Coffee is the world's first energy drink, and people around the world still enjoy it for the caffeine boost it gives them each morning. However, it's important to know your caffeine intake each day, especially if you drink a lot of coffee.
There are lots of different coffees to choose from, but espresso and regular cold brew are two of the most popular options for regular coffee lovers. But is cold brew healthier? Or are you better sticking to drinking espresso?
In this guide we'll give you the detailed comparison of the two drinks so you'll be able to easily choose between cold brew or espresso on your next trip to the coffee shop.
Cold Brew Vs Espresso - Key Differences Explained
Brewing coffee is nothing new, and the caffeine content from coffee beans has made it a popular drink throughout the ages. However, cold brew is a relatively new drinking coffee which is growing in popularity because of the caffeine content and taste.
The histories of cold brew coffee and espresso couldn’t be more different; while one started in Japan, the other was founded in Italy.
Let's take a closer look into the differences (and similarities) of espresso vs cold brew by comparing taste, consistency, caffeine, and more.
1. How It's Made
The biggest difference between espresso and cold brew is the brewing process, in particular the brewing time, and it's this difference in technique that really changes the taste and flavor.
Cold brewed coffee is made slowly using cold water, usually in larger batches. Espresso is made in just a few minutes using hot water, and is usually made as an individual serving for a hot espresso drink.
Cold brew is made by loading coarse ground coffee into a mason jar or container, and cold water is poured over them. The brewed coffee is then left for 8-24 hours, depending on whether you enjoy your cold brew stronger or weaker.
The long extraction process gives the cold brew a smooth, but strong taste and helps to retain much more caffeine. Once it's completed you can use a french press to filter out the coarsely ground coffee .
In contrast, a shot of espresso is made using finely ground beans. An espresso machine (or other coffee maker) pushes the hot water through the coffee grounds, and the pressure forces the hot water to absorb the flavor and caffeine from the finely ground coffee beans.
The coffee is then collected in a small coffee cup and can be added to espresso based drinks. The quick extraction process results in less caffeine than a cold brew, but a very strong taste from the espresso which coffee lovers can't get enough of.
2. Coffee Taste
Espresso and cold brew are both coffee drinks with a distinct taste and while they're both rich in flavor, you'll definitely never get them confused.
An espresso packs more flavor with a strong and bitter taste. This is primarily because it's a more acidic cup of coffee. Cold brew tastes much smoother and has less bitterness because it's less acidic.
Therefore, If you want a more drinkable coffee you should choose a cold brew coffee concentrate.
You can add milk, sugar, and other additions to both drinks to impact the coffee taste. You also have the choice to heat a cold brew, or serve an espresso cold as an iced coffee. These options are great for enjoying either drink throughout the year, but a cold brew still tends to be easier to drink.
You can change the flavor of your shot of espresso by using dark roast beans. This gives a smoother and softer flavor profile, but generally an espresso shot will be more intense (despite a cold brew having more caffeine!).
3. Additions And Customisation
One of the reasons that coffee drinks continue to be so popular is that you can make them your way. By adding a few extra ingredients you can massively impact the taste, texture, and sweetness of your drink to make it the perfect cup of coffee for you.
Both drinks are typically served black, but you can customise an espresso or cold brew drink. However, because espresso is used in all espresso drinks there are a lot more customisation options.
Popular espresso additions include:
- Hot milk to make other popular espresso drinks (like lattes and cappuccinos).
- Ice cubes and cold milk to create iced espresso drinks (like iced lattes, iced americanos, or other iced coffee options).
- Flavored syrups.
- Milk alternatives (like almond, oat, or soy).
Popular cold brew additions include:
- Nitrogen to create a nitro cold brew extract.
- Whole milk or milk alternatives.
- Cream (which is great in cooled down coffee).
- Syrup or honey.
- You can also add water to dilute the cold brew concentrate.
4. Coffee Consistency
The different brewing process for espresso and cold brew mean that the two coffee drinks have distinctly different consistencies.
To make a cold brew coffee you use coarse coffee grind size, a fairly low coffee to water ratio, and immerse the coffee grounds for a longer period. All of this gives it higher levels of caffeine, but also makes it more watery and the fact that it's served over ice can make it even thinner.
In contrast, an espresso uses a very fine grind size and a higher coffee to water ratio. This makes the flavor much stronger and gives a thicker consistency.
Cold brew gives you a thinner coffee consistency than espresso, whereas an espresso gives you a thick, slightly creamy, and highly concentrated coffee drink.
However, nitro cold brew is actually much thicker than both drinks. The addition of nitrogen doesn't make the cold brew stronger, but it does make it thicker and more textured so it's easier to drink.
5. Caffeine Content (Strength)
The ingredients and brewing method between cold brewed coffee and hot brewed coffee are surprisingly different, which can lead to a big difference when it comes to how much caffeine they contain.
An average shot of espresso contains about 64mg of caffeine, and a single shot of Starbucks has a caffeine content of 75mg. Many of their drinks are made with 3 shots so that can be up to 225mg of caffeine in a single cup of joe.
Your average concentrated cup of cold brew contains 150-250mg of caffeine, and a Starbucks Cold Brew has a caffeine content of 200mg in their Grande (16 fluid ounce option).
To put that in perspective, the same amount of drip coffee only has 80mg, so there is a lot more caffeine as a result of brewing coffee in cold water.
If you're comparing a single espresso with a cold brew then the cold brew coffee has a much higher caffeine content. However, this does depend on the size of your drink and the number of espresso shots within it.
If you're watching your caffeine intake you're probably better making espresso rather than cold brew.
6. Negative Health Aspects
Considering the negative health implications of espresso and cold brew is difficult because it all comes down to what you consider unhealthy. For us there are 3 key considerations:
- Caffeine levels
- Acidity level and other impacts
Cold brews contain more caffeine than drip coffee or espresso. As long as it's consumed in moderation, caffeine has virtually no negative health effects. In fact, caffeine is considered a health-boosting substance that can sharpen the mind and even lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s. However, if you are sensitive to caffeine then you are better with a good espresso.
Both espresso and cold brews are made with fresh coffee beans and water so there are less than 5 calories in each. This makes cold brew espresso or regular hot coffee great for anyone on a diet (as long as you aren't adding milk and sugar).
An espresso has higher acidity levels which can be harmful to your teeth. If you're worried about your dental hygiene you may be better with cold brews which are less acidic.
Both cold brew and espresso are rich in antioxidants and can have added health benefits (when consumed in moderation). Black coffee is much healthier and it's better if you avoid sugary additions which can spike your blood sugar and cause weight gain.
7. Price In Cafes
Price can be a key consideration when choosing between a cold brew or espresso. The prices in coffee shops can vary, but they're increasing every year. This is part of the reason more people are investing in a coffee maker and making espresso or cold brew coffee at home.
An espresso shot generally costs $2-3, whereas a cold brew costs about $4-6.
To put that in perspective, a drip coffee or french press coffee generally costs $1-2.
Cold brew concentrate costs more because more coffee beans are used in the production, and because there is a much longer extraction time. In contrast, espresso is quick and you'll be able to use an espresso machine to make one in less than a minute.
However, if you’re ordering a beverage with an espresso base, like a latte or cappuccino, you’ll pay about the same as what you would for a cold brew coffee.
Cold Brew Coffee (Overview + How To Make One)
The origins of cold brew coffee can be traced back to Kyoto in the 1600s. Before the Japanese started brewing their coffee cold, they were cold-brewing tea, and a big reason for that was the fact that the cold brewing method didn’t require fire or heat.
But it wasn't until the late 1900s, early 2000s that cold brew coffee became a standard item on coffee shop menus, and it wasn't until about 2010 that major chains like Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts picked up on the trend.
Since then, those who love coffee have started ordering this great drink, and a 2017 study showed that US sales of cold brew coffee (including nitro cold brew) jumped a whopping 370%. These numbers continue to grow and it's now considered a standard cup of coffee to order.
It's simple to make cold brew coffee at home, but the process time-consuming. It involves soaking coffee grinds in room temperature or cold water for a long duration of time, anywhere from 12 to 24 hours (depending on how much caffeine you want in there).
Once the concentrated cup of coffee is ready and fully steeped, simply pour it over ice. It's typically served black, but you make cold brew richer and sweeter by adding your favorite milk, cream, or non-dairy milk alternative.
Espresso Coffee (Overview + How To Make One)
If you're a coffee fan then you've probably heard of an espresso coffee. Like many styles of coffee, espresso originated in Italy, and it has been around since the late 1800s. Since it was first created, espresso has become a common fixture in the world of coffee, and it’s loved for its full-bodied, rich flavor.
Like all coffees, espresso comes from a coffee bean. It is typically made with dark roasted beans since they are less acidic and have a different flavor profile compared to other roast styles. Plus, dark roast beans have a high natural oil content, which is ideal for creating espresso crema (that thick, creamy layer on top of an espresso shot).
Cold brew is stronger than espresso and the same amount of coffee there may be 2 or 3 times as much coffee. However, espresso retains much more flavor vs cold brew, so it all comes down to personal preference as to whether you love coffee flavors over caffeine levels.
There are a few different brewing methods used for making coffee at home, and they all rely on a basic process of transforming hot water into a pressurized gas (steam) which then absorbs travels through the grounds and absorbs the coffee flavor.
The most common modern espresso brewing method is to use a fancy machine that applies heat and high pressure (AKA an espresso machine) to very fine ground coffee beans. The process of making espresso is more intensive than making cold brew, but the brewing time is much faster (about 2 minutes).
It's a common misconception that you need special equipment to make an espresso. A simple moka pot can be used to make a quick cup of pour over coffee, though it will only make one cup at a time so you'll need to repeat the process to make multiple shots of espresso.
Cold Brew Vs Espresso FAQs
Can you make an espresso martini with cold brew?
Yes. In fact, some coffee drinkers prefer using cold brews for their coffee-flavored martinis. Cold brew is just as robust and flavorful as espresso, and if you use cold brew concentrate instead of espresso, you won’t have to worry about a hot shot of espresso melting the ice.
Just remember that it won't have the same caffeine content because when it comes to cold brew vs espresso, cold brew is noticeably stronger.
Does cold brew make you poop?
Yes, drinking regular coffee and cold brew can speed up digestion and create the urge to poop. But it’s not just cold brew that will promote going #2; caffeine is responsible for sending you to the bathroom, and espresso - or any coffee drink with the same caffeine content - can have the same effect.
Healthline did a recent study on coffee and digestion, and the source found that caffeine “can activate contractions in your colon and intestinal muscles. Contractions in the colon push contents towards the rectum, which is the final section of your digestive tract.” This is what’s ultimately responsible for creating that urge.
Can I drink espresso every day?
Many people choose to start their day the same way every day, with a nice fresh strong shot of espresso. It's perfectly fine to drink espresso every day as long as you don't have an adverse reaction to caffeine, and many coffee drinkers enjoy brewing espresso every morning.
Just remember that the amount of caffeine in espresso can be surprisingly high, and drinking multiple espresso shots can spike your blood pressure or even increase anxiety. One small cup of espresso in the morning and afternoon will generally be fine, but try to avoid overindulging throughout the entire day.
The main difference between cold brew and espresso is the different methods used to make each.
The cold brewing process takes lots of time and uses very coarse coffee grounds, but requires minimal effort. Whereas espresso is brewed hot in 2 minutes or less using finely ground coffee beans.
The longer time associated with the cold water brewing makes cold brew stronger than espresso and you'll get noticeably more caffeine in each up. However, the different ground coffee beans and use of hot water make espresso more flavorsome, and gives you the intense bitter notes associated with a classic coffee.
It all comes down to personal preference of taste vs strength, but hopefully you now have all the information you need to decide between espresso vs the much stronger cold brew.