We haven’t been shy about our love for cold coffee around here. From the best iced coffees at Dutch Bros to the tastiest cold brew drinks at Starbucks, we love our coffee and we like it cold.
But, with so many options on the menu for cold coffee, such as iced coffee, cold brew coffee, nitro cold brew coffee, it’s hard not to wonder – is there a difference?
Yes, yes, there is. And, it turns out, those differences are kind of important. Now, if you only have one option available to you, remember that they are all coffee and they are all delicious, but if you have options, well, then you should at least know which one is right for you.
That’s why we are spilling the beans (pardon the pun) on the differences between cold brew and iced coffee, as well as throwing in a little bonus on nitro cold brew, too. So, whip up a Starbucks vanilla sweet cream cold brew copycat and let’s get this party brewing.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: The Differences
Before we dive in to the fine print, here’s a fun little visual that breaks down the key differences between cold brew and iced coffee. They are both served cold, though, so you could use them interchangeably in drinks and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference if you’re getting them sweetened and with toppings, such as sweet cream.
In fact, one of the ways I saved money on my daily coffee run back when I was a teacher was by ordering sweetened iced coffee with milk instead of an espresso or cold brew based drink.
But, the beauty of these two coffee types is that brewing them at home is going to be pretty much the same price, so you can have your cold brew and drink it, too. We do this, too.
So, at the end of the day, which one is best? We’re going to give you the annoying answer of: it depends on what you’re drinking, how much time you have, and what kind of flavor profile you prefer. They both deserve a spot on your shelf and in your drinks.
Let’s dig deeper into each one and what makes them distinct.
What Is Cold Brew?
Cold brew coffee is more popular than ever, thanks to specialty drinks at every major coffeehouse using cold brew as the base. It’s easy to understand why it’s a fan favorite: cold brew coffee is rich in flavor, smooth in texture, less acidic by nature, and pairs dreamily with all kinds of syrups and add-ins.
Because cold brew is steeped in cold water for 12-24 hours, the extraction process is very slow, resulting in a richer, deeper flavor and a smoother coffee. Personally, I have had some acid issues as I’ve gotten older, so I’ve been drawn to low acidic coffees. I was thrilled when I learned that all coffee beans are going to be less acidic when cold brewed vs. brewed with hot water. Score!
Due to the longer brewing time, coffee shops often charge a premium, which is why cold brew based drinks are usually going to cost more. You can swap out iced coffee in any coffeehouse drink, though, and likely save a little money without noticing much of a difference. If you’re drinking it black or with little additions, you will taste the difference in taste and texture more.
What Is Iced Coffee?
Iced coffee is – simply put – any coffee served cold. It’s pretty much a catch-all phrase for any cold coffee drink. In fact, people and coffeehouses will sometimes call a drink iced coffee, when in fact, they’re using a cold brew concentrate. Other times, you’ll need to specify which type you’d like, or they’ll be using brewed coffee that has been cooled over ice or refrigerated.
Usually, though, iced coffee refers to coffee that was brewed hot, usually quickly, such as in a coffee maker, and then put in the fridge to cool down. If the hot coffee is immediately poured over ice, it will melt the ice and become too diluted. So, if you’ve ever been served an iced coffee that tasted like dirty water – this is what happened. This is why some coffee shops, such as Dutch Bros, are going to use espresso shots over ice to create iced coffee, instead of brewed coffee.
Due to the quicker extraction process, the taste is also going to be a little more bitter, have a higher acid content and a slightly grittier texture. Once you add in creams and syrups, you’re not going to notice this as much, but you might if you’re drinking it black.
Because iced coffee can be made quickly, it’ll often be a more affordable option. In fact, the iced coffee with milk is one of the most affordable drinks on the entire Starbucks menu.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Caffeine Content
One question at the top of most people’s minds when considering the two is: which one has more caffeine? Rock on, our caffeinated friends, because this is a solid question.
Cold brew coffee is actually stronger and more caffeinated than its other cold coffee competitor. A typical iced coffee drink might have around 165mg of caffeine, whereas the same size cold brew drink will have upwards of 200mg of caffeine.
However, the exact caffeine content of coffee depends on a variety of factors, such as the actual type of coffee bean used. Other factors that can change the caffeine content include:
- Roast type
- Brewing method
- Amount of coffee grounds used
- Serving size
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Which One Tastes Better?
Curious which one is best for the refined coffee drinker? We have to admit: cold brew is going to be our top pick, thanks to the slightly sweeter flavor and smoother texture. Also, cold brew is a better choice for those sensitive to acidic foods. However, I do find that the type of cold brew I’m drinking can affect this as well. So, once you find that perfect coffee bean that your stomach tolerates the best – stick with it!
When drinking cold brew, I find I need less add-ins to get it how I like it, which also means less added sugar and calories. Considering the sugar content in so many coffees, this is something I’ve personally been working on reducing.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Which One Is Cheaper?
The rumors are true: iced coffee is more affordable! Sure, none of us start drinking coffee to save money, but you can bring down the tab by switching to iced coffee over cold brew. This is true at home, too, if you’re buying pre-made coffee at the store.
If you’re making it yourself, you’re using the same coffee and almost the same amount to brew a pot of coffee vs. a full carafe of cold brew, so it’s not much of a consideration here. The more important question at home would be whether or not you’ve thought ahead and put that cold brew to steep in the fridge overnight.
What is Cold Brew Concentrate?
We loooove cold brew concentrates over here and even put a few of the most popular ones head-to-head in this taste test, where we break down the winners. We drank them black, as well as with the same amount of our favorite creamer, to determine which one had the best consistency, flavor, and texture.
The results surprised even us! But, one thing is for sure, we love coffee concentrates and there are a lot of good options out there. Basically, coffee concentrate is referring to a cold brew coffee that has been steeped very slowly and made much stronger than the typical coffee. This is not designed to be consumed as is, but should be mixed with water.
Some coffee concentrates are up to 20x the strength of iced coffee, so you’ll mix as little as one tablespoon with a full glass of water, such as with Jot. Other coffee concentrates will be mixed at a 2:1 or 3:1 water/coffee ratio.
There are quite a few benefits to cold brew concentrates, such as:
- Takes up less space in your fridge – cold brew concentrates are often quite small!
- Has a nice, rich flavor
- Easy to use – no grinding, steeping or filtering required – just add to water!
- Last awhile – much longer than brewed coffee you’ve stuck in the fridge
To see how this might work, check out this video where we use Jot to recreate the infamous Starbucks Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew coffee:
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It is delicious! Just remember that you must dilute these concentrates with water. This is one of the funniest coffee memes we have ever seen and it makes an important point regarding cold brew concentrates:
What is The Best Cold Brew?
There are a lot of brands that now make ready-made cold brew that you can pick up at the store. We’ve tried so many brands and recommend a lot of them. We do find ourselves picking up the Starbucks Cold Brew the most often, because it plays so nicely with syrups and creamers. The more subtle the flavor, the less you need to get the taste you want. But, if you’re a black coffee drinker, you’ll like a cold brew with more complex notes.
Here are some of the brands we recommend that offer store bought cold brew:
- Califia Farms
- Dunkin’ Donuts
- Blue Bottle Coffee
- Stok Cold Brew Coffee
- La Colombe Cold Brew
We love and buy all of these brands. These are affiliate links, which means if you choose to try one of these through our links, at no cost to you we may receive a commission. Cheers to that!
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Which One Lasts Longer
Iced coffee is usually day or two old coffee that a restaurant or coffee shop put in the fridge. This is a smart way to save unused coffee rather than throwing it away. But any longer than a day or two, you will notice an odd taste to the coffee, unless it is packaged immediately and airtight, such as the kind you buy at the store.
Cold brew, however, has a longer shelf life and can last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. If it’s a concentrate, it can last even longer, but it will taste best if consumed in the first two weeks.
The beauty of cold brew is that you can make a batch and drink a cup every day for a week making it the perfect coffee drink to meal prep along with your meals (if you’re in to that sort of thing). Or, in our case, it saves us the time during busy school mornings. Making a coffee is as simple as pouring a glass, adding creamer, add ice and drink.
Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: How Much Coffee Grinds Do You Need?
Interested in brewing a batch of cold coffee? Let’s take a look at the ratios you’ll need of ground coffee to water.
When using the cold brew method, the water temperature is important and you’ll want to use cold water instead of room temperature water, if possible.
Then, you’ll typically use a water ratio of 1:4. Starbucks reportedly uses a ratio of 4tbsp of coffee grounds for every 6 ounces of water. If you don’t have a scale and you’ve bought a 16 ounce carafe for cold brew, use 16 ounces of water and about one cup of coarsely ground coffee.
For regular coffee that you will put in the fridge for iced coffee, you are probably using a 12-cup pot, so you’ll need 12 cups of water and around 15 tablespoons of coffee grounds. The ratio is typically one tablespoon of coffee for every 6 ounces of water and 2 tablespoons for stronger coffee.
You can also brew coffee using a French press, a pour over (our favorite way!), and many other ways, too.
Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: What Type of Coffee Grind Do You Use?
We’ve been getting very fancy with our coffee grind over here, ever since picking up the Bodum Coffee Grinder, which even has a handy guide printed on the lid so we can’t screw it up.
But, even if you’re using a super affordable blade grinder, you want to have a more fine grind for a pot of coffee vs. a more coarse grind for cold brew. The reason is that it makes it easier to filter out the coffee when making cold brew. If you use a super fine grind, the cold water cannot extract as much flavor as it can from a coarse grind and it’ll also be much harder to get it all out when it’s done steeping.
For brewed coffee, you’re using a filter which will keep all the grinds from getting into the water, so it’s not an issue.
Wait: What is Nitro Cold Brew?
Have you been seeing this one around? Don’t let this confuse things even more. Nitro cold brew is slowly steeped in cold water and then infused with nitrogen gas to create a super smooth coffee with the perfect foam on top.
We absolutely love the Dutch Bros nitro cold brew, although the Starbucks is very good, too, and comes with flavors.
Read our full reviews of the Dutch Bros nitro cold brew here and the Starbucks nitro cold brew here.
MORE COFFEE GEAR REVIEWS:
Looking for more honest reviews of easy-to-use coffee gear? Check out these posts!
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- 9 best Nespresso machines ranked
- Is the Fellow Stagg EKG Electric Kettle Worth It? We found out!
- 7 electric kettles from $40 and up!
- 9 excellent milk frothers for perfect foam
- Our 5 favorite coffee tumblers we use every day!
We hope this guide answered all your questions on cold brew vs. iced coffee. Let us know which one is your favorite!