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.

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