Cold Brew vs Espresso: What’s the Difference?

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When people talk about strong coffee, the first thing that comes to mind is espresso. Some may even think of only espresso, even though the strong coffee game has many players. One of which is cold brew. So what makes cold brew and espresso different?

In this article, we’ll dig into all the differences between cold brew vs espresso. You’ll find out which one is stronger, what to expect from the flavors of each, and how these drinks are made.

Cold Brew vs. Espresso: A Quick Comparison

Cold brewEspresso
Brewing methodImmersion brewingPressure brewing
Brewing temperatureLow to room temperatureNear-boiling
Brewing timeAt least 12 hours25 to 30 seconds
Caffeine content500 mg per 8 ounces (before diluting)65 mg per ounce
Grind sizeCoarseFine
FlavorSlightly sweet with chocolatey or nutty notesBitter with subtle caramel-like notes
Coffee drinksNitro cold brewCappuccino, latte, etc.

Cold Brew vs. Espresso: How to Brew

Cold brew and espresso are concentrate coffees known for their caffeine kick and strong flavor – making them ideal bases for different coffee drinks. While both coffees bear these similarities, the brewing method is not one of them. 

How cold brew is made

Cold brew involves immersion brewing where coarse-ground coffee steeps in low to room temperature water for at least 12 hours. Instead of heat, the prolonged steeping allows the coffee oils and caffeine to infuse into the cold water. The result is a coffee concentrate that will surely wake you up in the morning!

That’s not even the best part. Cold brewing doesn’t require an expensive and bulky coffee maker. All you need is a good coffee grinder and a container to steep the coffee in. A mason jar, a cold brew pitcher, or even a small coffee maker would do.

If you have an available AeroPress, I recommend trying an AeroPress cold brew. You can make cold brew the usual way for 12 hours or opt for a quick two-minute recipe.

How espresso is made

Now, let’s talk about brewing espresso. Espresso results from pressure brewing, wherein the espresso machine forces near-boiling water through finely-ground coffee for 25 to 30 seconds. The heat and pressure extract the coffee oils for a concentrated shot of espresso.

Unlike cold brew, espresso requires an espresso machine and a level of finesse to brew. You must grind the coffee beans finely, tamp them tightly, monitor water temperature, adjust the steeping duration, and achieve the required 9 bars of pressure.

Fortunately, you can opt for automatic espresso machines for a quick and easy espresso. If these are way beyond your budget, you can try a “mock” espresso with AeroPress as a cheaper alternative.

Cold Brew vs. Espresso: Caffeine Content

Caffeine content is a trendy topic when it comes to strong coffee. Some prefer more caffeine in drinks, while others want less to avoid coffee jitters. Whichever group you are in, you may be wondering whether the cold brew is stronger than espresso or is it the other way around.

Nespresso caffeine content x
Nespresso caffeine content

Let’s first put strength into context. In terms of caffeine concentration, espresso is slightly stronger than cold brew concentrate. However, the concentration remains a relative term.

It all boils down to the dilution ratio and additives you include in the drink. For example, adding milk to espresso may yield a lower coffee concentrate than a straight-up cold brew. And cold brew concentrate is generally diluted to the concentration of drip coffee or an Americano before serving.

If you’re comparing a one-ounce shot of espresso (65 mg of caffeine) to an eight-ounce cup of diluted cold brew (95 mg of caffeine), there is more total caffeine in the cold brew. But the cold brew is also eight times as large.

There are two main reasons that espresso is so strong. First, espresso uses a higher coffee-to-water ratio (1:2) than cold brew (1:5 to 1:8). Second, espresso uses hot, pressurized water to maximize the coffee extraction efficiency. Cold brew’s longer brew time makes it stronger than regular drip coffee, but it’s not enough to catch up to espresso.

Cold Brew vs. Espresso: Flavor

The first sip of strong coffee can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re expecting. That’s why before buying an espresso machine or a cold brew pitcher, you must know what you’ll be drinking.

If you thought cold brew and iced coffee taste the same, they don’t. Cold brew is a slightly sweet coffee with chocolatey or nutty notes. It is less acidic, making it less bitter and smoother than most drinks like iced coffee.

Meanwhile, espresso is bitter coffee with subtle caramel-like notes. It also contains a crema layer on its surface for added flavor, texture, and aroma. When compared, cold brew is smoother and less bitter than espresso.

Note that the resulting flavor depends on how well you brewed the coffee and what beans you used. Here are some recommendations for the best coffees for a cold brew and the best espresso beans.

Now that you’re aware of what they taste like, you should know that drinking them straight up can still be overwhelming. That’s why different kinds of coffee drinks partner them with additional water, ice, and sweeteners to balance the flavor. 

For example, espresso serves as the base for popular coffees like cappuccino and latte. On the other hand, you can dilute cold brew with water or infuse it with nitrogen to make a delicious nitro cold brew.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cold brew stronger than espresso?

In terms of total caffeine content, a cup of diluted cold brew (100 mg per 8 ounces) is stronger than espresso (65 mg per shot). Ounce-for-ounce, though, espresso is stronger than cold brew.

Is cold brew healthier than espresso?

Both espresso and cold brew have all of the health benefits of coffee. Cold brew’s lower acidity could be easier on your stomach, especially if you deal with acid reflux.

Just remember that it only takes about 4 shots of espresso or 4 cups of fully-dilute cold brew to hit the FDA’s recommended maximum caffeine intake of 400 mg.

Is espresso or cold brew more bitter?

While both are strong coffee drinks, espresso is more bitter and less smooth than cold brew. It also has an aromatic cream and subtle caramel-like note, while cold brew follows a chocolatey or nutty note.

Cold Brew vs. Espresso: Strong Coffee Players

The increasing popularity of cold brew gave it a spotlight to shine against the classic espresso, but don’t be swayed by the trends. Choose which drink you prefer based on your taste, daily routine, lifestyle, and most especially, budget.

Just remember that brewing your first cold brew or espresso may not give the results you want. You may have an overly bitter coffee or one with barely a hint of coffee. Fortunately, there are ways to fix bitter coffee and watery coffee. It takes a little practice and effort, but the delicious result is worth it! 

What’s your favorite recipe for strong coffee? Let me know in the comments below! Happy brewing!

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