An expert explains the difference.

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Stop into any coffee shop these days, and along with hot ground coffee and espresso drinks, you'll find iced coffee or cold brew coffee and sometimes both.

Regular iced coffee and cold brew are delicious caffeine delivery systems, but there are a few key differences between them, including how they're made and their distinctive flavor profiles.

To get a look at all the things that make these two coffeehouses different—plus tips on how to make them at home—I caught up with Carrie Wong, director of coffee for Brooklyn-based Coffee Roaster Partners. I make both types of cold coffee frequently and drink my fair share of them at coffee shops, so I consider myself a bit of an expert.

Read on for everything you need to know.

Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew: How They're Made

Iced coffee is simply prepared hot coffee served over ice.. You can make iced coffee at home using whatever method you normally use to make hot coffee, such as a drip brewer or pour-over, letting the coffee cool slightly and then pouring it over ice. It's as simple as that.

Cold brew, as the name implies, is brewed without heat.. To make cold brew, you steep the ground coffee in cold or room-temperature water in the refrigerator or on the counter for 12 or more hours. Then you strain it through cheesecloth, a flour sack, or a paper filter and pour it over ice. You can also use a French press to steep and press the cooled mixture. Some people also like to make a very concentrated cold brew and then dilute it with water before serving. Finally, there are specialty cold brew brewers, such as this one from OXO.

Just Recipes / Michelle Baker


Do cold brew and iced coffee taste different?

I've found – and many others agree – that cold brew tastes smoother, sweeter, and less bitter or acidic than traditional iced coffee.

Cold brews have a lower acidity profile than regular iced coffeeAgrees with Wong. He adds that depending on how you brew your iced coffee, it may taste brighter and/or milder than regular cold brew.

Whether you prefer the taste of regular iced coffee or cold brew, it all comes down to individual taste preferences, says Wong. “I enjoy more brightness and complexity in my coffees, so I like to flash brew when I drink iced coffee,” he adds. (Flash-brew coffee is made by using the pour-over method to heat directly over ice, so it has more in common with typical iced coffee than with cold brew.)

Does cold brew or iced coffee have a stronger flavor?

Cold brew has a reputation for tasting smooth and bold at the same time, and if you're looking for a “heavy-bodied coffee,” Wong suggests drinking cold brew. He also likes that if you're diluting cold mix with water, you can adjust the strength level by changing the water concentration ratio.

All of that said, how strong your cold brew or traditional iced coffee tastes depends on the type of beans you use, the grind, the brewing method and the length of the brew.

Waiting to add ice to hot brewed coffee until it's cooled to room temperature can help you avoid the dreaded watery iced coffee—you can even use ice cubes made from coffee.

Does cold brew or traditional iced coffee have more caffeine?

I get asked this question all the time, but there are so many variables that can change the answer,” says Wong. “Given the complexity of the many variables, such as roast types, coffee amounts, etc., there's no single right answer. To be provided. A little difficult.”

Keep in mind that heat is not required to extract caffeine from coffee grounds, so unless you use decaffeinated coffee beans, your cold brew will provide the same caffeine as regular iced coffee. Despite its smooth taste, cold brew can pack more caffeine than regular iced coffee because of its longer steeping time and the larger amounts used to make it.

take away

While traditional iced coffee is made by pouring hot brewed coffee over ice, cold brew ground coffee is brewed for 24 hours before being filtered. They're both delicious when brewed properly, so why not make room for both in your coffee routine?

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