Iced Coffee vs Cold Brew – What is the difference?

ced Coffee vs Cold Brew – what is the difference? To quote Mr. Shakespeare “That is the question!”. It is certainly the question that everyone has been asking lately. Cold Brew has been gaining popularity in recent years. Coffee lovers are discovering that Cold Brew and Iced Coffee taste completely different and look completely different.

It's not simple to compare cold brew vs iced coffee. Many times they could be the same, but most of the time they are totally different drinks. See here how.

Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee Wide

Cold Brew is a type of preparation, Iced Coffee is not

The crux of the difference between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee is that Cold Brew is a whole different way of preparing, brewing and extracting coffee. Cold Brew is brewed with coarsely ground coffee and cold water over a 12+ hour time period. Iced Coffee is just a way of drinking hot coffee that has been cooled down. This is normally done with ice or something else cold such as cold milk or ice cream.

Why is the type of coffee extraction important?

The answer to this question is twofold. Firstly, all coffee that is extracted well follows a recipe. Some factors include the amount of water, the amount of coffee, the coarseness of the coffee and lastly – the heat of the water. If any of these factors are changed after the brewing process, the recipe is no longer balanced. This results in a drink that doesn’t taste quite right.

Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee Short(1)

When we add water to espresso to make americano for example, we are diluting the oils and their natural sweetness in the coffee. These oils have been perfectly extracted for espresso. This means, contrary to common logic, that americano is slightly more bitter than espresso. The same goes for cooling down hot coffee and serving it cold. I think Iced Coffee is a bit like cold pizza. Cold pizza can be great, and lots of people love it, but pizza is prepared to be hot and is meant to be eaten piping hot and straight out of the oven!

Secondly, when coffee is exposed to heat different properties from the coffee are released compared to when coffee is extracted without heat. This isn’t the case with Cold Brew. The fact the Cold Brew is never exposed to heat means that we are unlocking a whole new flavor profile. Coffee lovers are finding this fascinating.

 Coffee properties – Cold Brewing vs Hot Brewing

As I just mentioned, very different things happen when we expose coffee to hot water and when we don’t. Hot water is able to absorb more of the soluble properties from the coffee beans. Plus, everything from the coffee is extracted at a higher level when it is exposed to heat. This includes tasting notes, chemical compounds and even caffeine. We’ll talk more about caffeine in a minute. First – let’s deal with the taste.

Tasting notes of Hot Brewed and Cold Brewed coffee

Coffee which is brewed using heat and again, I’m actually talking about Iced Coffee here, is generally more acidic and brighter in profile. This is because more of the acidic flavors are extracted when they are exposed to heat. This means that Cold Brew coffee has a profile with richer, smoother and more chocolatey notes. The absence of heat is also the reason that Cold Brew needs a much longer extraction time.


I just want to touch briefly here on the look of Iced Coffee compared to Cold Brew. Iced Coffee is generally thinner and more watery looking. I could try and argue that this is because Cold Brew is a more balanced beverage. However, the reality is that the watery look most likely just comes from the melted ice cubes in Iced Coffee!

Coffee Chemistry for Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee

There are other factors in play here. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to talk, just for a second, about the chemistry that is going on when we brew.

Cold Brew In Mason Jar

Cold brew good for sensitive stomachs

So, less acidity is extracted from coffee when we brew cold (between 50-70 percent less!). In combination with this, when coffee is exposed to temperature it produces a chemical compound. This compound produces acid when is gets to the stomach, after it has been drunk. This has nothing to do with acidic tastes or notes. This means therefore that Cold Brew is better for people who have sensitive stomachs and can’t drink too much coffee.

There isn’t any science to support the fact that a coffee with acidic tasting notes remains acidic when it enters the stomach. However, people who struggle with stomach sensitivity do claim that a less acidic tasting coffee reacts better to their stomach. We could also talk about the roast of the beans and acidity now, but we don’t have to, because we wrote another article that talks about just that here.

Other Considerations

Coffee brewed hot oxidizes over time, Cold Brew does not (or at least much less)

Coffee roasted hot oxidizes. This means that a new compound is created when coffee molecules come into contact with molecules in the air or the water dissolved in the coffee. This happens much, much more when we use heat. When coffee oxidises, it becomes more volatile and will go stale much quicker. I mention this because Iced Coffee is normally cooled before it is made into a beverage. The coffee has then oxidised and is already stale, bad coffee by the time it makes its way into your Iced Coffee Beverage. Most cafes are not aware of this fact and they will happily use old coffee that was made a long time before they serve you your Iced Coffee!

Caffeine in Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee

This is probably the section that everyone is most interested in. I’m sorry to disappoint, but there is no proper answer to whether Cold Brew or Iced Coffee has more caffeine. If we are being technical about it, there is less caffeine in Cold Brew if the exact same amounts of water and coffee are used. Again, this is because everything, including caffeine, is extracted quicker with the presence of heat. However, Cold Brew is normally brewed as a concentrate to counteract the slower extraction time, making the properties extracted stronger. This concentrate is then diluted with either water or milk before it is drunk.

Now, I can hear you thinking: Hey! Didn’t you just say that if you mess with the recipe, the coffee isn’t as good? That’s very true, but the Cold Brew recipe is calculated with this in mind. When we dilute Cold Brew, we balance the recipe and the coffee has optimum tasting notes and properties. The recipe is normally 1:1 coffee to water/milk.

Too Much Caffeine

To make things more complicated, I will mention here the extraction time. The most popular recipes call for 12 hours extraction. However, older cold brew recipes called for longer extraction times, which in turn extracted more caffeine, and more soluble solids from the grounds. This is why on our cold brew tutorial we recommend going past 24 hours of steeping.

The moral of this section is that caffeine content in Cold Brew and Iced Coffee really depends from brew to brew.

But if we were to measure the caffeine content of cold brew and hot brew coffee, using the same coffee grounds quantity, and the same volume of water, hot brew would extract more caffeine. The longer we extract cold brew, the more caffeine we get.

Cold Brew is a more balanced and naturally sweeter drink

All of the factors that I have been talking about so far add up to Cold Brew being a more balanced and naturally sweeter drink than Iced Coffee. The coffee recipe is designed to be cold, so the coffee is optimally extracted and tastes sweeter. Cold coffee also doesn’t oxidise, so it is a much more stable drink that can be stored for days and will still taste delicious. This allows us to brew Cold Brew in bulk and drink the same batch for days.

The bitterness of Iced Coffee is normally counter-acted by adding sweet things to Iced Coffee such as suger, sweetener, syrup, cream and ice cream. This is another argument for Cold Brew being healthier than Iced Coffee. I mean, we can still add all of that stuff to Cold Brew if we want to, it just doesn’t need it.

pouring milk over coffee ice cubes

Advantages of Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee

 Cold Brew advantages

As you guys have probably guessed by now, I am a big fan of Cold Brew. It comes with a host of advantages compared to its Iced Coffee counterpart.

It is naturally sweet and delicious. It is more balanced and more stable. It can be made in bulk and enjoyed over the period of a few days. It is incredibly simple to make and prepare and it is healthier and kinder on sensitive stomachs.

 Iced Coffee Advantages

The main advantage of Iced Coffee is that it is much quicker to prepare. A standard espresso takes thirty seconds to extract and drip coffee will be ready in five minutes. These are the two most common brewing methods used for Iced Coffee.

Another potential advantage of Iced Coffee for some aficionados is the more acidic profile it offers. If it is prepared fresh and drunk quickly, you will get coffee tastes and notes that are associated with traditional, hot coffee i.e. the more acidic, bright notes. These are essential for lots for coffee drinkers.

Instead of a conclusion, I will give you an advice. If you enjoy iced coffee, make it with cold brew. And if you want to get fancy, freeze it into coffee ice cubes and pour milk and water over the frozen coffee cubes. This will be the only way you will drink the stuff from there on. 

Photo of author

Dorian Bodnariuc

My name is Dorian and I am a former barista. I consume coffee in any form, as a beverage, in savory recipes and desserts. My favorite caffeinated beverage is the espresso. I love to share my coffee brewing knowledge and my geeky coffee research. This blog is one of the places I write about coffee. More about Dorian... If you want to learn more about this site and how I started it, check our About Me page, where I explain all about it.