Is Iced Coffee The Same As Cold Brew?

WOW, I haven’t posted in a long minute, figured I’d get back to it with a basic coffee factoid, something chill. Hah. Haha. Hahaha.

Alrighty, let me tell you how cold brew and iced coffee are different, and why I personally prefer iced coffee out of the two. On the subject of not-so-hot coffee, we’ve already talked about how cold brew can be helpful for folks with sensitive stomachs or acid reflux. We’ve also talked about why coffee tastes better at cooler temperatures. There’s been a massive surge in the cold coffee market these last few years--as in, a 27% combined annual growth rate by 2022--and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon. Iced coffee drinks are now expected in not only coffee shops, but restaurants and hotels.

Once you start knocking back cold coffee drinks regularly, you’ll quickly realized that while the term “iced coffee” is thrown around quite a bit, it’s really a different thing from “cold brew.” Iced coffee is hot-brewed drip coffee that has been cooled down and usually kept in a fridge overnight. Cold brew is coffee that heat has never touched (except when the beans were roasted, obvs). But heat never enters the brewing process--instead, coarse grounds are soaked in water for anywhere from 8 to 18 hours, then filtered and chilled.

The water temperature during brewing is key to the difference between the taste of cold brew and iced coffee. Most cold brews these days are made from coarse-ground, dark roasted coffee and steeped for a generous amount of time to produce a chocolatey flavor with a fuller mouthfeel. This makes sense because most people add cream and sugar to cold brew, which goes perfectly with a darker flavor profile.

Now, here’s why I prefer iced coffee, bear with me. I like brighter, more acidic flavors in general, which drip coffee has because it is made with finer coffee grounds and hotter water. When you take drip coffee and cool it down even further, especially single-origin coffees or brighter blends, then the flavors REALLY come through. I always ask for light ice in the cup, and I never add cream or sugar to iced coffee. At home, I love to save the second half of the morning’s French press in the fridge and drink it iced cold the next day.

If you’re in a rush and just want coffee that is cold, you’re probably not going to care if it’s brewed hot or not, as long as it’s cold when you drink it. But if you go to the same shop every morning, take a minute to ask the barista how they make their iced coffee drinks, what kind of beans they use, and if it’s cold brew, how long they steep it. You’ll learn something and you’ll sound like a total coffee nerd!

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Kate Kelly