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

ArtRachen01/iStock via Getty Images
ArtRachen01/iStock via Getty Images / ArtRachen01/iStock via Getty Images

At the first sign of warm weather, many coffee-lovers switch their order from a hot drink to something more refreshing. There are two main ways to consume coffee cold: iced coffee and cold brew. Though these beverages are often lumped together, there are major differences between the recipes that affect the taste and the price of the coffee in your cup.

Iced coffee and cold brew are made from the same ingredients—water and ground coffee beans—but they aren't prepared the same way. Iced coffee starts as regular coffee—a.k.a coffee that's brewed in hot water. After this quick process, the coffee is poured over ice and served chilled. Sometimes coffee shops store extra hot-brewed coffee in the refrigerator to be made into iced coffee later.

Cold brew is more labor-intensive, but it's usually preferred by coffee connoisseurs. As the name suggests, cold brew is made by brewing coffee in cold water which. This lack of heat, according to Starbucks, creates lower acidity for a smoother, naturally sweet taste." Coffee also infuses into cold water more slowly than it does with hot water, which is why cold brew takes at least 12 hours to make. The ratio of coffee to water also has to be higher—1:5 in cold brew compared to roughly 1:16 in regular coffee. These are two reasons why cold brew tends to be more expensive than iced coffee.

Another factor is that cold brew is considered higher quality. The gentle, slow brewing process creates a product with a more mellow, less acidic taste while yielding a stronger caffeine concentration.

Both iced coffee and cold brew are widely available during the warmer months, and which one you should order depends on your coffee budget and preference. If you'd rather beat the heat at home, here are some cold coffee treats to make for yourself this summer.

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