Have you ever gone to a coffee shop and ordered iced coffee, only to be given a $5 cold brew? Or conversely, have you ever asked for cold brew and been given a blank stare?
Yeah, there’s definitely some confusion there.
Iced coffee vs. cold brew: Is there really a difference?
Actually, yes—starting with how they’re made. Iced coffee is made similarly to regular hot coffee. It’s brewed in small batches, says Morgan Berson, an Ontario-based barista. It’s then chilled and poured over ice, or just poured straight over ice.
Meanwhile, “cold brew coffee is where you mix your grinds with cold water in a pot, let them sit from 12 hours to a full day, and then you strain it,” says Amy Shapiro, R.D. and founder of Real Nutrition.
The different brewing processes means that the flavor on each is pretty different. In general, iced coffee (especially when chilled first), has a subtle, cola-like acidic flavor, says Berson. Meanwhile, steeping coffee grounds in cold water—as one does when making cold brew—tends to bring out the nuttier notes of the coffee. Shapiro adds that cold brew is slightly less bitter or acidic than regular iced coffee.
Is one healthier than the other?
Nutritionally, they’re extremely similar—since at the end of the day, they are both just different versions of the same thing.
And remember, coffee generally comes with lots of benefits. Multiple studies link coffee consumption to reduced incidences of depression, certain types of cancer, and diabetes. A recent study from JAMA International Medicine found your coffee addiction might help you live longer than non-coffee drinkers. (Yay! More time on Earth to drink coffee!)
However, there are two points in cold brew’s favor, says Shapiro:
The one big difference with cold brew: It often has more caffeine than iced coffee. That’s because the cold brew grounds soak for longer periods of time—adding more of that sweet, sweet stimulant to the water. If you have a caffeine sensitivity, Shapiro says you’ll want to drink less cold brew than you normally would iced coffee. You can always blend it with half a cup of decaf iced coffee or add extra water if you just can’t quit.
The bottom line: Choosing between iced coffee and cold brew is mostly about taste preference—although cold brew might be easier on your tummy…if you can stand the extra caffeine jolt.
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