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

Two glasses filled with ice coffee sit side by side.
Kowit Lanchu/Shutterstock.com

With warmer weather just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about how to stay cool and refreshed this summer. If you’re a coffee-lover, that means enjoying all the cold caffeinated drinks possible!

While iced coffee and cold brew might seem interchangeable, there are some big differences between the two. So what sets cold brew apart from iced coffee and vice versa?

What Is Iced Coffee?

It doesn’t get simpler than iced coffee. It’s…coffee with ice. You can take your favorite brew, pour it over a glass filled with ice, and you’ve got the perfect chilled caffeinated beverage for any hot summer day.

People tend to gravitate toward iced coffee because it’s easy to make, refreshing, and can be made with almost any type of coffee, so you can customize it with a brand or strength you already enjoy. When it comes to caffeine content, it’s typically slightly less than your hot coffee. Melting ice might dilute it a bit, but don’t worry it still packs a punch at around 165mg per 16 ounces.

Of course, that’s just the beginning. There are plenty of ways you can jazz up your iced coffee to make it more exciting and flavorful.

How Do You Make Iced Coffee?

An iced coffee sits on a table.

We touched on the process for iced coffee above. The most basic “recipe” is simply pouring your favorite kind of coffee over ice. Ideally, the coffee will be completely cooled so it won’t immediately melt the ice, and it prevents glasses from breaking due to thermal expansion.

However, if you love a strong flavor to your brew, you might not want to try this method. The ice cubes can dilute the flavor of the coffee. Unless your brew is really strong, that can make for a watered-down experience. So either cool it down first or prepare for a little dilution.

Glacio Small Ice Cube Silicone Trays with Lids

Add a chill to your favorite caffeinated brew.

Another iced coffee method involves coffee ice cubes. If watered-down iced coffee is a concern, make coffee ice cubes. Simply pour cooled-down coffee into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Then, when it comes time to make your iced coffee, use those coffee ice cubes instead of regular old water ones.

Iced coffee is also extremely customizable. Once you’ve poured your coffee over ice, feel free to add your favorite cream and flavorings. From vanilla syrups to dairy and non-dairy creamers, the sky is the limit here.

Mr. Coffee Iced Coffee Maker

You can even buy an iced coffee maker.

What Is Cold Brew?

Cold brew is a bit more complicated than iced coffee. It’s a labor of love and requires more patience than pouring a cup of coffee over ice.

To put it simply, cold brewing coffee is a 12+ hour process that involves letting water slowly steep through coarse grounds.

When you brew a cup of hot coffee, you’re extracting the natural oils, sugars, and caffeine from the beans with heat. Cold brew does the same thing with time and cold water. The result? A drink with a lower acidity level, a slightly smoother and sweeter flavor, and a bit more caffeine than iced coffee coming in at about 200mg per 16 ounces.

How Do You Make Cold Brew?

A person pours cold brew into a glass with ice.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Like we mentioned, cold brew typically takes at least 12 hours to make, but just because the process of making cold brew is long, that doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

Typically, you’ll need one ounce of coarsely-ground coffee for each cup of water when you’re making cold brew. However, it is customizable, so if you want stronger or weaker coffee, adjust your grounds-to-water ratio (more grounds for stronger and more water for weaker) Simply steep the grounds in cold water for at least twelve hours (or overnight). The longer you steep, the stronger the coffee flavor will be.

When the coffee is done brewing, you’ll have to strain it through a special coffee filter or cheesecloth. It’s best to let it drain naturally, but you can give it a “squeeze” once or twice to make sure you’re extracting every last drop! Or, you can opt for a cold brew maker that does the straining for you with a built-in filter.

Once the coffee is strained, you can toss the grounds or “recycle” them as compost or garden fertilizer.

Takeya Patented Deluxe Cold Brew Coffee Maker

A specific cold brew maker can make the process even easier.

You can store your cold brew in just about any type of glass jar. You can store your cold brew concentrate in the fridge for seven days, but when you’re a coffee lover, it probably won’t last that long!

When you’re ready to drink, pour a bit of your concentrate over ice and follow it up with milk, cream, and the sweeteners/flavorings of your choice.

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

So when it comes to the differences between cold brew and iced coffee, things are a bit more complex than you might have thought. Because as it turns out, not all coffee with ice is iced coffee.

While iced coffee is made by simply pouring cooled coffee over ice, cold brew has a 12-hour extraction time using cold water. While iced coffee still has a solid caffeine content, cold brew typically has more caffeine thanks to its long brewing time. Finally, the flavors are slightly different with iced coffee retaining a bit more of the acidity of hot brewed coffee and cold brew having a more mellow taste.

Whether you’re team iced coffee or team cold brew (or both), if you need a caffeine fix, both will do the job. Ultimately, when it comes to which drink is for you, it’s all about personal preferences.

Stacey Koziel Stacey Koziel
Stacey Koziel is a news writer at LifeSavvy. She's worked as a freelance writer for over ten years, focusing on family and lifestyle content. She also has a background in marketing and social media, and is always eager to talk (and write!) about the latest TikTok trends. Read Full Bio »
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