Iced Coffee vs Cold Brew: Comparing Strength and Flavor

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Hot coffee is great, but sometimes you just want something cold and delicious. Whether you’re at a coffee shop or brewing a drink at home, you’ve got a lot more options for chilled coffee than you used to.

In this article, we’ll take a look at iced coffee vs cold brew, two of the most popular ways to enjoy a summer afternoon cup of coffee. By the end, you’ll know what to expect in terms of flavor and caffeine content, and you’ll have a good idea of how each drink is made.

Quick Comparison: Iced Coffee vs Cold Brew

Iced coffeeCold brew
Brew temperatureHot, like regular coffeeRoom temperature or below
StrengthSimilar to hot coffeeStronger, brewed as a concentrate
FlavorSimilar to hot coffeeSmooth, less bitter, some chocolatey notes

How are Iced Coffee and Cold Brew Made

Iced coffee is made much like regular, hot coffee. It’s brewed using hot water and any type of coffee maker, although generally, it’s made with a drip coffee maker.

Pouring hot coffee over ice to make an iced coffee

Once the coffee is done brewing, you just pour it over ice, and you have fresh, iced coffee.

Although iced coffee is often brewed using the same settings and coffee-to-water ratio as hot coffee, it’s better if you brew it slightly stronger since the ice will dilute it. That’s why some coffee makers, like the Ninja Specialty Coffee Maker and Keurig K-Supreme Plus Smart, have different strength settings for iced coffee.

Cold brew is made by immersing coarsely-ground coffee in cold water for at least 12 hours. You can make cold brew using room temperature water, but it’s better to chill it in a refrigerator.

Cold brew in a mason jar during the brewing process

One of the best things about cold brew is that you can make it even without a coffee maker. All you need is a mason jar. You can also make AeroPress cold brew or French Press cold brew if you happen to have those coffee makers on hand.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: Caffeine Content

When you cold brew coffee, it comes out as a coffee concentrate. That concentrate can have as much as 500 milligrams of caffeine per 8 ounces! That’s five times what you’d find in a standard cup of hot or iced coffee.

But cold brew is diluted before you drink it, so the final beverage often has a very similar caffeine content to coffee that was brewed hot. A Starbucks grande cold brew (16 ounces) has 205 milligrams of caffeine. Compare that to 165 milligrams for a Starbucks iced coffee.

When you’re making it at home, you control the dilution ratio, so you can definitely make cold brew with a much higher caffeine content than iced coffee. But you can also use high-caffeine coffee beans to enhance the caffeine levels of either cold brew or iced coffee.

Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: Taste

Iced coffee has the same basic flavor as hot coffee. Once you cool down coffee, though, the bitterness is more noticeable, so iced coffee often has sugar or sweetened creamer added to counteract the bitterness. As the ice melts, iced coffee can also get watery, especially if you don’t make it with extra strong coffee.

Cold brew has a very different flavor than iced coffee. It’s smoother, much less bitter, and often has chocolatey or nutty notes.

However, this flavor often comes at the expense of the individual aspects of the beans. The best coffee beans for cold brew are generally those with strong flavors, as weak flavors are muted into nonexistence by the cold-brewing process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cold brew stronger than iced coffee?

Stronger coffee can refer to either more caffeine or more flavor. Cold brew typically has more caffeine, but the flavors are different and often more subtle than iced coffee.

So by one measure (caffeine content), cold brew is stronger. But by the other measure (strength of flavor), iced coffee can be stronger. Both the caffeine and flavor are also dependent on the beans and the recipe you use, so you can make strong coffee using either method.

What’s Next?

Cold brew is quickly become a favorite at coffee shops and for home coffee brewing. With the rise of at-home nitro cold brew kegs, cold brew has become even more exciting.

For great iced coffee, all you really need is a good drip coffee maker. I would suggest looking at Ninja coffee makers, as they have an iced coffee option already. But if you want the best of the best, automatic pour-over coffee makers simply can’t be beaten.

Cold brew and iced coffee aren’t your only options for cold coffee drinks. Iced espresso drinks and iced lattes are absolutely delicious. The stronger flavor of espresso is great for those that find iced coffee to be too watery. With the super-convenient Nespresso machines getting even better and all the recent Nespresso pods for lattes, there’s never been a better time to bring iced lattes or iced espresso into your daily routine.