittersweet taste. With the unique cold brew process, cold brew coffee is caffeine-rich, but less bitter and sour. It often carries a chocolate-like taste and a smooth feel. Since it is coffee concentrate, you can still add water, milk, and sugar if you want to have a cold brew latte.

Since iced coffee is brewed hot, it tastes bitter. It can be tamed by the melting ice, however, and you will end up with a bland glass of iced coffee. So you need to consume it fast and not let the ice cubes melt all the way in your coffee.


Cold brew is more expensive. You pay for the premium cold brew process, plus the fact that it is still considered gourmet or artisan coffee. Not every coffee shop offers cold brew. You also pay a premium for its exclusivity.

Iced coffee is cheap and easy, adding only one more step. You can even make it at home without much trouble, if you want.

Which is better?

I would say that cold brew coffee is better. If you crave cold coffee and you still want to enjoy that full, caffeine-rich drink, cold brew is the way to go. You can buy cold brew coffee in bottles and keep them in your refrigerator to enjoy it anytime you want.  However, be ready to spend more, as cold brew coffee is really pricey.

If you are after convenience and affordability, go for iced coffee. It will not hurt your ego to get cold coffee quick and easy.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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