Hot Brewed VS Cold Brewed Coffee: 4 Things To Know

Written by: Garrett Oden

Hot Brewed VS Cold Brewed Coffee: 4 Things To Know

Cold brew coffee isn’t brand new anymore. 2016 and 2017 were considered by many to be the years that cold brew blossomed into the mainstream love affair it is now. But many people are still confused about what makes cold brew different from regular hot brewed coffee.

Cold brewing plays by different rules, approaches extraction differently, and produces a coffee drink that’s quite unique and versatile. Let me show you exactly how so you can know once and for all the four main ways cold brew coffee is different (or not) from hot brewed coffee.

1. Cold Brew Has Lower Acidity, Lower Bitterness

As you might imagine, brewing with cold water produces changes from brewing with hot water—and some of these changes are really noticeable from the first sip. For example, cold brew coffee has a lot less acidity and bitterness compared to hot brewed.

Why? Science. Science is why.

Read: How To Taste Coffee Acidity

Okay, let’s get a little more specific.

Extraction, as you know, happens when water dissolves and pulls things out of coffee grounds. These can be sugars, acids, particles that dissolve, oils, and other stuff.

Different temperatures pull out different things at different speeds. For example, we generally say that 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature range for making hot coffee.

Use 210 degrees and you’ll probably get a stronger bitterness. This happens because super hot water causes acids to decay into extra-bitter compounds. Use 185 degrees and your brew will probably taste too sour. This happens because the water’s not hot enough to dissolve the amount of non-acidic compounds required to bring balance to the flavor.

That range we use extracts things at a speed that’s balanced without allowing any one acid or bitter compound to overpower the rest of the flavor.

Read: How To Taste Coffee Bitterness

Cold brewing, however, plays by different rules. The cold water doesn’t just slow down the extraction of these yummy compounds. It actually changes what is extracted and what stays behind in the grounds.

Tests have shown that cold brewed coffee can have 66% less acidity and bitterness when compared to hot coffee.

The acids that normally become bitter in hot coffee (even with proper water temperatures) don’t get extracted. The acids that add a sharpness to hot coffee don’t oxidize (which happens really fast with hot water) to be extra tangy and acidic.

The experience is fascinating, smooth, and refreshing.

2. Flavors Can Change Dramatically

Like I just mentioned, oxidation happens much more slowly with cold water—and the same is true for degradation. This ultimately means less bitterness and acidity, but not just that. It also means there are some big flavor differences.

Read: Iced Coffee VS Cold Brew: What's The Difference?

I’ll spare you all the science-y names, but the actual chemical makeup of the brewed coffee is quite different. If you tried a mug of hot coffee and a glass of cold brew from the same beans, you would know they had a common source, but you’d be surprised at the flavor differences.

hot brewed vs cold brewed coffee

Great hot brewed coffee has a rounded flavor, a satisfying aroma, a gentle sweetness, a crisp acidity, and a hint of lower bitter notes to wrap it all together. Great cold brew coffee has a smooth flavor, a rich sweetness, a very gentle hint of acidity, and virtually no bitterness.

Cold brew doesn’t have the rich aromas that hot brewed coffee does right off the bat, but there’s a really good reason for it.

You see, when the aromatic coffee oils are hot, they’re what we call volatile (which basically means they’re able to evaporate quickly).

Read: How To Taste Coffee Aroma

However, since those oils remain cold through the cold brewing process, they’re not volatile. They actually stay in the cold brew coffee rather than flying away. And when you swallow cold brew, those aromatic oils hit your retro-nasal passages hit your retro-nasal passage and your brain interprets them as a truckload of vibrant floral flavors.

3. Cold Brew Is Far More Versatile

Hot coffee is hot coffee. It’s rich, it’s satisfying, it’s cozy—but it’s hot coffee. There are a few mixed drinks you can make with it, but it’s not really something most people would consider versatile.

Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, can be made into a variety of drinks. You see, the process of cold brewing doesn’t produce a ready-to-drink brew—it creates a concentrate that can be paired with many other ingredients.

Here are a few ways you can use the concentrate:

  • Iced Coffee - Mix the cold brew with cold water and ice.
  • Hot Coffee - Mix the cold brew with hot water.
  • Iced Cold Brew Latte - Mix the cold brew with cold milk and ice.

The list goes on and on. If you like to explore and pair flavors and ingredients, cold brew will provide an avenue for creative drink-making.

cold brew coffee cocktails

4. Caffeine Levels Are Not That Different

There’s a whole lot of confusion about whether cold brew has more or less caffeine than hot coffee. The internet is full of articles with opinions all over the place.

I’m not going to spout more nonsense. Let’s look at some actual data.

Great research by Caffeine Informer has given us a clear look at several Ready-To-Drink cold brew products on the market and their caffeine contents.

Chameleon Cold Brew RTD Coffee

10 fluid ounces

270 mg caffeine

Starbucks Cold Brew Coffee

16 fluid ounces

200 mg caffeine

Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee

10.5 fluid ounces

279 mg caffeine

Stumptown Cold Brew + Milk

16 fluid ounces

319 mg caffeine

Califia Farms Cold Brew

16 fluid ounces

160 mg caffeine

Regular Hot Coffee

16 fluid ounces

326 mg caffeine

From this chart, it’s easy to see that cold brew caffeine is pretty diverse. For example, the 16oz Califa Farms brew has only 160mg of caffeine. And yet, the 16oz Stumptown has 319mg (twice as much).

And what about hot coffee? This test reveals 326mg for 16oz of black hot coffee. Other research has shown anywhere from 85mg to 160mg per 8oz cup. So even hot coffee can be all over the board.

So, how are you supposed to moderate your caffeine intake without more consistent data? Well, you can’t really. At least not that accurately.

Read: The Best Time Of The Day To Consume Caffeine

Here’s my suggestion:

  • Assume cold brew coffee has the same amount of caffeine as black coffee per ounce
  • Don’t drink it if you don’t want any more caffeine
  • Enjoy it if you can handle more caffeine

I wish there was something more solid I could give you, but that’s about it.

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We’re major fans of both cold brew and hot brewed coffee. We even love hot coffee that’s flash-chilled over ice! We’re pretty easy to please, at least when specialty-grade, freshly roasted beans are used.

High-quality beans thrive when made into both hot and cold coffee. They’re even fairly forgiving when you make minor mistakes. Use low-grade beans, however, and you’ll become frustrated at why you can’t brew a better cup.

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