As temperatures continue to rise during the summer months, so do the number of coffee enthusiasts who like to make the occasional switch from hot to cold coffee. One quick trip to your local coffee house and you’ll see several iced coffee and cold brew options available. Both use the same basic ingredients – coffee and water – both are served over ice, and both make for a perfect alternative during the warmer months, but these chilled siblings are more different than you might think.
The Brew Process
Cold brew coffee is never made using heat. Instead, the coffee concentrate is made by submerging very coarse coffee grounds in room temperature water and allowing the coffee to sit or “steep” in a cold and dark place, most often a fridge, for an extended period of time. Unlike regular coffee, cold brew is never exposed to intense heat and instead allows time to do the hard work of extracting the coffee bean’s sugars, oils and caffeine.
Like the name suggests, iced coffee is just regular coffee but poured over ice. Making iced coffee is the same as brewing hot coffee, the only difference is hot coffee is enjoyed immediately while iced coffee is set aside to cool down before being poured over ice and consumed. Some expert baristas will even use double the amount of coffee grounds when brewing iced coffee to prevent the ice from diluting the coffee too much as it melts.
Because cold brew coffee uses time rather than heat, this means it naturally takes a lot longer to brew. When making cold brew concentrate, we recommend letting your grounds steep for a total of 12-14 hours. Ideally, you’ll want to let this process happen overnight and in a dark place with little exposure to sunlight.
Iced coffee is quick and easy. You can use any method used to make hot coffee and because of this, iced coffee is typically ready within minutes. Usually, you’ll be able to enjoy your cup of ice-cold coffee 10 minutes after brewing is complete. This standby time after brewing allows the contents inside your coffee cup to cool down so your ice doesn’t immediately melt and leave you with a watered-down taste.
Flavor and Caffeine Differences
The slower cold brew process extracts more caffeine than regularly prepared coffee. However, caffeine levels can vary greatly depending on the beans used. Whole bean options like those offered from RD Coffee will produce more caffeine than Ready-to-Drink brands. Despite the high caffeine levels, cold brew coffee concentrate naturally comes out with chocolate notes and a smooth taste that is also less acidic than iced coffee. Since it is brewed as a concentrate, it will not taste watered down even when you add milk or ice cubes.
Because caffeine’s solubility is temperature-driven, hot water prepared coffee will have significantly more caffeine dissolve than cold brew concentrate. This means your cup of iced coffee will have less caffeine but since it’s prepared hot, it can make the coffee more acidic than cold brew extract. While the hot extraction can result in a more medium to full body cup of joe, the added solubles can also add to the coffee’s bitterness.