Whether you like to grab your coffee on the go or make your brews at home, cold brew raises the bar on what I consider a “good” cup of iced coffee. I’m the type of girl who drinks coffee year-round, so I am always looking for a way to improve my next cup. Cold brew coffee is smooth and flavorful, has a higher caffeine content, and is less bitter and acidic when compared to traditional iced coffee. I’ve worked in the coffee industry for over a decade, and I have personally witnessed the explosion in cold brew popularity, as it’s a large proportion of the drinks I make every day. Here is a breakdown of the unique differences between iced coffee and cold brew that will help you decide which one is right for you.

Brewing Method

While some may think cold brew is just another coffee blend, it’s actually the brewing method used to make the coffee. You can use any of your favorite blends of beans, but coffee shops usually use a darker roast since they are more flavorful and give a more intense profile. After grinding the beans on a coarse setting, the grounds are steeped in water (refrigerated or room temp) for between 20 to 24 hours, or up to 48 hours if you want your coffee even stronger as shown in ballehurns video from Instagram. This is a much longer process than traditional iced coffee, which is normally just hot coffee brewed at double strength and then combined with equal parts ice. This method does produce a balanced flavor that will do in a pinch, but the end product is worth the longer wait when it comes to cold brew.

Photo by Neula Ha for Spoon University


Another key difference between iced coffee and cold brew is the taste. The saturation of the grounds in the water allows for a much more robust flavor, but it is far less acidic and bitter than regular iced coffee. This could be in part due to the coarser grind, which according to Masterclass, gives more exposed surface area and allows for the flavor to be extracted faster than a finer grind. It wasn’t until cold brew that I became a year-round iced coffee drinker, which I attribute to the higher quality taste experience and the innovative cold brew recipes that are popping up on more menus due to the rise in popularity and trendiness of cold brew. If anything, the trend has revived the coffee craft for some, who may have only experienced traditional brewed iced coffee and are excited to experiment with the brewing method. 


The biggest concern I hear about cold brew usually has to do with the price. Many new Starbucks promotions include a new version of its cold foam cold brews, most recently its White Chocolate Macadamia Cream Cold Brew, but they are pricey when compared to the regular iced coffees on the menu, which are usually less than $4 for the largest size. As a barista, I recognize that cold brew requires more time, effort, and skill to create well compared to other beverages on the menu. Various factors during the brewing process can greatly impact the end product, including grind consistency, water ratio, temperature, and brew time. Considering the additional time and labor involved, the higher cost of cold brew is justified, whether at a small local coffee shop or a larger coffee chain.