Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: What’s the Difference?

August 10, 2016

From artisanal cafes to Dunkin Donuts, coffeehouses everywhere are jumping on the cold brew bandwagon. But is this tall, dark, and handsome beverage really all that different from iced coffee?

Absolutely. Do a side-by-side taste test and the difference is obvious: Cold brew is smoother and less acidic; iced coffee can be bitter. The disparity comes from the brewing process.

The “iced coffee” listed on many cafe menus is brewed normally with hot water, then chilled in the refrigerator. (Some shops even commit the cardinal sin of pouring hot coffee over ice, leaving behind what is essentially nothing more than vaguely coffee-flavored water.) Here’s the problem: Heat makes the chemical compounds in the coffee grounds oxidize faster, bringing out a less-than-appealing bitterness.

Cold brew, on the other hand, has a smoother, mellower flavor, since there’s no heat to draw out the grounds’ acidity.

The simplest and most common way to make it is with the immersion method:

  1. Coffee beans are ground very coarsely, then transferred to a container.
  2. Water is added; the coffee-to-water ratio is typically about 1:5.
  3. The mixture is then covered and steeped at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  4. The finished cold brew is strained through a coffee filter, fine mesh strainer, or cheesecloth into a glass or separate pitcher.
  5. To serve, it’s usually diluted with equal parts water, milk, or cream, plus ice

Since coffee shops usually make cold brew in small batches, they’re notorious for running out of it fast. It’s pretty easy to make at home, but if you’d rather not wait a whole day for a refreshing, ice-cold sip, keeping Califia Farms Concentrated Cold Brew stocked in the fridge is the way to go. Pour it into a glass with equal parts water or almond milk creamer and enjoy, stat. You can use hot water or steamed almond milk (try the Califia Farms unsweetened) if you prefer a warm, frothy beverage.

There’s one more important question for those who depend on java to kick-start their mornings or rev up the afternoon—which has more caffeine? Iced coffee might actually have a leg up over cold brew on caffeine content. Heat increases caffeine’s solubility, allowing more of it to be extracted from the grounds in the brewing process. According to the USDA, an 8-ounce cup of coffee brewed with hot water has about 95 milligrams of caffeine, while an 8-ounce serving of Califia Farms Cold Brew, diluted with equal parts water, has 80 milligrams.

If you want to up the caffeine, it’s simple: use a little more cold brew concentrate, and a little less water. Better-tasting coffee without sacrificing the jolt—that’s a win-win!

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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