Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee – Key Differences Compared!

Cold coffees are great year round, but when it comes to cold brew vs iced coffee what's the difference? 

Cold brew and iced coffee both have distinctive yet appealing tastes but without knowing the differences between cold brew vs iced coffee, it's difficult to choose which one is best for you.  

In this article, we'll compare the similarities and differences between them to help you make a choice. 

1. How They Are Made

The cold brew vs iced coffee production processes differs significantly. You don't need any special equipment, but a coffee maker of some kind is generally used for an iced coffee. 

Iced coffee is essentially hot brewed coffee served cold over ice and it's ready in minutes. Cold brew has a completely different production process using cold water and takes longer to make. 

How to make cold brew coffee:

  • Take coffee grounds and mix them in a mason jar with cold water.
  • Once combined, leave them steeped for 12-24 hours either at room temperature or in a refrigerator.
  • Take your cold brew concentrate out and use a french press or filter to remove the coffee grounds. 
  • Finish by adding ice, extra cold water, milk, cream, sugar, or other extras and enjoy your cold beverage.

How to make iced coffee:

  • Brew coffee using hot water (this is usually an espresso). You can impact the caffeine levels by altering the amount of coffee you use, and make a double espresso shot if you want more caffeine. 
  • Leave to cool slightly and then pour over ice. 
  • Add ice, cold milk, and any other extras, and stir well. 
  • Serve immediately and enjoy!

The key differences between traditional iced coffee and cold brew are the length of time and the water temperature.

Unlike other cold coffee drinks, cold brew is not hot coffee cooled down, and only cold water is used throughout. With iced coffee you use hot brewed coffee and combine it with ice and cold milk during the brewing process. 

Cold brew coffee relies on the slow brewing process where the coffee sits in cold water to absorb the flavor and caffeine from the coffee beans. In comparison, ice coffee is quick to make and your coffee shop probably makes iced coffee in minutes.

It's these key differences which impact the caffeine levels in a cold brew and make it stronger and smoother, while an iced coffee retains more of the bold espresso coffee flavor.

2. Ingredients Used

The ingredients used in making cold brew vs iced coffee are generally similar, and that's because the end result is still coffee. 

Cold brew contains:

  • Cold water (filtered, sparkling, or just tap)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Milk, sugar, cream, or any other extras

Traditional iced coffee contains:

  • Pour over coffee or espresso made with hot water
  • Ice
  • Cold milk
  • Sugar, cream, or any other extras

The slow extraction process for cold brewed coffee means it doesn't need as many extras, but regular cold coffee drinks are often served with something to lessen the bitter espresso taste.

Common cold brew and iced coffee extras include: 

  • Milk froth to give it a smoother texture
  • Flavored syrups (including honey, vanilla, maple syrup)
  • Suguar
  • Hot cream

Cold brew coffee uses fewer ingredients as you don’t need to make ice to create it, but it takes longer to produce because of the steeping. If you like sweet coffee, cold brew is the best choice.  

3. Flavor For Drinkers

If you’re thinking, ‘what is the main difference between iced coffee and cold brew?’, another key area to look at is the flavor available. 

Cold brew is much less bitter, has a smoother taste, and is generally more delicate than traditional iced coffee. The espresso based make iced coffee taste more bold, intense and bitter. 

This is primarily because when you brew hot coffee it contains various oils and acids, which give it a bitter taste. These oils and acids are not soluble in water, so they’re excluded from the final product by the steeping process involved in cold brew. However, iced coffee is simply coffee made with hot water and cooled down with ice so it retains these bitter flavors. 

That means the ideal choice between cold brew vs iced coffee depends on whether you prefer sweet or bitter cold coffee drinks. If you want the sweetest coffee without taking the time to add other ingredients, then cold brew is best. 

If you prefer the traditional bitter taste of coffee served cold, then iced coffee is better. However, if you want a quick cup of coffee and only iced coffee is available, you can still add extra ingredients to get those sweet flavors. 

4. Caffeine Content (Strength)  

When it comes to iced coffee vs cold brew, caffeine is an important consideration. The caffeine levels determine how much energy you'll get from the brewed coffee and the difference is pretty substantial. 

A 16oz traditional iced coffee has 150-175mg of caffeine. Cold brewed coffee at the same size has about 200mg, so there is a lot more caffeine in a cold brew compared to iced coffee. 

The difference in caffeine content all comes down to the brewing process. As cold brew is brewed cold over a long period of time it means the drink absorbs more liquid. This steeping creates a cold brew concentrate which can sometimes be double the strength of iced coffees.

Iced coffee is made quickly and usually has a single or double espresso base made with hot water. This means it retains more bold flavor, but less caffeine and won't give you as much of a kick. 

If you’re looking for an energy boost with your coffee, like if you’re pulling an all-nighter, need to get up early, or have a long day ahead, then you'll want to go for cold brew coffee as it has a higher strength. On the other hand, if you just want a little pick-me-up, iced coffee will be best.  

5. Negative Health Aspects

Coffee isn't a particularly unhealthy drink and a modern coffee maker creates pretty healthy regular brewed coffee.

Neither iced coffee or cold brew concentrate are any less healthy than regularly brewed coffee. 

However, there are some negative health aspects from coffee generally and these apply to both iced coffee and cold brew coffee if you have too much. These are linked to: caffeine levels, acidity, and sugar:

Caffeine Levels

Caffeine can help improve your mental alertness and wake you up, but when you consume too much you can get an upset stomach and feel anxious. Cold brew has more caffeine than standard coffee because of the brewing method involved, so it's worth limiting your intake. 


Acid can negatively impact your organs and erode your teeth if you have too much. Iced coffee has a pH of 5, which is slightly acidic and can have a negative effect on your body if you have too much. Cold brew uses coarse ground coffee and a slow brew method with room temperature water so there's much less acidity. Neither are particularly acidic, but cold brew is slightly safer.


Fine or coarsely ground coffee contains trace amounts of sugar, but not really enough to cause any harm. Neither iced coffee or cold brewed coffee is very sugary and the only risk comes if you're adding a lot of sugar to your cup. 

The quick brewing method involved with iced coffee means that it retains more of the bitter coffee taste, so you're more likely to add sugar or something sweet to balance out the taste. The cold brew method filters out some of the bitter oils using a french press so it's easier to drink than brewed coffee. Try to limit any additions to avoid having too much sugar.

None of these potential health risks are too serious, and if you limit yourself to no more than a few cups of coffee a day then there's very little chance of coffee directly impacting you negatively.

6. Milk Options

Milk is a key consideration when it comes to coffee, and almost every brewed coffee works well with at least some kind of milk. The type of milk you use will influence the flavor and texture of your drink, and can massively alter the coffee. 

Both cold brew coffee concentrate and iced coffee can be served with a variety of milks, but iced coffee generally comes with milk as standard. 

An iced coffee is just a regularly hot coffee which is cooled down, so it's natural that it's served with milk. This, along with the ice cubes, helps to give you a cool refreshing drink and can help make sure it stays cold even after the ice melts.

A cold brew or cold brew coffee concentrate works well with milk too. Whole milk adds some richness to the coffee, but coconut works really well to give it an even smoother texture. A cold brew can also be served hot and adding milk helps to cool it down. 

Both iced lattes and cold brew can be served with a wide variety of dairy or dairy-free milk options. Specialty coffee shops might have some other flavors, but the most popular options are: 

  • Whole milk (cow's milk)
  • Skimmed milk 
  • Coconut milk 
  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk

7. Price In Cafés

When you're selecting the perfect cup of coffee it doesn't just come down to taste preferences, it also comes down to price. This can vary between coffee brands, but generally speaking a cold brew coffee is more expensive than an iced coffee. 

On average a cold brew coffee will cost $4-6, whereas an iced coffee will cost $3-4 dollars. 

The main difference between the two drinks is the brewing time. Cold brew coffee has a long process and it can take 24 hours to make a batch that's ready to drink. In contrast, an iced coffee can be ready in minutes because it's a regular coffee served over ice. 

The amount of coffee beans used for the two options vary wildly too. A cold brew requires almost 3 times as many coarsely ground coffee beans to make a cup compared to an iced coffee. 

All of this means that a cold brew costs more in a coffee shop than an iced coffee even though it uses no hot water.

Starbucks Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee 

Starbucks cold brew vs iced coffee is an interesting comparison, as some customers say that the cold brew tastes much better than their iced coffee, whereas others claim the iced coffee is better and the cold brew is diluted. So it seems the taste is quite subjective. 

In terms of price, iced coffee is cheaper, as is the case for most coffee shops. Iced coffee is drip coffee cooled with ice and then refrigerated, whereas cold brew is steeped for 20 hours. Iced coffees are generally more popular in Starbucks stores than cold brew is. 

Starbucks Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee

Cold Brew: Why Coffee Drinkers Love It 

Cold brew coffee is made by creating a coffee concentrate, which is achieved by steeping coffee grounds at room temperature. It doesn't even have to stay cold, as you can serve it hot! 

There are numerous other key differences when comparing cold brew coffee vs iced coffee. Cold brew coffee is much less acidic, takes far longer to make, and often has more caffeine.

These contribute to the cold brew vs iced coffee taste difference. Cold brew coffee has a signature taste, which is smooth and sweet. 

The 50-67% reduction in acidity also makes it less bitter, which is usually compensated for by adding sugar or honey.

That taste helps to refresh and relax people, which is why people enjoy cold brew coffee.  

Coffee shops will typically use a jar with ground coffee and cold water mixed together when making cold brew coffee. 

This will be left in a fridge for 12-24 hours, then strained, chilled in the jar, and served. Customers can then drink out of the jar or take a disposable cup. Cold brew coffee is often consumed by millennials looking for an energy boost without the artificial sweeteners and sugar found in soda cans. 

Cold Brew Vs Iced Coffee (Key Differences Compared)

Iced Coffee: Why Coffee Drinkers Enjoy It 

Iced coffee and cold brew are both great summer drinks, but iced coffee remains a favorite around the world.

Iced coffee is exactly what it sounds like, regular coffee - but cold. It’s popular in numerous countries but the process isn’t as simple as just leaving drip coffee to cool down. 

When made, it will be iced and will come without milk or foam. That’s what makes it different from a cup of coffee left to cool. When considering the difference between cold brew and iced coffee, there are quite a few.

Iced coffee only takes minutes to brew and retains the bitterness and acidity that coffee is known for.

However, it can sometimes taste diluted. It's also best consumed within one day, as that's when the taste is best.

If you’re wondering what’s the difference between iced coffee and cold brew when made in coffee shops, the answer is simple.

Instead of mixing coffee grounds in jars and refrigerating them, the barista can simply grab a glass, fill it with ice, place a brewer on top, and pour hot water in. 

After that, it gets stirred, left for a minute, and served. Younger women and those in urban areas tend to like it the most. It’s often taken at breakfast and in a disposable cup.

iced coffee in jar

Dunkin Donuts Cold Brew Versus Iced Coffee 

Dunkin Donuts offer iced coffee and cold brew options which are great if you're not a fan of Starbucks. The recipe for their iced coffee and cold brew are the same as other coffee shops, but the cold brew at Dunkin Donuts tends to taste stronger and more creamy. In contrast, the iced coffee is weak and watery (even more-so once the melted ice mixes in). 

Cold brew is more expensive than the iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts stores, but it’s better quality. Dunkin Donuts steep their cold brew coffee for 8-12 hours before it’s ready to serve, and their iced coffee is made in a similar way to Starbucks. Iced coffee is more popular than cold brew coffee.  

Common Cold Coffee Questions

What is the difference between Japanese cold brew and iced coffee? 

Japanese iced coffee vs cold brew comparisons are similar to American ones, with some differences. Cold brew only takes 4-12 hours, and iced coffee is made by brewing the coffee over a container full of ice. It takes a similar amount of time as American iced coffee but results in a higher concentration of coffee. 

Is cold brew stronger than regular hot coffee? 

Cold brew coffee tends to be stronger than hot coffee as it’s concentrated during the steeping process, maximizing the caffeine content. Cold brew coffee also uses more coffee grounds than you use when you brew hot coffee, so it's stronger. However, it would become weaker if excess water was added before steeping, as this would dilute it. 

Can you use regular coffee beans for iced coffee? 

You can use regular coffee to make iced coffee, but you’ll need to make sure they are fresh and stored in a cool and dry place. Ideally, medium or dark roast beans will be available, as strong coffee tastes richer when iced, but you can experiment to see which beans work best for you.  

What coffee beans does Starbucks use for iced coffee? 

Starbucks uses Terraza Blend coffee beans for its iced coffee and has done so for many years. These are medium roast coffee beans sourced from Kenya and have retained their popularity over time.  


Iced coffee and cold brew are two great alternatives to hot coffee but even though they're both served over ice, they are quite different. 

Cold brew is made slowly and using cold water which makes it strong and smooth. Iced coffee is made quickly and you have to brew hot coffee for the base, so it's weaker but with a bold espresso flavor. 

Hopefully this guide has helped explain the difference between iced coffee and cold brew, and you now know which one to order when you're next in a coffee shop.

Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis is the Head of Marketing here at Barista HQ. While keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in coffee, you can find her sipping a cold brew with just a touch of milk on the beach in the afternoon and a Corona with lime in the evening. She is passionate about keeping you informed about what’s new in coffee.

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