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If you’re like us, the morning isn’t complete without a cup of coffee. And while some may enjoy a steaming pot of joe, others opt for a more refreshing option: cold coffee drinks.

In the world of cold coffee, there are two main players: cold brew and iced coffee. At first glance, it’s easy to think: what’s the difference?

Spoiler alert: there are a lot of things that make cold brew coffee and iced coffee distinct. Our guide will walk you through the intricacies of these two drinks, including their caffeine counts, taste, and even how to make them at home. Let’s get started!

A man and a woman enjoy their Swig cups

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

When distinguishing between these two drinks, the key is in the brew. The processes that give these drinks their “cold” title ultimately results in two entirely distinct flavors.

First: iced coffee. As the originator of the cold coffee beverages, its processes are just about as simple as its name. Iced coffee begins its life as a hot cup of coffee, which is then chilled until it’s ready to be poured over ice.

The result? A flavor profile the same, if not a little diluted, as your normal cup of coffee. To account for some of the bitterness, iced coffee is usually served sweetened.

Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, is sort of like iced coffee’s alternative cousin. Instead of being brewed quickly in hot water and left to cool, cold brew’s temperatures start low and stay low.

Cold brew requires a steeping process of up to 24 hours. Coarse grounds are added to cold water and left to sit, eventually becoming a coffee concentrate mixture. This results in a flavorful (and usually hyper-caffeinated) beverage that is usually served mixed with water or milk.

The science of coffee

Caffeine, acidity, and taste...oh my. Not only do these two drinks result in different flavor profiles, but they also have varying effects on the body.

Even if you start with the same two basic ingredients, (water and coffee grounds) the amount of heat used in brewing will alter a coffee’s chemical structure. The process of “oxidation” is what makes a coffee taste stale, and brewing a coffee with heat will speed up that oxidation process. This is why iced coffee may taste more bitter or stale––as it is typically further along in the oxidation process.

On the other side of things, hot water can also bring out some positives in your cup of coffee. By brewing at high temperatures, the coffee is able to release more solubles, leading to a fuller-bodied taste.

The cold brew process, on the other hand, may dull the flavor of the beans. However, the process of making cold brew tends to result in lower acidity levels. This brings out a sweeter coffee taste and can help with digestion!

Aside from taste, you should also take coffee’s caffeine content into account. Given the wide range of cold brew methods and recipes, it’s hard to regulate and predict how much caffeine you’ll be getting in each cup. This is also dependent on how long the concentrate has steeped for.

For example, a 20 hour steeped cold brew at Starbucks has 20% more caffeine than their iced coffee. When choosing the right cup of coffee for you, it’s important to remember that caffeine is a stimulant, and some people may handle high levels of it poorly.

How to make cold brew coffee

Cold brew coffee, while a cafe favorite, is also surprisingly easy to whip up at home.

Grab some water, your favorite coffee grounds, a mason jar, and a sieve. Then, the only thing left to do is wait.

Once you’ve combined your coffee grounds with cool water in the mason jar, shake it up and let sit at room temperature overnight (~12 hours). Once steeped, you can strain through a filter.

Be mindful that this will result in a concentrate, not a stand-alone drink. So grab your favorite coffee cup, and add 1 part cold brew to 1 part water or milk for the ideal drinking experience.

How to make iced coffee

In this method, you’ll need to start with a hot cup or pot of coffee. This can be brewed to whatever strength you like, but brewing it stronger may help stop any diluting caused by the added ice.

Pro tip: Freeze some of the extra coffee in ice cube trays for coffee cubes!

After the coffee is brewed, you can choose to stick it in the fridge or use a special iced coffee maker.

Once it’s completely cooled, pour the coffee over ice, sweeten to taste, and enjoy. To ensure maximum coldness all day, try drinking from an insulated mug. This also reduces the chance of ice cubes watering down your coffee creation!

Get sippin’

Due to its high antioxidants, coffee is thought to reduce the risk of several diseases, like dementia, Parkinson’s, and type 2 diabetes.

So, keep on experimenting with your favorite types of coffee–whether that’s cold brewed or iced. Your daily cup may be helping with more than just keeping you awake!


Looking to switch up your typical coffee drink? Try our Iced Maple Pecan Pie Latte!Follow along with our recipe video here.

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