Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee: Which is the Right Beverage For You?


Some people really love to start the day with a steaming hot mug of coffee. It gives you that nice caffeine buzz that gets you ready to start the day. Other people prefer a caffeinated beverage less steamy and more frigid, which is why iced coffee and cold brew has much huge popularity. You might be someone on one side of the fence or the other, perhaps you like both and wing it based on your preferences that day. Whatever the case, cold coffee beverages are here and there is no sign that they will be going away.

The two basic forms of cold coffee are iced coffee, which has been around for nearly forever, and cold brew which is a fairly modern creation. Iced coffee is made largely the same as any other hot coffee is made. It’s a coffee that has been cooled down and is poured over ice. Cold brew requires a bit more work and is made by steeping coffee beans in room temperature water for an extended period of time. Some people really love the convenience and taste of iced coffee, while others prefer the unique flavors associated with cold brew.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether you enjoy one or the other more. All you can do is try a quality cup of both and see which one tickles your taste buds. Today we are going to look at what makes a great iced coffee, what makes a fantastic cold brew, how you can make both in your own home, and more. Let’s start by getting into more depth about what each beverage brings to the table.

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

If you’ve found yourself confused at the difference between iced coffee and cold brew coffee, you are far from alone. It’s a confusing concept if you don’t know much about the two beverages. They’re both coffee and, in most cases, they are both served with ice. However, there are several differences between the two that make them distinct from each other.

Iced coffee and cold brew taste utterly different, are brewed in entirely different ways, and are even served in a different manner in most cases. Some occasions might call for an iced coffee while others might call for cold brew. Either way, both can be made at home but require different skill levels. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, as well. If you’re ready to jump in and learn more, we’ll start with iced coffee.

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee seems like a simple term. It’s ice and it’s coffee. However, it’s a bit broader than you might think. There are two different methods for making iced coffee. They have similarities like both using hot water to extract the flavors of the coffee. However, there are also major differences as well. Iced coffee can be brewed directly over ice or it can be brewed before being cooled and served over ice. We’ll talk a little bit more about that.

Brewed Over Ice

If you prefer to brew your coffee over ice, you aren’t alone. Many people prefer this method of creating iced coffee. Essentially, you use a Aeropress, pour over cone, or other brewing method over a cup of ice. This means that the coffee immediately comes into contact with the ice and beings to chill. What does that mean for the coffee? It means that the natural aromas that are released when the hot water hits the coffee grounds are immediately transferred into your cup, which can help preserve a larger amount of the flavor.

Because you extract all of the many flavors of the coffee with hot water, this iced coffee is going to offer a crisper, brighter acidity. Since the coffee is cold, the acidity isn’t actually stronger, but your taste buds are going to perceive it that way. Not everyone likes this type of acidity, so whether it works for you is a personal decision.

If you brew this iced coffee with a pour over method, it is often called “flash chilling” or “Japanese iced coffee.” The end result is going to be a cup of iced coffee that is refreshing, rich, crisp, and aromatic, which many individuals find quite fulfilling. In addition, since you are using hot water to brew the coffee, making this type of iced coffee takes only a few minutes. It’s the way that many coffee shops choose to make their iced coffee for sale.

Brewed and Cooled

Another method of making iced coffee, one that isn’t as popular today, involves brewing a large batch of hot coffee and letting it cool for a few hours. After that, you put the coffee in your refrigerator for later use. There are some issues with this method, though. Because the coffee is left sitting for long periods of time, some of the aroma is able to disappear. The coffee also goes through chemical changes, in the same way that leaving a cup of coffee sitting on the table will lead to stale coffee.

Some people prefer this type of iced coffee, others find that it is less appealing than iced coffee brewed over ice. You’ll likely notice less sweetness and flavors than you would with the other method. It can also have a unique acidity. This is the type of iced coffee that many small diners and fast food restaurants use. Old coffee can be morphed into iced coffee and sold to customers.

Cold Brew Coffee

Brewing coffee with room temperature or cold water has an entirely different effect on coffee than if you were to brew it with hot water. The first thing that is different is the amount of time that it takes the water to remove the flavors and aroma from the coffee grounds. While hot water can do this in minutes, cold brew takes a minimum of 12 hours and often closer to an entire day. There are several methods for doing this. One involves immersing coffee grounds in cold water in a French press or large container. Another uses a drip method where the cold water slowly drips over a bed of coffee grounds.

Another difference is in the things that are extracted from the coffee. Cold brew isn’t as efficient as pulling caffeine or acids as brewing with hot water. This leads to a huge discrepancy in the taste of each when compared against each other. When you make cold brew, you can expect a uniquely balanced flavor. It’s refreshing and smooth to the palate. While it isn’t difficult to make, it takes a lot of time so fewer people work with it. That said, the concentrate can be stored for up to two weeks in the refrigerator which is super convenient when compared to iced coffee.

Because cold brew turns into a concentrate, it offers numerous ways you can use it. The simplest method is to cut the concentrate with ice and cold water for iced coffee. However, it can also be blended with milk, hot water, soda water, or other liquids Because cold brew has an extremely smooth flavor, it can adapt and work with nearly anything you can imagine.

Instructions for Making Pour Over Iced Coffee

The instructions we’re using are going to be for pour over iced coffee. Part of the water normally used for brewing is used as ice instead. Hot water is poured over the grounds to bring out the oils and fats of the coffee, but it quickly cools to prevent any odd flavors. It’s quick and easy. All you will need are water, ice, coffee beans, and the setup for pour over coffee. There are two options here:

  • Pour Over Cone – A ceramic pour over cone is the easiest way to make this coffee. You will also want to be sure you purchase filters for the cone. You can easily get these items for a few dollars and they work to make regular hot coffee, too.
  • Strainer – A small strainer can be substituted for the cone but be sure that it will hold a coffee filter. It works just as well as a cone, but it might not seem quite as impressive.

The important thing is to make sure the cone or strainer can sit comfortably on a pitcher or cup that will hold about two cups of brewed coffee and ice. If you have a glass measuring cup, that makes a great choice.

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What to Remember

You need to be sure you use the correct grind for the best coffee. With pour over coffee, you want a fine grind similar to what you would choose for drip coffee. You’ll want to get your water ready by brewing it to a boil in a pot or electric kettle. The water should be cooled slightly before you start pouring it over. The idea behind this brewing method is to slowly brew it for about four minutes. What that means to you is that you should pour a small amount of the water over the coffee and let it brew for 60 seconds. Then wait another two to three minutes before pouring the rest of the water in. If you notice that the coffee bubbles up and looks like it could spill over the cone, stop pouring and give it time to settle.


  • 14 ounces of 195 to 200-degree hot water
  • 2 ounces of whole bean coffee
  • 7 ounce of ice, plus additional ice for serving


  • Coffee grinder
  • Kettle
  • Heatproof pitcher
  • Small strainer and coffee filters or pour over cone and filters
  • Scale


  1. Boil water in a small saucepan over medium heat or bring to boil in a kettle. Remove water from heat and let cool while preparing the coffee. The water should be between 195- and 200-degrees Fahrenheit to make the coffee.
  1. Prepare your cone filter by folding it to fit, place into the cone, and then rinse using clean water. Toss the water after use. Fill your pitcher with ice and place the cone on top. If using a strainer, place for a measuring cup with ice inside. Make sure the strainer is lined with a coffee filter.
  1. Grind up your coffee the same way as you would for drip coffee. The coarseness should be similar to granulated sugar.
  1. Take a small amount of water and pour over the coffee to wet the grounds for about one minute. After that time is up, pour the water into the coffee in circles and allow to brew for four minutes total.
  1. Use a cocktail strainer to strain the coffee onto fresh ice to remove any diluted ice.

How to Make a Large Batch of Cold Brew at Home

If you’re interested in making your own cold brew coffee, it isn’t as complicated as you might think. It does take a lot of time but most of the process involves nothing more than waiting. When it comes down to it, cold brew coffee involves mixing together coffee grounds and cool water and leaving it to steep for hours. After waiting patiently, the mixture is strained to leave a concentrate. That will be diluted when you use it and can be stored for up to two weeks.

The fact that it can be stored for long periods is a plus since you don’t have to make it every time you want to drink it. It also has an amazing taste with a smoothness and lack of acidity or bitterness which is unique to the brewing method.

Things to Remember

Just like with iced coffee, you want to have the right grind here. This time you want something coarser, closer to the size of raw sugar. This is important to ensure the brew doesn’t get bitter while it is steeping. You can grind the beans in batches using a home coffee bean grinder. In addition to that, you are going to use much more coffee for the water than you might be used to. Our recipes use eight cups of water and eight ounces of coffee, which is pretty extreme when you consider a cup of drip coffee uses about ½ of an ounce of coffee. The final factor to keep in mind is that you should strain the coffee slowly. You may need to work in batches to do this right.

When it comes time to make the cold brew into iced coffee, that’s a cinch. You’ll simply add about a ½ cup of cold brew to one cup of ice and add ½ of a cup of cold water.


  • 8 ounces of whole coffee beans
  • 8 ounces of filtered water


  • 2 (3 quart) pitches or jars with lids
  • Coffee grinder
  • Rubber band
  • Cheesecloth


  1. Grind your coffee beans into a fairly coarse grind. Due to the amount of beans needed, this may need to be done in batches. You want a coarse grind that will resemble raw sugar for the best results.
  1. Pour the ground coffee into a pitcher or jar and add the water to it.
  1. Stir the coffee gently into the water until it is well blended. After the coffee sits, the coffee will float to the top, but you want to make sure that all of the coffee is moistened now.
  1. Cover the cold brew mixture and refrigerate it. It should be left alone for at least 12 hours but up to 24 hours.
  1. Take a small fine mesh strainer and add cheesecloth before placing it over a large measuring cup. Pour the coffee concentrate through the strainer very slowly. If your strainer is small, you may need to do this step in batches. Do not press or squeeze the coffee grounds in the cheesecloth.
  1. After the coffer is strained, transfer it to an airtight clean picture or jar for storage. Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
  1. When you serve the cold brew, fill a cup with one cup of ice cubes. Pour in about ½ cup of the cold brew and ½ cup of cold water. Stir to combine and then add cream or half-and-half if desired.

Making the Best Iced Coffee or Cold Brew of Your Life

If the only way you’ve made iced coffee in the past is by letting your hot coffee get cold and tossing in a handful of ice cubes, you will be amazed by the difference when you make it using the right ingredients and methods. It might seem like it takes a lot of effort to make, but it’s well-worth it in the end. You’ll have tasty coffee, as well as everything you need to make it again anytime you’re in the mood for a child.

As we mentioned, there are several ways to make iced coffee. There’s nothing wrong with trying different things, but we’re going to focus on the iced pour over method. The process of preparing the iced coffee is more complicated and nuanced than with cold brew coffee, but you also get to taste your batch much more quickly. The cold brew method takes what can seem like forever. If you have time to make your coffee ahead, cold brew is a great choice.

Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

Think About How Much Time You Have

If you need a coffee in your hand and you need it now, iced coffee is going to win out over cold brew every time. It takes less than five minutes and you can be rushing out the door. That’s because you brew the coffee right over the ice, so everything takes place all at once. The ice itself helps dilute the concentrate while it also cools it down for you. Cold brew is great to grab and go if you already have it in concentrate form in the fridge, but making it takes at least 12 hours, usually more.

Understand Ice is Crucial

One of the only ingredients that make an impact on the iced coffee or cold brew is the ice itself. If you want to get down to the nitty gritty, the only other ingredient is the actual coffee. The reason this needs to be mentioned is because the quality of the ice is going to have a major impact on the coffee you get to enjoy. You’ll want to use clean, drinkable water and fresh ice cube trays that have been cleaned. A fresh freezer is also a must because if you have lingering scents from leftovers, those are going to be in the coffee, too.

Feel Free to Shake it Up a Little

On the subject of ice, it doesn’t have to be traditional rectangular cubes with nothing but water. You have options to add some flair to your drink. Add some simple syrup to the water or put in a dab of vanilla syrup. It might sound crazy but adding some fresh herbs can work well with certain coffees, mint is a good place to start. If you’re someone who enjoys a little sweetness with your coffee, add some chocolate milk or sweetened condensed milk to get that extra tang of sugar. Here is a quick, easy recipe for vanilla ice cubes:


  • 2 cups of refrigerated coconut or almond milk
  • 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. The first thing you want to do is combine the sugar and almond milk in a large pan. Slice open the vanilla bean lengthwise before scraping the inside into the saucepan. Next, add the empty vanilla bean to the pan. Take the mixture to a simmer under medium heat, using a whisk for break up the bits of vanilla. Once at a simmer, turn the heat to low and cook for ten minutes while continuing to whisk on occasion.
  1. Let the vanilla mixture cool down to room temperature. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl with an attached spout. Next, pour the mixture into ice cube trays. Let them freeze until completely solid. Serve with ice coffee, tea, or other beverages.

Do a Little Bit of Math

Anytime you look up an iced coffee recipe, you probably notice that things can get complicated and math is required. The truth is any good coffee is going to be the same way. Once you have the basics down, it’s really not so bad, and that’s speaking as someone who avoids math at basically all costs. When it comes to iced pour over coffee, all you need to do is think about how much coffee you want when all is said and done. Maybe you want 20 ounces of coffee, you’re going to want that to be about 2/3 hot water and 1/3 ice. When it comes to cold brew, even less math is needed.

Add Some Toppings

After your iced coffee is ready, there’s no reason you have to grab it and go. Think about this: in Australia, every time someone has iced coffee, it also has ice cream in it. Take that thought and apply it to your own palate. Maybe you want to add a scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream. There’s no reason you have to stop at coffee, add what will make it the best coffee for you personally.

Use a Cocktail Shaker

If you aren’t big on whipped cream or ice cream, try another trick. Pour the iced coffee into your trusty cocktail shaker, but don’t stop there. You want to have a great drink and that’s exactly what we’re going to ensure. After the coffee is in the shaker, add some light cream, condensed milk, or coconut milk. Now all you have to do is add the ice and shake, shake, shake. It’s the perfect alternative for those who aren’t into topping.

Choice of Ice for Your Favorite Coffee

Up above we mentioned some of the mix ins you can add to your ice cubes to make your iced coffee really taste great. Another thing that matters here is the type of ice you use. While you can use normal ice cubes, there are other options and we wanted to share a bit more about that. The best ice out there is going to be dense, able to hold a chill, dry on the surface, and without any smells or flavors. It’s also going to be extremely clear. Below, we’ll consider the options.

Block Ice

You can sometimes find this sort of ice at a grocery store, but it can also be made at home if you have room in your freezer. One of the most productive ways of making it is by filling up a small cooler with water and then freezing it for a few days. You’ll find that the cloudy particles end up on the bottom and that ice can be sawed away. Make sure to use caution, though, in order to avoid an injury or accident. This kind of ice has all sorts of uses and can be used to make some of the other types of ice we’ll talk about next.

Rock Ice

These are small bergs of ice that are carved out of block ice. They are going to melt much slower than regular cubes and look better as well. You can use a bread knife or an ice pick to shape small chunks to fit a glass. Then all you need to do is store them in an airtight container in the freezer to use whenever you need them.

Cubed Ice

This applies to the ice cubes you make in any ice cube tray, the silicone trays are often the best quality. Look for a tray that makes perfect cubes, rather than the crescents a traditional tray makes. These look nice in any drink and can also be crushed or cracked as you wish. If you want crystal clear cubes, poke a small hole in each tray section and then elevate it in water inside of your cooler. Afterward, store the same way as you would rock ice.

Cracked Ice

Many people have a freezer that will filter and crack ice, which is completely fine. If you want to do it by hand, you crack ice cubes by holding one in your hand and smacking it hard with a bar spoon back. You can also put them in a bag and break them on a hard surface. If you need large amounts of ice, you may want to buy cracked or crushed ice from a store and leave it in your freezer.

Amazing Cold Coffee Beverages to Try

Of course, the recipes and suggestions we’ve made so far largely make iced coffee without a ton of added flavors. That is far from the only option. You can make some great iced coffee drinks with other ingredients that will hit the spot. Whether you want to add some caramel to your drink, chop up some bananas to add, or want some creamy peanut butter, these options will give you that iced coffee taste with additional layers of flavor.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Iced Coffee

If you’re a fan of cocoa and nut butter, this is a fantastic drink with a nice dose of protein from the peanut butter. All you need is a cup of brewed coffee, ½ cup of soy milk, two tablespoons of chocolate syrup, one teaspoon of vanilla extract, and a packet of your favorite sweetener. This is a single serving recipes but you can double it, if needed.

The first step is to pour the coffee into an ice cube tray and let those freeze. After that is done, combine all of the ingredients, including the coffee ice cubes, in a blender and mix. Pour and enjoy. You’ll be ready to take on your day and your sweet tooth will be sated for now.

Milk and Banana Coffee

This recipe requires a cup of milk, one super ripe banana, ice cubes, one cup of cold brew coffee, and one tablespoon of simple syrup, but the last ingredient is entirely optional. It takes only five minutes to make and will get your day started if you don’t have time to grab breakfast before leaving the house. This will serve two people or give you two glasses so you can drink one later. That part is up to you.

All you need to do is put the banana, simple syrup, and milk into the blender and mix until very smooth. This should only take about a minute. Next, fill two glasses with ice and divide the coffee between the two glasses. Pour in the banana milk on top of each glass. You can then head out the door and even have an extra glass for your spouse or friend. While coffee for breakfast might not be the best idea on a regular basis, it’s fine once in a while and the banana will help stave off hunger.

Iced Caramel Macchiato

This is another recipe that takes only a handful of minutes to prepare. It makes only one serving but you can double the recipe if needed. What you will need is ¾ of a cup of milk, 4 ounces of cold brew concentrate, a tablespoon of vanilla syrup, 1/3 cup of ice cubes, and one tablespoon of caramel sauce. Making a second serving is just as easy so don’t be afraid to make a larger batch if you have a crowd at your home.

Once you’ve gathered all of the ingredients, you want to start by pouring the vanilla syrup into the bottom of a glass. After that, you can add the ice cubes, followed by the milk. Next, pour in the cold brew concentrate slowly. Finish it off by adding a drizzle of caramel sauce. You’ll be good to go in minutes. Don’t be surprised if the people around you ask where you got this drink. It looks good and tastes even better.

Mint Iced Coffee

If you enjoy an herbal taste to your coffee, mint is one of the best options out there. All you will need for this recipe is iced or cold brew coffee and a couple of sprigs of mint. Put the sprigs of mint into a glass and use a muddler to muddle the mint. At that point, you can add however much ice you like, and fill the glass with cold brew or iced coffee. That’s all it takes. It might be a simple recipe but it results in a tasty cup of coffee that anyone would love.

Wrapping Up

Whether iced coffee is your jam, or you prefer the smoothness of cold brew, both can be made at home and done well. You should be well-equipped at this point to make either and do it well. The next time you have guests over to your home, you’ll be able to impress them with all the skills you bring to the table. The best part is that neither of these coffees are hard to make. What matters is adhering to the recipe and using the best quality ingredients you can get. From there, it’s a matter of brewing or steeping the coffee and adding a few finishing touches.

Take some time to try different recipes and brewing methods to find the one you enjoy the most. Experimentation can go a long way with coffee, all you have to do is put in a little effort. With that, we’re sure you’ll find a great recipe that meets your needs in no time. Good luck out there!

Bonus Questions

1. Can I make iced coffee with hot coffee?

Sure, this is easy to do if you brew the coffee ahead of time. All you need to do is let the coffee cool down and add ice cubes. You can also add milk, coffee creamer, sugar, or sweetened condensed milk according to your preferences.

2. Can I make iced coffee with a Keurig?

Absolutely. Start by brewing a k-cup at the smallest cup setting. Once you’re done, pour the coffee over ice cubes. While you don’t have to wait for the coffee to cool, pouring slowly is a must.

3. How do you make a thick coffee shake?

All you need to do is combine vanilla ice cream and coffee in the blender until smooth. If it’s too thick for you, add some milk. You can add in some chocolate or caramel syrup if you want an additional layer of flavor.

4. Is cold brew stronger than regular coffee?

Assuming the brew-to-water ratio is the same, cold brew will end up having less caffeine than hot coffee. However, cold brew is typically made with significantly more coffee, which makes it stronger than you might expect.

5. Is cold coffee good for weight loss?

Having a cup of coffee in the morning or afternoon can help with weight loss because caffeine suppresses hunger. Coffee is also able to help heat the body and boost your metabolism.

6. Do you drink cold brew coffee hot or cold?

Most people drink cold brew coffee at a cold temperature. However, you can heat up cold brew if you prefer a warm beverage.

7. Do you need special coffee for cold brew?

Nope, you can use the same things you have at home. You will need to coarsely grind the coffee though, so it should be in bean form.

8. Does Starbucks have iced coffee?

Starbucks does offer iced coffee, as well as other cold beverages made of coffee, tea, and fruit.

9. Can I drink coffee every day?

Sure! You just want to be sure you drink it in moderation. Health experts recommend consuming no more than 400 mg of caffeine each day.

10. Why do people call coffee Joe?

Some linguists believe that the word Joe, when used for coffee, means Jamoke. This was a term commonly used in the 1930s to refer to coffee.

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