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Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee 101: Which Has More Caffeine & Flavor?

Cold-brew is everywhere these days. 

From specialty coffee shops to Starbucks and supermarket shelves, cold brew seems to have all but replaced traditional iced coffee drinks. 

The sudden uprising of this smooth, cold coffee is thanks largely to its unique brewing process.

Let’s look at how iced coffee and cold brew are different from one another. Then, we’ll cover how each is made, what they taste like, and which one has a better caffeine kick!

cold brew compared to iced coffee

What Is Cold Brew?

The brewing process for making cold brew is incredibly simple. 

Step 1— grind some coffee beans. 

Step 2— steep the ground coffee in cold water for up to 24 hours. 

Step 3— separate the grounds from the brewed coffee. 

Step 4— nope. That’s it. 

Cold brew is a brewing method that uses cold or room temperature water rather than hot. 

When we brew a regular cup of hot coffee, what we are really doing is dissolving some of the coffee using hot water. 

The brew might take 3 minutes or so, and we’re left with a tasty, balanced cup of coffee, hopefully with some bright acidity (if that’s your thing). 

Unlike hot water, cool water isn’t so effective at dissolving coffee grounds. 

To make up for it, we leave cold brew coffee to steep for a comparatively long time, usually up to 24 hours. 

This long, slow, cool brewing process gives us an entirely different experience in the cup. Sweet, rich, and smooth, commonly with lower levels of acidity.   

One of the more popular ways of making cold brew is by making a concentrate. 

A super-strong black coffee that is typically cut with milk, ice, tonic, soda— pretty much anything!

A Brief History of Cold Brew

While cold brew coffee has seen a massive jump in popularity over the last 10 years, it’s been around for far, far longer. It is thought that this brewing process using cold water dates back to Japan in the 1600s. 

Cold brew has its roots so firmly planted in Japan that many still refer to this style of cold coffee as Kyoto-style coffee. 

It is dubbed Kyoto-style coffee, named after the city where many a coffee connoisseur fell in love with these rich cold coffee drinks.

pouring milk into cold brew

What is Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is simply a hot brew that has been cooled down.

It was brewed hot, then made cool later, either by refrigeration or by the addition of something icy. 

It might be a shot of espresso made cold with some milk and a few cubes of ice or a V60 brew that has been chilled in the fridge.

One of the most common forms of iced coffee these days, especially in a specialty coffee shop, is the iced pour-over. 

For this process, we’ll brew a pour-over that is intentionally too strong. But we’ll do so over a cup or carafe of ice. 

As the ice melts, it simultaneously cools and dilutes the coffee to the perfect drinking strength and ice-cool temperature. 

Because the idea is so simple, there are literally hundreds of variations of iced coffee. An AeroPress over ice, iced espresso, iced filter coffee…you get the picture. 

While cold brew is a specific brewing process, iced coffee is more of an all-encompassing term that covers a hot coffee drink that is cooled down after it has been brewed. 

Related Read: Does Cold Brew Contain More Caffeine?

What’s the Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee?

Aside from the obvious brewing differences, how are these two beauties, these summertime delicacies, different?

Acidity 

Most will agree that one of the key differences flavor-wise in the iced coffee vs cold brew battle, its acidity. Why might that be?

A recent study has shown that it is only slightly less acidic when we look at the pH level of cold brew coffee than its hot brewed counterpart. 

acidity

While the difference in pH between cold brew and hot brewed iced coffee is very small, there is a noticeable change in the titratable acidity— the measurement responsible for the perceived acidity of a coffee. 

In short, cold brew tastes less acidic than iced coffee because it contains lower levels of titratable acidity! 

Flavor Notes

Iced coffees that have been brewed hot then chilled will generally keep the original flavor of the coffee. 

Those delicate subtleties— the florals, the acidic and fruity notes, as well as the origin characteristics should all still be present. 

Iced coffee and cold brew should both be sweet, but iced coffee might be brighter with a more balanced flavor, thanks to its acidity.

On the other hand, Cold brew coffee tends to pick up only the deeper flavors of a coffee. 

We’re talking the chocolatey flavor, the caramel, and some of the bigger, more vibrant fruity notes. Acidity is usually muted, while the overall drink is rich and sweet.

Cold Brew VS Iced Coffee Caffeine Content

A serving of cold brew coffee usually has higher caffeine levels than a similar-sized glass of iced coffee. 

Interestingly, assuming the ratios of coffee to water are equal, hot brewed iced coffee has a higher caffeine content than cold brew. 

A batch of cold brew concentrate uses a coffee to water ratio of around 1:6. This might be 250g of ground coffee, steeped in 1250ml of cool water. 

Compare this to iced coffee which is usually, depending on the coffee maker, a ratio of around 1:15. We can see that cold brew is much more concentrated in caffeine content. The only real exclusion here is with espresso— brewed hot and at a ratio of 1:2. 

The more coffee you use in both cold brew and iced coffee, the more caffeine that drink will have. 

Cold brew is rarely consumed in its highly caffeinated, concentrated form.

It is usually diluted down, resulting in a beverage only a little stronger than your average iced coffee. 

For example, a bottle of Stumptown cold brew contains 275mg of caffeine, which is almost 90mg per 100ml. In 100ml of hot-brewed drip coffee, we’d be looking at closer to 70mg. 

The amount of coffee you add to your drink is really the deciding factor on the caffeine levels of the beverage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Cold Brew Is Better Than Iced Coffee?

Cold-brew is generally more convenient than iced coffee. 

You can make a large batch of it and be set for a week. Not only that, but the flavor of cold brew works great with milk. To make a similar tasting beverage of iced coffee, you’d need an espresso machine. 

Is Starbucks Cold Brew Stronger Than Iced Coffee?

According to the Starbucks menu, a 12oz cup of Starbucks cold brew coffee contains 155mg of caffeine. An iced Americano contains 150mg of caffeine. 

The difference is ever so slight, but Starbucks cold brew is stronger than their equivalent iced coffee.