Cold brew coffee and iced coffee are the superstar summer drinks in coffeehouses around the world — but they don't disappear in the winter. A Dunkin Donuts poll showed that 56% of folks believe it's never too cold for an iced coffee. Maybe they just wear gloves?
Still, some are torn between the two brewing methods. Here we’ll break down the differences between cold brew and iced coffee.
Cold Brew: A Smooth, Low-Prep Concentrate
While it takes up to 24 hours to make cold brew, it's a simple process. And it's easy to make with even rudimentary equipment. While it takes time, cold brewing is less finicky than ice brewing. Basically, you just set it up and walk away until it comes time to strain the concentrate. You can mix it up in a pitcher, no problem, and just let it sit in the fridge until it’s time to separate the brew from the grounds with a sieve or other filter.
Minimizing the coffee’s exposure to oxygen is key, since oxidation results in a bitter brew. You can avoid bitterness by using a container that holds only the necessary volume of coffee and water, and no more. Some cafes are even opting to serve cold brew on tap — further reducing oxygen exposure and enriching the coffee's texture with nitrogen, and offering a slick new visual from across the counter.
The long brewing process is what makes the coffee concentrate — resulting in about twice the caffeine content as regular coffee. The rich, smooth flavor, low acidity and sweetness of cold brew complement the addition of dairy, so don’t let any purists guilt your customers out of adding milk.
Cold brew is also ideal for a fast-paced cafe. Iced coffee takes longer to prepare and serve, but cold brew just needs to be poured from its refrigerated storage vessel.
Iced Coffee: The Classic
Since iced coffee is brewed hot, it can be more bitter than cold brew. But high temperatures also extract more coffee solubles, adding to iced coffee’s body.
To counteract bitterness, it is essential that hot coffee be cooled quickly. Brewing directly over ice is a great way to do this, maintaining aromatics and a pleasant level of acidity. Iced coffee is thinner than the original hot brew, but with a full body. It is even less oxidized than cold brew — fresher, in other words. (Though cold brew fans will argue the superiority of a long, cold brewing process.)
But how can coffee poured over ice be anything but watery? It helps to use more grounds than usual (about 10 percent more) but don’t overdo it. Also, add hot coffee to ice drop by drop — not all at once. Known as the Japanese method, this cools the coffee faster and doesn’t melt as much ice.
Which is the winner? Cold brew or iced coffee?
Cold brew is slightly easier to brew, can be prepped ahead, and provides a uniquely rich, smooth brew. Iced coffee is arguably more authentic and fresh, preserving more solids and therefore more nuances of the coffee’s character. It comes down to what you want to serve, and what your customers want. You can offer your favorite (or easiest) option, or try serving both for awhile and see how they sell.