As the warmer weather slowly descends on us and the sun threatens to scorch us down, nothing beats a chilled caffeinated beverage. Do you feel disappointed when the barista responds to you with, “Sorry, we ran out of cold brew for the day. Will an iced coffee be fine instead?”, or vice versa? How do you respond to this dilemma – can one be substituted with the other?
Then there are those who are unfamiliar with the difference between an iced coffee and a cold brew, and find it puzzling to choose between the two at a coffee shop: which is healthier, and what about the difference in acidity levels and caffeine content?
Here we take a comprehensive look at the classic iced coffee and the evolution of cold brew, and the factors which make them stand apart from each other.
All About Iced Coffee
An uncontested champion of hot weather since time unknown, iced coffee is pretty much what the name indicates – coffee brewed in regular process is cooled down and poured over on ice. The result is a full-bodied cup of coffee, wherein the flavor keeps getting diluted with the passage of time, as the ice melts.
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What is Cold Brew?
A mysterious newcomer in cold caffeinated beverage arena that’s being increasingly preferred by most coffee lovers during summers, cold brew is made by steeping medium-coarse coffee grounds in water for extended duration of time. After the grounds have been soaked for at least 12 hours in room temperature or cold water, the grounds are filtered out, resulting in a sediment-free, flavorful and concentrated cup of coffee.
Smooth as satin, cold brews usually boast of twice the caffeine content as that in iced coffee. As a result, it is favored by those who need an instant pick-me-up feeling, minus the bitterness of regular brewed coffee. Cold brew concentrates can be diluted with cold water or mixed with milk, as per one’s preference.
Unlike in the case of regular iced coffee, the preparation of cold brew coffee doesn’t involve any heat. Instead, it utilizes time to extract the caffeine and other aromatic compounds from coffee grounds.
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Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee: What Makes Them Different?
Iced coffee is brewed just like the regular steaming cup of joe, ultimately cooled down and added over ice. The quality and grind of the beans used, ratio of the coffee grounds to the quantity of water used for brewing and the brewing method will determine the strength of the final coffee brew.
Cold brew utilizes time – sometimes as long as 24 hours – rather than heat for the extraction of caffeine, sugars and other aromatic oils from ground coffee beans. Due to the concentrated nature of the resulting coffee brew, it is often referred to as ‘rocket fuel’, and offers the instant stimulation or ‘kick’ that some coffee aficionados seek from their cuppa.
While iced coffee can boast of a fuller-bodied flavor profile since it utilizes higher temperatures to extract the coffee oils from the ground beans, exposure to heat can also result in bitterness and sharper aftertaste that some may find undesirable. What is more, many coffee fans detest the watered-down flavor as the ice continues to melt, which is all the more probable in summers.
On the other hand, a cold brew offers a rounded and smoother mouthfeel, with a perceivable chocolate-y flavor profile. Since it is in a more concentrated form, adding cold water or ice will not result in a watered-down coffee drink, and you’ll be able to enjoy the flavors even with the addition of milk, minus any bitterness.
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While the ratio of coffee grounds to water used and the brewing method determine the caffeine levels, the presence of ice may dilute the strength of an iced coffee.
The bean-intensive method of preparation of a cold brew results in a more efficient caffeine extraction in the form of a concentrated brew. Cold brews typically contain higher caffeine levels.
Iced coffee tends to be more acidic as it utilizes high temperatures during brewing process. On the other hand, cold brews tend to be less acidic since the brewing process does not involve any heat.
Which is Healthier: Iced Coffee or Cold Brew?
Both the versions of chilled coffee drinks – be it iced coffee or cold brew – are chock-a-bloc full of healthy antioxidants and offer the stimulating benefits of caffeine. So how are they different, from a health perspective?
If you seek the instant kick of caffeine from your cuppa, cold brew could be a better choice for you. Iced coffee tends to get watered down and may contain lesser caffeine than its cold brew counterpart. Cold brews are also less acidic, which makes it a healthier choice for those suffering from digestion issues, heartburn or irritable bowel syndrome.
However, those trying to overcome their caffeine dependence or reduce their overall caffeine consumption might benefit from choosing iced coffee over a cold brew, since cold brews can contain higher percentages of caffeine.
It is important to note that both these beverages offer similar benefits that are usually associated with coffee, like reduced risk of heart diseases, diabetes, cancer and mental health conditions like Parkinson’s. This means that neither of the choices is radically right or wrong – it’s just a matter of preference and your specific set of needs.
Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee – Which one Should you Choose?
In conclusion, there’s no denying that both the drinks have a lot of offer in their own right. While both utilize the same ingredients – water and coffee grounds – the final cuppa from either method just doesn’t taste remotely similar. While some find it easier to use remnants of hot coffee brewed in the morning to make iced coffee later, others find it delightful to have some refreshing cold brew waiting in the refrigerator for them.
Depending on whether you love the crisp and sharp notes of iced coffee, or more rounded flavor of a cold brew that packs quite a potent punch, you could choose either of these two summer-worthy coffee drinks. However, it would be ideal to use only the best quality, fresh roasted beans – there are no exceptions to this rule.