Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew Coffee: What’s the Difference?

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

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If you’ve never heard of iced coffee chances are good that you’ve been living under a rock for an extended period. But what about cold brew coffee? Well, cold brew coffee is like iced coffee’s cooler sibling (pun not intended believe it or not).

But what is it exactly that makes cold brew coffee cooler than iced coffee both literally and figuratively?

Well, it all comes down to the brew process itself. So let’s first break down how each type of cold coffee drink is made.

Iced Coffee

Now, before I break down what I believe to be the way most people make their iced coffee, I should mention that many times “iced coffee” and “cold brew coffee” are used interchangeably.

In this case however, I’m going to warn you that any time you see or hear the words “iced coffee” you should assume that it will not be “cold brewed coffee”

Step 1: Brew Your Coffee as Usual

This is the big difference here. You are going to brew your coffee as you usually do, with hot water.

Step 2: Put Your Brewed Coffee in the Refrigerator

Yep, nothing mind blowing here.

Step 3: Let Chill for a Few Hours

Bueller? Bueller?

Step 4: Add Ice, Milk, Sugar

If you want. Or you can just drink it straight up.

Cold Brew Coffee

The one major difference between cold brew and iced coffee is the temperature of the water you are brewing your coffee with. In this case, the cold brew is brewed with cold water instead of hot water.

Shocker right?

There are two pretty common ways to make cold brew coffee though: Immersion and Slow Drip. I’l be outlining the immersion method here because it’s more common, but if you want to know more about the slow drip, which is my preferred method of brewing cold brew coffee, go here.

Step 1: Combine Ground Coffee with Cold Water in a Large Pot

A coarse grind with about a 10:1 water to coffee ratio should do just fine here. So for every tablespoon of ground coffee, add 10 tablespoons (a little more than half a cup) of water.

Step 2: Stir

I like to use a wooden spoon here. Metal and plastic are fine too, but I feel they carry their undesirable tastes more easily. Shouldn’t really make a huge difference here though.

Step 3: Put Your Coffee Concoction in the Refrigerator and Let Sit for at least 12 Hours

Most of the big name roasters let the coffee steep for about 12-24 hours. Anything less could lead to a watered down cold brew. Anything more than that could lead to a really bitter cold brew.

Step 4: Filter Your Coffee Concentrate

A large paper or cloth filter is great for cold brew, as it will keep a lot of the sludge out. But some people like sludge, so if you’re one of them go ahead and use a permanent mesh filter. You likely already have one if you own a coffee maker.

Step 4: Add Cold Water, Ice, Sugar, Milk, Cream, etc.

Since this is concentrated coffee you will likely want to dilute it with water at the very least. Many people use equal parts water/milk to coffee concentrate.

I recommend you try the cold brew straight first before adding anything to it.

What’s The Best Way to Make Cold Coffee?

Notice how I wrote “cold coffee”? This was intentional…I didn’t want to confuse anybody here.

I personally think cold brew coffee is significantly better than iced coffee. Still, I’ve fooled myself before as you can see in this experiment I ran comparing these exact two methods in a blind taste test.

My recommendation is to start with the first method (it’s easier). IF you hate your results, try the second method.

If you still hate your results, experiment with the different additives outlined above, as well as different grinds and water to coffee ratios.

If you’re still unable to get drinkable cold coffee I recommend that you either a) give up b) stick to the store/cafe bought cold coffee you already enjoy or c) give slow drip cold brew a try (outlined here).

How Do You Do Iced Coffee/Cold Brew?

I’d love to hear about your iced coffee/cold brew experiences and techniques. Please share your comments and questions below.


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