“Iced coffee” and “cold brew” sound like they are the exact same product. As a seasoned barista, I understand this and apologize on behalf of all of us. If you were to ask anyone handing you a coffee, we would tell you that cold brew far surpasses iced coffee. That said, it is difficult to care when the only difference you note while standing in line is the fact that cold brew is often three times more expensive than iced coffee. This typically makes the customer’s decision for them, but should it? I answer your most pressing cold brew vs. iced coffee questions just in time for the 60 degree weather.
What’s the difference?
The fundamental difference between cold brew and iced coffee is the application of heat. Whereas iced coffee is created by pouring hot coffee over a large amount of ice to create the final product, cold brew takes the opposite approach. After steeping ground coffee in room temperature water for approximately 12 hours, the cold brew is ready to filter. Once the barista removes the grounds, the cold brew is ready!
What about the caffeine?
Though each shop and/or barista has their own recipe, cold brew is overwhelmingly the smoother, more caffeinated choice in comparison to iced coffee. In fact, because of its strength, cold brew is often diluted with water by a ratio of 1:1, though the more hardcore coffee lovers will drink the concentrate as-is.
As touched upon earlier, iced coffee is initially brewed as a full pot of regular coffee on a half pot setting. This combination creates a heated concentrate that is then cooled down over ice. Because of how much water is found in iced coffee, the product is inherently thin. Yes, this means that when you are buying iced coffee you are buying a cup that is essentially 80 percent water, which is then further mixed with ice. Now, iced coffee is not all bad. The application of heat does alter the chemical structure of the grounds in favor of a fuller taste all-around.
Why is cold brew more expensive?
To answer the most pressing question on many students’ minds, the reason cold brew is so much more expensive is because it requires an increased amount of labor for a long period of time. Where iced coffee can be made in less than six minutes, there is really no way to speed up the cold brewing process, which often takes about 12 to 16 hours.
As a final nugget of wisdom in the ongoing debate of long-term guaranteed quality (texture) versus short-term guaranteed quality (well-formed body), there is also a third consideration to throw into the mix. Nitro cold brew, as recently presented in coffee shops like Colectivo and in local brands like Cadence Cold Brew, is working on its time to shine.
What is nitro?
Nitro cold brew starts out with the typical cold brewing process but is then infused with nitrogen gas released through a pressurized valve. This high-pressure application forces the cold brew past a disc and creates an even smoother product than it was before the nitrogen. My prediction is that you will see nitro cold brew implemented just as steadily across the nation as standard cold brew did in 2014 to create a $2 billion market. Just look at this at-home nitro cold brew keg kit system.
What have we learned?
Iced coffee is quick and easy to make without breaking the bank, but cold brew is worth the investment. More than a trend, cold brew is showing us the kind of quality that disappeared slightly as the coffee market boomed this decade. It is time to take your cold drink back to the basics—cold water, coffee grounds, and time. Finally, if you want to stay on top of what the coffee community is currently buzzing about, look no further than nitro cold brew, which you can pick up at nearly any local coffee shop, café or grocery store.