Ever been confused at the difference between iced coffee and cold brew coffee? I realize it can be confusing; they’re both coffee served over ice, after all. But the differences are dramatic enough to learn about.
They are brewed differently, taste differently, and served differently. Different moments call for different iced coffees. Both can be made at home, and each one thrives in different ways.
If you want to brew incredible iced coffee that suits your lifestyle, keep reading.
Iced Coffee - How Water Brewing
Iced coffee is a broad term. There are two methods people mean when they use the phrase (excluding cold brew coffee). Both methods use hot water to extract yumminess from the coffee, so you experience the full range of flavors that you would if you were drinking it hot.
But one of them you want to avoid at all cost.
Brewed Directly Over Ice
The best way to make iced coffee using hot water is to brew the coffee directly over ice. When you do this using your pour over cone or Aeropress, you force the coffee to chill immediately. This keeps all those natural aromas you released with hot water from flying away by cooling them and keeping them in the glass, which preserves a lot of flavor.
Since you’re extracting the full range of flavors with hot water, iced coffee made this way often has a bright, crisp acidity. Your taste buds perceive the acidity to be stronger since the coffee is ice cold, but the acidity isn’t actually stronger. Still, I’ll understand if the perceived high acidity doesn’t sit well with your preferences.
Brewing coffee this way with a pour over cone is often called “Japanese Iced Coffee” or “Flash Chilling”. The result is rich, refreshing, aromatic, crisp, and satisfying. Since you’re using hot water to brew, it only takes 2-4 minutes to make a glass.
This is how most specialty coffee shops make their iced coffee.
Brewed, Cooled, and Served Over Ice
An older way of making iced coffee (and far less delightful) simply requires you to brew a big batch of hot coffee, let it cool over a few hours, and then stick it in the fridge to chill.
While this does technically produce iced coffee, it doesn’t do so very well. The natural aromas have plenty of time to drift away and the liquid coffee itself undergoes some chemical changes over the long process. Simply put, it’s stale.
In the end, the iced coffee is a shadow of its former self. The sweetness is muted, the aromas are nowhere to be found, and the acidity is odd. It’s definitely the worst method for brewing iced coffee, but that doesn’t stop fast food chains from saving money on hot coffee that isn’t purchased by turning it into iced coffee.
Cold Brew Coffee - Cold Water Brewing
Brewing coffee with cold water creates an entirely different experience than brewing with hot water.
Firstly, cold water doesn’t extract the good stuff from the coffee grounds as quickly as hot water, so the process requires 12+ hours. Typically, this happens with the coffee grounds immersed in cold water in a french press or other vessel, but there is also a “slow drip method” where cold water slowly drips over a bed of coffee.
Secondly, it doesn’t extract the same things. Cold brewing doesn’t pull out the acids or caffeine as much as hot brewing, sometimes resulting in as much as 66% less of each. As you can imagine, the affects the flavor quite a bit.
Cold brew coffee is smooth, refreshing, and often has a rounded, unique flavor. It’s easy to make at home and is pretty forgiving. The concentrate can even be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks, which makes iced coffee over the next few days convenient.
Since it’s brewed as a concentrate, there are quite a few ways you can use it. The most obvious way is to cut it with cold water and ice to make iced coffee, but you can also add hot water, milk, soda water, or any other liquid you’d like to blend it with. Thanks to its smooth flavor, it’s quite adaptable.
There’s a lot to love about iced coffee and cold brew coffee, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like both. Despite being made from just grounds and water, they produce coffee that doesn’t taste the same.
I encourage you to try making both to see which one suits your taste preferences and lifestyle more. Maybe you’ll love the ability to have cold brew coffee waiting in the fridge for you. Maybe you’ll love the crisp acidity of Japanese Iced Coffee.
No matter which style iced coffee you love, always start out using freshly roasted, high-quality coffee beans. No exceptions!
Our JavaPresse Coffee Subscription sends you freshly roasted coffee beans that we've sourced from some of the world's best coffee farms. These beans are roasted and shipped to order for maximum freshness, come from sustainability-minded farmers, and are amazingly flavorful.
Have a great Summer and happy brewing!