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

Both styles of coffee are delicious but they differ majorly in taste. 

Published June 16, 2023.

It’s a hot summer day. You’ve braved the scorching heat to meet up with a pal at a trendy coffee shop. You made it to the front of the line and your eyes land on some thirst-quenching options: An iced coffee? A cold brew? But what’s the difference? 

These two terms can cause lots of confusion at times. Iced coffee and cold brew are actually quite different, from extraction method to grind size to steeping time. 

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What Is Cold-Brew Coffee? 

Unlike any other brewing method, cold brew is made by steeping coarsely ground coffee in room temperature water. The main difference between cold-brew coffee and other brewing methods is the water temperature. Without introducing heat, fewer acidic flavors of the grounds will come out, which results in a smooth, slightly sweet, and full-bodied cup of coffee. 

The coffee-to-water ratio is also different than other brewing methods—cold brew normally uses more coffee beans. Because cold brew doesn’t have the advantage of heat, which extracts more flavor compounds more quickly, this method requires more coffee grounds to ensure the intensity of the flavors and strength of the brew. 

How Do You Make Cold-Brew Coffee?

The process for making cold brew is simple enough: Stir together water and coarsely ground coffee beans and let the mixture sit for about 24 hours. Then strain. For pour-over coffee, we normally use 1 part coffee to 15 parts water but in our cold-brew concentrate recipe, the coffee-to-water ratio is closer to 1 to 3. This recipe produces a strong cold-brew concentrate that can be diluted with milk, water, and ice. 

If you’re a regular cold-brew drinker, you can invest in a dedicated cold-brew maker. But we found that a French press does the job nicely. Don’t feel like waiting? Use a vacuum sealer to speed up the cold-brew process, or you can always keep some bottled cold-brew coffee on hand when you’re pressed for time.

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What Is Iced Coffee? 

Iced coffee is hot coffee that has been cooled down and served over ice. A nicely brewed cup of iced coffee is full-flavored, crisp, and silky. However, it can taste a bit more acidic than cold-brew coffee, as the coffee extraction happens over hot water, which tends to pull more citrusy and sour flavors from the grounds.

The citrusy and bright flavor isn’t necessarily a bad thing; for those who enjoy the floral and tea-like characteristics of a light roasted coffee, the iced coffee method is fantastic for it.   

How Do You Make Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is typically made using a pour-over coffee maker. The freshly brewed hot coffee flows into a carafe with ice cubes in it, which instantly chill the coffee.

Though this method follows the same coffee to water ratio as hot coffee, which is typically anywhere between 1:15 to 1:20, the “water” part is divided into hot water and ice cubes. So, if you’re brewing with 30 grams of coffee and 500 grams of water, the weight of the ice would be deducted from the 500 grams of water.

That way, the strong, hot-brewed coffee is diluted and chilled by ice almost immediately, which gives it a multilayered and nuanced taste and smooth, silky texture without watering it down.

However, not all coffee shops make their iced coffee this way (nor do you have to at home!). Instead, you can let hot-brewed coffee sit for hours, add some ice, and call it a day. You won't get quite the same nuanced taste, but it will do the trick.


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Is Cold Brew Stronger Than Coffee?

It depends. Some cold-brew coffee makers make cold brew that’s ready to drink and has the strength of a typical drip coffee. However, some models brew what we call a cold-brew concentrate, which has a more intense flavor because the coffee liquid has more dissolved solids, which contain the flavor compounds. We recommend diluting the concentrate with 2 to 3 parts water or creamer. 

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