If you’re looking for the healthiest way to enjoy your caffeine fix, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the differences between iced coffee and cold brew — and how to make them correctly.

But what is the difference between iced coffee vs. cold brew?

The main difference between iced coffee and cold brew is that cold brew coffee is made with cold water, while iced coffee is made with hot coffee that is then cooled down and served over ice.

In this article, I’ll go over all the differences between these two coffees, and in the end, you’ll know which of the two is the better option for your taste buds.

Iced coffee vs. cold brew, the differences

Iced coffee and cold brew coffee are two popular types of coffee. Both are easy to make at home, but each offers a unique experience.

Cold brew takes a lot longer to make (around 12-24 hours), but it results in a smoother, less acidic cup of coffee. On the other hand, Iced coffee can be made in a matter of minutes.

But there are so many distinct features to both coffees that make them unique in their own way.

Iced coffee vs. cold brew comparison.

Below, you can find the key differences between these two popular types of coffee:

Comparison: Iced coffee: Cold brew:
Flavor notes Sweet and well-balanced flavor Smooth taste with slightly bitter notes
Brewing time About 5 minutes 12 to 24 hours
Caffeine content 170 to 220mg of caffeine 250mg of caffeine
Acidity Medium to low acidity Low acidity
Water brewing temperature 90-98 °C Cold tap water
Add-ins? Ice cubes, optional sweetener of choice Ice cubes, optional sweetener of choice

I’ll go over the difference in taste, the brewing process, the calorie difference, the caffeine difference, and how to make these cold coffee versions yourself! Let’s get started.

What is the difference in taste?

Cold brew coffee tastes stronger than iced coffee. This is because cold brew coffee uses more ground coffee and is steeped for longer. This process develops more flavor than the brewing process used for iced coffee.

The longer the coffee is steeped, the more coffee flavor it develops. At some point, mainly after the 18-hour mark, it will develop bitter and even sour flavors that aren’t necessarily great. But the coffee tastes stronger regardless.

Iced coffee vs. cold brew.
Iced coffee on the left. Cold brew coffee on the right

You can make iced coffee with any brewed coffee you like, such as a French press, Chemex, and even Hario V60 coffee. I’ll tell you about all your options further down.

On the other hand, cold brew coffee is made only one way: steeping ground coffee and cold water for well over 12 hours. I like to steep my coffee between 15 and 16 hours.

As you might’ve guessed, cold brew coffee is stronger in flavor because it has been given more time the extract those delicious flavors and oils out of the coffee beans.

Sumatra coffee beans.

Tip: Check out the best coffee beans for making cold brew coffee in this article!

However, iced coffee tends to get slightly acidic from the disturbance of brewing, just like cold brew coffee. By directly putting ice on top of hot coffee, it shocks the coffee, and it will leave you with more acidity than you might like.

Not to worry, I’ve got a great technique to counter this. You’ll find a step-by-step guide a bit further down on how to make yourself a nice cup of iced coffee.

How many calories are in these coffees?

Both coffees can be made as a low-calorie drinks. Coffee itself has virtually no calories. However, when you pour in milk or milk alternatives, sweeteners, and other kinds of additions, the calories counter will go up.

So I’ve told you that without anything added, coffee has almost no calories. But you want to know how many calories your iced coffee or cold brew coffee will have when adding a splash of milk or a little sweetener.

This is where the calorie table down below comes in. In the table below, you can see how many calories your coffee will contain when adding different kinds of milk and sweeteners to it:

Adding: Amount added: How many calories:
Whole milk 1 oz (30 ml) 19 calories
2 % fat milk 1 oz (30 ml) 15 calories
Nonfat milk 1 oz (30 ml) 10 calories
Almond milk 1 oz (30 ml) 7 calories
Oat milk 1 oz (30 ml) 16 calories
Soy milk 1 oz (30 ml) 15 calories
Simple syrup 1 tbsp 25 calories
Brown sugar syrup 1 tbsp 50 calories
Honey 1 tbsp 64 calories

As you can see when looking at the table above, I’ve only listed 1 oz of milk or milk alternative. This is because when it comes to iced coffee and cold brew coffee, you still want to taste the coffee but might want to dilute it just a bit.

Adding just 1 oz milk of choice to your iced coffees gives you the diluted version of the coffees, but the intense coffee flavors are still there. I like to drink my cold coffees quite strongly, but you might not feel the same.

Milk in a jar.

If you want to add more milk to your iced coffee, you can add double the amount.

It’s really easy looking at the table above and doubling the number of calories from the milk of choice. This way, you’ll have an insight into how many calories are in cold coffee.

What is the difference in caffeine content?

There’s a big difference in caffeine content between iced coffee and cold brew coffee. Iced coffee has between 170 and 220mg of caffeine, while cold brew coffee starts at 240 and goes up to 280mg of caffeine.

Because iced coffee can be made using various brewing techniques, I’ve listed a few brewing techniques best used when brewing iced coffee and noted the amount of caffeine in each:

Brewing technique used: Amount of caffeine for 1 cup (0.24 l)
Chemex 172 mg
Hario V60 185 mg
French press 223 mg
Cold brew 240-280 mg
(source)

Cold brew coffee has the most caffeine content of all the coffees listed. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can change depending on the number of hours it has steeped.

When the coffee is steeped for just 8 hours, it already has a whopping 240 mg of caffeine; this can run up to 280 mg when steeped for 24 hours.

Cold brew in a mason jar, ready to strain.
Cold brew coffee steeping in a mason jar

Now you see why this can change depending on the person making the coffee in the first place. I like to steep my coffee for 15 to 16 hours at most. So the caffeine content will be around the 250-260 range.

You could even make cold brew concentrate, which is even higher in caffeine content.

This specific version is diluted with water afterward to bring the strength down to a normal drinking level, just like the cold brew mentioned above, which can be served directly after filtering it.

How to make iced coffee at home

The best part about making iced coffee at home is that it’s quick and efficient. To make iced coffee yourself, you’ll need the following items:

  • 1 cup (0.24 l) brewed coffee of choice
  • Ice cubes
  • Optional: a touch of milk or a coffee sweetener
Homemade decaf iced coffee.
Homemade iced coffee

As I’ve said before, you can use any brewed coffee you like for this technique. I like to use French press coffee as this coffee has a full-bodied coffee taste.

But if you like your coffee on the less punchy side, you can choose to brew coffee using a pour over technique like Chemex or Hario V60. These coffee techniques have a more rounded flavor that isn’t so strong.

Stirring Hario V60 brew.

Optionally, you can make iced coffee using Nespresso coffee pods. You can check out this guide to Nespresso iced coffee if you want to learn more about it.

To make the iced coffee follow the next steps:

  1. Brew the coffee of your choice.
  2. Place enough ice cubes in your favorite coffee cup to fill it to 2/3 of the way.
  3. Once your coffee has been brewed, directly pour it into your ice-filled cup.
  4. Stir until the coffee has thoroughly cooled, and optionally add some more ice cubes to make it extra cold.
  5. Now is the time to spice things up and add ice, some milk or milk alternative, or even some coffee syrup like chocolate syrup.
Chocolate syrup, ready to use.
Homemade chocolate syrup

You’ve now made some super easy iced coffee from scratch. This technique of iced coffee is great when you just want an iced coffee in a matter of minutes.

If you have more time, let the coffee cool down completely without adding ice. This will help with the sourness that some iced coffee tends to have.

The ice cubes are so powerful in cooling the drink down that the coffee is shocked, and you risk making the coffee a bit more acidic than you’d have hoped for.

To counteract this, let the coffee cool down completely, and then add ice to make yourself that delicious iced coffee.

For a more in-depth view of how to make an iced coffee, check out my recipe here!

How do you make cold brew coffee?

Making cold brew is one of the simplest ways to make coffee, in my opinion. There are just a few steps involved to make it amazing tasting. You’ll need the following items:

  • 80 grams of coarsely ground coffee
  • 800 ml of cold tap water
  • A large container, such as a mason jar or preferably a French press
  • Ice cubes
  • Optionally: some milk and a coffee syrup

If you want, you can make a larger volume of cold brew coffee. Use the 1:10 ratio of ground coffee to cold water for a delicious cold brew every time.

Adding a lid to the mason jar cold brew to let it steep.
Closing the mason jar to steep the cold brew coffee

The first thing you have to do is choose a place to keep the coffee in while steeping. I like to use a French press for this, which includes the filter that makes it so much easier. But you can also use a large resealable container for this.

  • If you haven’t done so, grind your coffee beans into a coarse grind size.
  • Add the coffee beans to the container or French press.
  • Pour the cold tap water on top.
  • Stir this coffee and water mixture until all the coffee grounds are equally wetted.
  • Cover the coffee and let it steep for 15 hours. You can leave the covered coffee on your kitchen table to steep.
  • After the coffee has steeped for 15 hours, it’s time to filter it.
  • To filter, either press down on your French press plunger when used or run through a sieve with a cheesecloth or coffee filter when using a large container. These techniques will remove unwanted coffee particles from your coffee:
Filtering the cold brew from mason jar.

Your coffee is now done and can be drunk as is or with just a touch of milk or milk alternative added. The choices are endless.

If you want to learn more about this coffee, you can check out the methods of making cold brew coffee and espresso cold brew.

Extra iced coffee tips

There are a few ways that you can make your iced coffee even better, and I’d like to share my thoughts with you about them. Down below, you’ll find two techniques that make iced coffee so much better:

Make coffee ice cubes

A great way to go against the melting ice cubes is to make coffee ice cubes. Coffee ice cubes are really easy to make and can be made with leftover coffee or made in larger batches at once.

To make coffee ice cubes, fill up an ice cube tray with a coffee of your choice. Preferably a strong-tasting coffee that you like to use in the brewing of iced coffee anyway.

I like to use these ice cubes bags filled with water but cooled down coffee works just as great for this technique:

"Frozen coffee ice cubes, ready to be served."

Freeze the coffee cubes in your freezer for the next few hours.

Now, the next time you plan on slowly sipping your iced coffee, you can add a few of these coffee ice cubes to your coffee and enjoy.

You could even switch out all of your regular ice cubes for coffee ice cubes if you want to get the best-tasting coffee you can make. However, I found that using half normal and half coffee ice cubes work great for this.

Double brew your iced coffee

I’ve already told you about the diluting of your iced coffee. Because you’re using a large amount of coffee and ice, some of those ice cubes will dilute back into water when heated up.

Imagine sitting in the sun, slowly sipping on your iced coffee. You forget to drink the iced coffee for a second, and most if not all ice cubes are gone. They’ve melted and have become water again, making your coffee taste flatter.

Here’s where double brewing your coffee comes in handy. You’ll be using double the amount of ground coffee beans to brew the same amount of coffee you would typically make by double brewing coffee.

"Double brewed coffee using the Chemex."

For example, if you’re brewing 2 cups of pour over coffee, you’d generally use about 38-40 grams of coffee.

To double brew your coffee, you’re going to change up the ratio of coffee to water and use 76-80 grams instead. This will ensure that the slowly melting ice cubes do not impact the strength of the coffee.

If you want to learn more about double brewed coffee, you can check out this great article I wrote about it. There are some cool tips in there that might be useful.

Iced coffee vs. cold brew, which is better?

Cold brew coffee is better tasting than iced coffee. It tastes less acidic and has a more balanced flavor profile. Iced coffee tends to have sour notes that make the coffee taste a bit less pleasing and more watery.

So for me, cold brew coffee is the clear winner. Although the coffee has to steep for a very long time to create that distinct and robust coffee flavor, iced coffee seems to be less pleasing and exciting when it comes to taste.

If you’re not quite sure which of the two fits you better, I recommend the following:

  • Iced coffee is perfect for you if you want a refreshing and caffeinated drink in just a few minutes.
  • Cold brew coffee is the way to go if you’ve got more time on your hands and prefer drinking a less acidic and highly caffeinated drink.

On a brighter note, when using the tips to double brew your coffee to make an iced version and using coffee ice cubes to cool it, it gets better in flavor and has the same smoothness tas cold brew coffee

Even using the double brewed method will give your iced coffee the boost that it needs.

Related coffee comparison articles

Are you wondering how the cold brew and iced coffee compare to other coffees?

Great! Check out the articles below for more in-depth coffee comparisons:

And to compare more coffees, visit the coffee comparison hub!

Conclusion

Now that you know all about these cold coffees, you get to make and try these coffees yourself, so you can decide which of the two suits you best.

For me, cold brew coffee is the better option. But for you, this can differ. You might like a less strong coffee taste and don’t want to wait at least 12 hours to drink your coffee. Test the coffees out, and let me know how it goes!

I’ve covered the most important things about brewing coffee at home; however, there is so much more to learn about home-brewing coffee. If you’re interested in learning more, you can check out the articles I’ve listed below.

Learn more about coffee

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Author

On my coffee blog you will find everything you need in order to start brewing coffee at home. Ranging from the basics; to the newest coffee recipes everybody talks about! You can learn more about me here.

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