On a hot summer day, there’s only one thing on a coffee lover’s mind: a nice cup of refreshing cold coffee. Cold coffee can be quite simply be hot coffee that’s cooled down. Or, it can be coffee specially brewed to be served cold. The difference might seem simple but there are key differences between these two.
What Is Iced Coffee?
Iced coffee is any coffee that coffee lovers brew hot, it cools down, and then they served it over ice. It can come with milk or cream, or just black.
There are two ways to brew iced coffee: either you brew it exactly how you brew your usual hot coffee or you can brew it hot over ice. Brewing hot coffee directly over ice is called Japanese iced coffee or flash chilling. Since the coffee is brewed directly over ice, it chills almost immediately and retains all its aroma and strength of flavour. The hot water extracts all the flavour and leaves you with a crisp, strong cup. It is acidic especially when it's cold.
The other method is a more basic way to do it. Simply brew a batch of hot coffee, let it cool, and then chill it in the fridge. This is easy. However, it also means your coffee ends up tasting a bit stale since it has been sitting out for so long. This allows a lot of flavour and aroma to seep away. In the end, your cup ends up tasting diluted and shallow with a mild taste and low acidity.
Iced coffee tends to have a fuller body since it gets brewed with hot water. However, some people may not like the bitterness and acidity combined with the watery consistency. You can balance the watery consistency by using more ground coffee in the brew or by replacing ice cubes with frozen coffee cubes.
What Is Cold Brew Coffee?
Cold brew has been growing in popularity over the last few years and for good reason. Cold brew is a highly caffeinated, smoother cold coffee that is nothing like iced coffee.
The secret here is entirely in the brewing. Unlike iced coffee, there is no heat used at any stage of the brewing process. Cold brew consists of steeping coffee in room temperature water for a long period of time (usually between 12 to 24 hours) and then serving it chilled.
The lack of heat completely changes the taste of the coffee. Since no heat is involved, the extraction process is slow and different elements of the coffee are enhanced. Cold brew has a smooth and rounded flavour, with almost no bitterness or acidity. It’s also stronger and has a more chocolatey taste. The prolonged brewing combined with the lack of heat gives it a strong yet flavourful profile that is especially refreshing on a hot day.
Medium or coarsely ground coffee works best for the cold brew method. Since this method of brewing produces a concentrate, your drink won’t taste diluted and the concentrate can be mixed with milk, cream, or served over ice.
Major Differences Between Iced Coffee and Cold Brew Coffee
The most noticeable difference between the two is the flavour profile. Iced coffee is acidic with a thinner consistency while cold brew coffee is rich, creamy, and has less acidity. Because cold brew uses no heat, a lot of the bitterness is not extracted from the coffee. On the other hand, iced coffee is hot first and then cooled which allows the bitterness to seep in and settle, often becoming overpowering if not done properly. Of course, the quality of the beans used will make a difference too.
Secondly, the levels of caffeination differ between the two. Cold brew steeps over the course of several hours, often overtime. This extracts much more caffeine than iced coffee, which is brewed in a few minutes. Cold brew can often have as much as 215 mg of caffeine per cup compared to iced coffee, which sits at around 150 mg of caffeine. If you’re looking for a major burst of energy, cold brew is your best bet.
Nitro Brew: A Fresh Twist to Cold Brew Coffee
A cool new addition to the cold coffee line-up is nitro cold brew. Nitro cold brew is brewed the same way as your standard cold brew except that here tiny bubbles of nitrogen gas. These get added after the brewing process is complete.
Nitro brew is also in a keg where nitrogen gas is infused into the coffee and this is then poured from a pressurized valve, similar to on-tap beer. The added nitrogen gives a major boost to the mouthfeel of your coffee, making it smoother and lighter. The flavour is sweet and mild, with a foamy top and frothy body.
So, which is better? Whether you choose iced coffee or cold brew depends largely on personal preference of course. If you like a milder, creamy taste then maybe cold brew would be great for you. If you like the acidity of coffee and want something lighter and quicker to make, then iced coffee it is. Keep in mind the levels of caffeination too if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, since cold brew can be quite strong. And for the days you’re feeling extra adventurous, grab yourself some nitro cold brew!