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

Looking at the beverage menu in any restaurant or coffee shop, you’ll almost always find these two drinks: cold brew and iced coffee. For the average individual, choosing between both is confusing because of a lack of understanding about them.

Both are delicious but aren’t quite the same. There are significant differences between how they are made, their flavor, and their mouthfeel. While choosing one is a matter of personal preference, one can benefit by learning about what makes them different.

Both beverages are perfect for hot summer days when you crave something cold and sweet. But there’s a lot more to them than just that.

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What is an Iced Coffee and How is it Made?

What Is an Iced Coffee and How Is It Made?

The name iced coffee is pretty self-explanatory. It is coffee that’s been iced. The beverage is made just like standard coffee. However, since it is iced, the coffee is cooled down before serving. Iced coffee tastes similar to regular coffee because the brewing process is the same.

Most coffee shops make this beverage by brewing hot coffee and pouring it over ice. Then, sweeteners like milk or syrup are added to enhance the otherwise acidic and intense flavor of the drink.

The caffeine levels in iced coffee vary according to the number of espresso shots. If you want this beverage with lower caffeine, the use of a French press or coffee maker is recommended.

DID YOU KNOW? The roots of iced coffee go as far back as 1840 Algeria in North Africa, where this drink was known by the name mazagran. During the Battle of Mazagran, the French army added water to their coffee as they ran out of milk. They also chose to drink it cold because of the scorching heat. This led to the birth of iced coffee, a beverage concept that has been upgraded from that time to suit the preferences of modern consumers.

How to Make Iced Coffee at Home?

You needn’t go to the nearby coffee shop anymore. Use this recipe to brew a cup (or a glass, if you love it as much as we do!) of the perfect iced coffee at home.

  • Brew your favorite coffee as you generally do.
  • When the coffee is ready, let it cool down. Allow the drink to sit out till it reaches room temperature. If you cannot wait this long, put the coffee into your fridge
  • When it’s cooled, grab a glass and fill it up with ice. Now, pour the cooled coffee over it.
  • Customize the flavour and taste by adding milk, syrup, or sweetener of your choice.

PRO TIP: Running out of time? Skip the time in brewing the regular coffee using an instant coffee. It will make a single serving half the time as your regular coffee. Then, follow the same process of cooling the drink and adding ice.

What is a Cold Brew and How is it Made?

What Is a Cold Brew and How Is It Made?

Cold brew is coffee that is brewed cold. Confused? Don’t worry, we’ll explain it more. Cold brew is coffee made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for around 12 to 23 hours. This gives the drink a smoother and sweeter taste. The coffee is strained the next morning and is ready for consumption. The flavor profile is less intense than iced coffee sans sweeteners. However, the brew is concentrated and strong.

Cold brew is also known by the names cold infusion or cold steep. The beverage never goes through the regular brewing process, in spite of being called a cold ‘brew.’ The brewing process refers to mixing coffee with boiling water. But in the case of cold brew, this never happens.

DID YOU KNOW? Cold brews are perfect for those with sensitive stomachs. Since the coffee-making process does not involve heat, the drink can be tolerated by those who suffer from acid reflux. Moreover, if you take out the sweetener, milk, and cream, the drink will literally contain zero calories!

How to Make Cold Brew at Home?

Creating a refreshing glass of cold brew isn’t difficult at all. There’s no need for fancy coffee equipment, too.

  • Coarsely grind your coffee.
  • Place the coffee grounds in a mason jar. They pour filtered water on top. A coffee-to-water ratio of 1:2 will give you a strong coffee concentrate.
  • Mix coffee grounds with water and cover the jar. Let it sit at room temperature for about 12 to 24 hours.
  • Strain the coffee the next day by placing a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and lining it with a cheesecloth or paper filter.
  • Store the poured coffee in the fridge.
  • Before serving, pour it over ice and dilute it with water or milk.

PRO TIP: Freshly ground beans yields the best flavor. When you use beans just after grinding them, their oils have just been released. They begin to dry out after release. Using them immediately after grinding (when oils are still present) will enrich the coffee by adding more complexity and depth.

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Cold Brew and Iced Coffee: Key Differences

Cold Brew and Iced Coffee: Key Differences

By now, you are aware of what exactly these two types of beverages are and how they are made. You might already be able to differentiate between the two. But there is more than one way in which they differ. Let’s find out the key differences between them below.

Taste

Iced coffee is more acidic and has the regular flavor of the beverage. In other words, it tastes the same as auto-drip coffee since it’s simply hot brewed coffee or espresso poured over ice. You can dilute its natural flavor profile with ice.

Cold brew has a bolder flavor since it is steeped over for hours. The process yields more intensely flavored coffee. It’s recommended to dilute it with some water to balance the flavor. Overall, cold brews are stronger and richer than iced coffee, although it ultimately boils down to the individual preference of the drinker.

Benefits

Coffee is generally considered a healthy beverage, provided you do not mix too much sugar or milk in it. However, between iced coffee and cold brew, the latter is more suited for the calorie-conscious folks. This is because cold brews have less acidity, unlike iced coffee. So, there is less need to mix additional ingredients like milk, syrup, or sweetener to mask the flavor. As a result, the beverage contains significantly fewer calories than iced coffee. 

Caffeine Levels

Cold brews have more caffeine than a regular cup of iced coffee. This is because they are brewed with a very high coffee-to-water ratio, in contrast to iced coffee, which has a ratio of 1:16 or maybe even 20. In other words, cold brew is a concentrated coffee drink with high caffeine levels.

Cost

Dropping by your favorite coffee shop for an iced coffee will not pinch your wallet as much as buying a glass of cold brew. Why? The cold brew process takes more time, coffee, and resources. All of this isn’t required for regular iced coffee. Although making it at home doesn’t require you to own any specialized equipment, the coffee shops do use a few tools. Picking a cold brew is more expensive but so worth it. 

Summing Up

Hopefully, you are now aware of how an iced coffee differs from cold brew. Both taste divine, but cold brew has a complex flavor profile. It is also higher in antioxidants than regular coffee. This isn’t to say that iced coffee is bad. Contrarily, it is the perfect go-to drink for every coffee lover. You can enjoy both these beverages at home, making them the perfect additions to your daily routine.