Outside the box

Cold brew vs iced coffee

It’s early August, half of us are sitting in front of fans attempting to work from home. Clothes worn solely for forty minute zoom meetings. The other half of us are fully clothed, clock-watching from an almost-empty office, or masked and smelling our own breath on a sweaty commute. The unifying desire across the nation is that of unquenchable thirst for something refreshing. Something to cool you down, and wake you up. Coffee is the go-to for most, but drinking a hot coffee in 30 degree weather feels somewhat inappropriate. So here it is: the differences between cold brew and iced coffee.

Despite being almost exact synonyms, cold brew and iced coffee are worlds apart in flavour. In short, iced coffee is hot coffee cooled down, and cold brew is coffee brewed with cold water for 12-24 hours. Cold brew is brewed cold to be drunk cold. Hot coffee is brewed hot, to be drunk hot. But why?

Hot brewed coffee loses flavour and complexity rapidly over time, namely becoming less aromatic and more bitter. This is a result of the oxidation of coffee oils, acids and aromatic compounds and the breakdown of chlorogenic acid and the loss of volatile aromas to the air from the coffee. With cold brew, the oxidation takes a much longer time, quite simply because there are fewer oils and acids. And with our cold brew in particular, we nitro flush, and vacuum pack so the oxidation is close to non-existent which is why our product consistently tastes fresh.

The less nerdy definition, is that hot coffee has more acidity. Cold brew is generally 60% less acidic because of how cold water affects coffee compared to hot water. Cold temperatures tend to mute the perception of sweetness which accentuates the brighter acidic notes that are present. Without the favourable sweetness and aroma when hot, the cooled coffee tastes muted, acidic and/or bitter. This is why most RTD iced coffees are filled with milk and sugar — it’s the only way to make it taste nice. Iced coffee is essentially a milkshake with the memory of a coffee. Which has its place, but in my eyes, that place is not the coffee world. Iced Americano, however, has no place anywhere. That hot and cold, ashy, watery coffee is never good and needs to get in the bin.

Beyond the taste differences, I really struggle to see where iced coffees are “better” than cold brew. I have worked in the hospitality industry for long enough to know that iced coffees are a nightmare for any barista. It’s one of the most time consuming coffee drinks to make, it does nothing for the coffee company or barista’s reputation, and has a tiny window of when it tastes good. Drink too soon and its hot and not well mixed, drink too late and it’s watery, separated, and flat.

Health. Cold brew tastes good as it is, it really doesn’t need milk and sugar like iced coffee does. That means it’s vegan, sugar free, and close to no calories. As mentioned, it’s less acidic, which means much easier on the stomach and all of these benefits.

Caffeine. Due to the long brewing time, there’s nearly twice as much caffeine in cold brew. Hate it or love it, our stuff is rocket fuel.

Popularity. Iced coffee has been around for much longer than cold brew in the UK. This is has meant that cold brew is seen to many as iced coffee’s too-trendy little brother. Since 2016 there has been huge growth in the section, but there’s still more growth needed for it to become normal. We do find comfort in seeing how popular the drink is in countries where it has been around for longer. Like the US and Australia, where drinking cold brew is not only for the city dwellers and craft beer drinkers, but as it should be, the better option when iced coffee and cold brew are being compared.