Ever since I published the coffee concentrate showdown, I knew I wanted to do a similar post with all of the cold brew coffees I could find at the store. Because, let’s face it, as easy as it is to make cold brew coffee at home – it’s even easier to buy it pre-made and whip up cold brew based coffee drinks in a flash.
And, luckily, if you’re also in the phase of life where you’d rather buy pre-made cold brew coffee than make it, there are tons of delicious options out there – and I wanted to figure out which one was the best.
So, in order to find out which store bought cold brew coffee was the head of the pack, I started collecting cold brew coffees, separating out any iced coffee, Nespresso, or coffee concentrate not made from cold brew.
Here’s a little bit about why I focused only on cold brew:
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: What’s the difference?
The biggest difference is how they are brewed. Cold brew is coffee grounds steeped in cold water for at least 12 hours vs. iced coffee which is coffee originally brewed hot and then cooled down.
Because of the way that cold brew coffee is brewed, it has more flavor and less acid. This is especially important if you’re looking to reduce your acid intake (such as I am). You will absolutely notice a difference drinking cold brew vs. iced coffee for this purpose.
Also, cold brew has a higher caffeine content as well, so keep an eye on that if you’re sensitive to too much caffeine.
Now, both taste great cold and both play well with creamers and syrups, so if iced coffee is what is available to you or it’s more affordable – go for it! It’s all coffee and it’s all delicious.
But, since we wanted to truly find out which cold brew was the best, I only compared coffees brewed cold for this experiment. If you want to learn more about cold brew vs. iced coffee, check out this post.
Cold Brew Taste Test: The Competitors
Before we dive in to how we ranked them, let’s talk about the cold brew coffees that were compared here. I narrowed it down to 6 main players. My goal was to rank cold brew that is easily accessible for most people. I mean, it’s not so helpful if I’m ranking obscure coffees only available to people in two states in the country, right? All 6 of these are available in enough places where you should be able to find it.
- Starbucks Cold Brew – Easily one of the most available options on the market. Starbucks Cold Brew is made through a method of brewing that combines ground coffee and cool water and uses time instead of heat to extract the flavor. Their cold brew is brewed in small batches and steeped for up to 48 hours. They use a premium blend of beans specifically selected to brew cold, for a smooth coffee with subtle cocoa notes. If you want to learn more about this one, I wrote a whole post with info on Starbucks cold brew here.
- Califia Farms Cold Brew – This one is made from 100% arabica beans with notes of apple, chocolate and caramel. Then they are steeped in cold water before being packaged. Something I love about this one is that it has BPA free packaging, no carrageenan, and is non-GMO. They have a lot of options, too, but we went for the unsweetened, black to have a fair comparison.
- Stok Cold Brew – Stok is serious about their coffee. Their cold brew uses a higher ratio of coffee beans to water than hot brewed coffee. They steep it at 10 hours at low temperature to allow for slower flavor extraction. They use a final filtering process that removes any bitterness, for a super smooth, less acidic cold brew. While they have several options as well, but we stayed consistent and opted for the black, unsweetened brew.
- Chameleon Cold Brew Concentrate – This is the only concentrate we included because it’s for sure made from cold brew and it’s widely available at stores. We have had Chameleon before and included it in the coffee concentrate round-up, but it was interesting to compare it only against other cold brews here. Chameleon must be diluted with water or it’s way too strong. They use specialty-grade, organic beans for a robust coffee that is full of flavor even after adding water and/or cream. To craft their cold brew, they steep the beans in cold water for at least 10 hours.
- Chobani Coffee Cold Brew – This is one of the newer ones in our area, but we are fans of other Chobani products and wanted to include this in the round-up. Chobani is widely sold, so if your stores don’t carry Chobani yet, they probably will soon. First impressions: I love the packaging. They use 100% single origin, arabica beans as well.
- Bizzy Cold Brew – Bizzy cold brew is the one I was most excited to try, because I had seen it around and in ads and loved the whole vibe. Their cold brew is ethically sourced, 100% organic, micro sifted and sustainably produced. They only use 100% organic coffee beans and water purified by reverse osmosis. Beans are cold brewed for a whopping 18 hours, too.
Digging in to how each of these was made was certainly enlightening for me – as some brands were much more transparent into their process than others. Of course, did any of this matter when we compared them based on taste? We had to find out.
The Cold Brew Coffee Comparison:
It’s not every day you get to crack open 6 brand new giant bottles of cold brew simply for the opportunity to compare them side by side, but that’s exactly what we did. We poured the same amount of each, ensuring that the Chameleon was diluted with water to get a similar strength.
Then, several of us tasted each one, writing down our notes and ranking them according to our own preferences.
The results were illuminating. While one cold brew rose above the rest on all of the rankings, the others were less clear. Turns out, the coffee we prefer has as much to do with our own preferences as it does the actual flavor of the coffee.
But, since we all like a little cream in our coffee, we wanted to see how they respond to add-ins and so we added a splash of creamer to each one.
One of the most interesting parts of the experiment was seeing how each coffee responded to the creamer. Some immediately separated and would need to be stirred, while two of the coffees (Stok and Starbucks) blended effortlessly. Side-by-side you can see how each coffee responded to the creamer.
With the creamer, the taste test took another turn, with all of us preferring different coffees – again, except for one, that continued to stand out as the best.
So, take these rankings with a grain of salt – knowing that your own unique preference and how you dress your coffee is going to be a factor in which one is right for you. Or, grab our top pick knowing that you’ve likely chosen one that we all universally agreed is the best. Let’s take a look at our tasting notes:
6. Califia Farms –
This coffee scored in the middle or near the bottom in all the taste tests. The reason? The coffee had a bitter aftertaste and tasted more like an iced coffee than a cold brew. Once you start tasting cold brew only, you notice how smooth and less acidic they are. With creamer, you could still taste the robust coffee flavor, though, which one tester noted as a positive.
5. Chameleon Cold Brew Concentrate –
Surprisingly, Chameleon also had an iced coffee-like taste to it. Still good and definitely drinkable, but not as smooth as the other competitors in the line-up. However, the concentrate is going to last longer, while taking up less space in your fridge, and offer you more buzz per cup, thanks to a higher caffeine content.
4. Bizzy Cold Brew –
I really thought Bizzy would be the best here, but it ranked a bit all over the place in both taste tests. So, I’m giving it a solid middle ranking and here’s why: one person picked this as their top pick all around. They loved it and took the giant jug home with them to enjoy every day. The other testers ranked it middle or even low, mostly because the coffee taste is very strong, even with creamer. So, if you are a person who really likes a strong coffee tastes – this could be your winner. If you prefer the coffee to blend more nicely with other flavors, or have a bit more subtle, smooth taste, try some of the others on the list.
3. Starbucks Cold Brew –
We almost always keep Starbucks stocked in our house, because it has such a subtle, smooth taste that works really well with all of the recipes that I make. However, one tester called it “bland”. Sure, when you drink it black, it does not have as full-bodied flavor as Bizzy or Stok. It’s not great black, but it’s not offensive, either. However, when paired with toppings, it really takes on the flavors you are looking for. If you want a caramel latte, you are going to taste the caramel. If you want a chocolate cream cold brew, it’s going to take on the notes of chocolate. It’s essentially the perfect base for every drink.
2. Chobani Coffee –
Surprised? We were. Chobani’s rankings put it around 2nd place all around. It had a great coffee flavor, but still smooth, when black. With add-ins, you had a nice balance between coffee and flavors. Very impressed with Chobani overall and would definitely buy/drink it more often.
1. Stok Cold Brew –
Who’s ready for the all-around winner? Stok cold brew took the lead in every taste test across the board. I’ll be honest, Stok was not a cold brew that was really on my radar before this and now I will always have some Stok in my house. They have absolutely nailed the art of the cold brew. The taste is great black, with a super smooth texture and no bitter aftertaste. Then, when you add-in syrups or creamers, it stands it’s ground, without being pushy. I’ve also noticed a remarkable difference in terms of acidity. Stok is smooth, smooth, smooth. If you want a hassle free cold brew selection, pick up some Stok and see for yourself.
The Best Cold Brews: Price
So, let’s talk numbers, shall we? The best cold brew might not be the best for you if it’s costing an arm and a leg. But, here’s the good news: we didn’t try any cold brews that were too expensive to be accessible and all of these are going to save you compared to your coffeehouse drive-through.
Here’s how the numbers shaked down:
- Califia – 48oz. $4.99
- Chameleon – 32oz. $10.99 (makes up to 48 ounces of cold brew)
- Bizzy Cold Brew – 48oz. $5.99
- Starbucks Cold Brew – 40oz. $4.99
- Chobani Cold Brew – 32oz. $4.49
- Stok Cold Brew – 48oz. $5.29 (if out of stock at Target, you can also try at Walmart)
*We bought all of these with our own money. None of these companies sponsored this post. If you choose to make a purchase through our links, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you. Win win!
The good news here is that they are all similarly priced, for the most part, so you can pick the one that you like best and know that you’re still saving a lot of money vs. buying out every day.
Drinks at coffee houses with a cold brew base are marked up vs. iced coffee and they say it’s because of how long the cold brew takes to make, but really, it’s just because cold brew is better and they can charge a premium for that.
Stok Cold Brew Recipe:
After our taste test, we were ready for something delicious, so we whipped up a simple vanilla protein cold brew coffee.
To make one of your own, you’ll need:
- Vanilla simple syrup
- Stok cold brew or similar
- Almond/Cashew milk – has 10g protein in it! (or your milk of choice here)
- Milk frother
Make Your Drink:
- To put it together, fill your cup with ice
- Add cold brew
- Add 1-2tbsp of vanilla to taste.
- Then, add 1/4 milk to your frother with a dash of vanilla syrup. Froth.
- Add frothed milk to top of your coffee. Enjoy!
More Cold Brew Recipes:
I love whipping up cold brew recipes at home. Saves me time, money, and I can customize it to exactly how I like it. Here are some of my favorites on the blog:
- Starbucks chocolate cream cold brew copycat
- The vanilla coffee cream soda you need in your life this summer
- Easy brown sugar shaken espresso – like Starbucks
- Delicious sweet cinnamon iced coffee recipe
Thanks for reading. I hope you feel inspired to pick up some cold brew coffee and start making your own drinks at home.