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Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew – What’s the Difference? How to Make It?

If you’ve ever walked into a coffee shop on a warm day and thought about ordering an iced drink, you probably were given the choice between iced coffee and cold brew. On the surface these two options are seemingly identical, different names for a cold coffee drink served over ice. However, they are actually quite different, relying on different extraction and brewing methods that result in widely different flavor profiles. Practically, iced coffee and cold brew should be seen as two entirely separate drinks.

Iced Coffee:

Iced coffee is a relatively simple concept; hot coffee poured over ice. Iced coffee is brewed like regular drip coffee, using hot water for extraction. It’s then cooled down and poured over ice. Most coffee shops will brew drip coffee in the morning, then leave it out to cool down and pour over ice throughout the day. Iced coffee however, faces an intrinsic dilemma; in most cases, it’s a hot liquid being poured over ice cubes. Naturally, the ice will quickly melt once the semi-hot coffee is poured over it, which dilutes the final product. At coffee lab, we address this issue by brewing a batch of drip coffee in the morning and storing it in a pitcher to serve throughout the day. Despite its tendency to dilute, iced coffee, can resonate a fuller body despite its thinner taste, which draws many to choose it over cold brew.

Cold Brew:

Cold brew is slightly more complicated than iced coffee but can create exciting flavors and textures that brew a unique beverage. Cold brew uses cold water, rather than hot, in the extraction process, but relies on a longer-term infusion to fully develop the flavors. Coffee solubles, the chemical compounds contained in coffee grounds, are much harder to extract with cold water, so most cold brew methods require 8-12 hours for brewing. What results is a brew process that extracts flavor at a much slower rate, decreasing acidity and bitterness while increasing concentration strength and caffeine content. Cold brews have a full-bodied mouth feel, are also much smoother than iced coffees, and crucially avoid the problem of being diluted by ice.


For iced coffee, stick with your regular coffee brewing method, and pour it over ice. You can also try making coffee ice cubes the night before to avoid dilution.

For cold brew, steep coarsely-ground coffee beans in cold water for 8-12 hours. You can make cold brew in many iced tea brewers or use tea bags to hold the grounds. After letting the coffee steep, take the grounds out and enjoy cold over ice. These are general household methods are very common and the ratio of coffee grounds to water is subjective and depends on personal taste. However, feel free to stop by our café and inquire about our recipe. People love our cold brew!

About the Author:

Leo Sainati

Student at Northwestern University

Specialty Coffee Barista at Coffee Lab Evanston

Assistant Curriculum Developer at the CL Academy

Writing Intern at Ignitus Digital Evanston

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