Understanding cold brew vs. iced coffee

Traditionally, cold coffee was seen as a delicious and refreshing treat to savor during the heat of the summer and early fall. However, cold coffee has recently exploded in popularity, becoming a beverage that’s now enjoyed year-round. And its popularity is only growing. 


Cold coffee is especially trendy on social media. A recent New York Times article observed that the hashtag #icedcoffee has over six billion views on TikTok, while #hotcoffee only has 60 million.

While cold coffee manifests in new forms and flavors every day in cafes around the world, two of the most popular variations are cold brew and iced coffee. If you’re in the mood for a chilled, delightful coffee beverage but want to know the difference between iced coffee and cold brew, look no further. This article will dive into all aspects of cold brew vs. iced coffee, from their flavors to their preparation processes.


How is cold brew different from iced coffee?

Is cold brew the same as iced coffee? While cold brew and iced coffee might sound interchangeable, there are more differences between the two than you might think.

In fact, these beverages: 

● Are brewed differently 

● Taste differently 

● Have completely different histories

This means that while both drinks are enjoyable when prepared with care, one may be to your taste, and one might not be.

To develop a more thorough understanding, let’s compare the historical origins, most common taste profiles, and prevailing brewing methods of cold brew vs. iced coffee.

The history of cold brew coffee

The origins of cold brew trace back as far as 17th century Japan, when sailors were introduced to the chilled drink by Dutch traders as an alternative to hot coffee. Because traditional hot brewing methods often involved an open flame and were a fire hazard aboard their ships, enjoying cold coffee was a safer alternative while sailing the open seas.

Aside from sailors, cold brew also rose to popularity among soldiers of varying nations for its convenience and soothing effect in hot environments. Notable examples include the French troops who fought in Algeria in 1840. These soldiers drank cold water mixed with coffee concentrate to help endure the desert heat. 

Similarly, American soldiers in the Civil War found the cold coffee drink to be energizing and refreshing, not to mention easier, to consume on the fly than hot coffee.

Today, different countries worldwide have their own fresh takes on cold brew, from utilizing unique flavors to inventing complicated brewing apparatuses and recipes. That said, the most common method of cold brewing coffee is fairly straightforward and doesn’t vary much from location to location.

How is cold brew coffee made?

Traditionally, cold brew is prepared via a method known as steeping. Here’s a rundown of the entire brew method from start to finish, including some additional tips on how to make cold brew coffee at home.

● Coarsely ground coffee beans are steeped at low or room temperature for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. Usually, this is done overnight to have fresh cold brew ready for the next day.

● The coffee grounds are filtered out, resulting in cold brew’s signature mellow flavor profile.

● Cold brew is usually prepared in large containers to yield bigger batches. These containers must be stored at the proper temperature and also must be airtight to avoid becoming contaminated.

● Cold brew is best served fresh. After an extended period of time, the beverage can begin oxidizing, negatively impacting the flavor and aroma.

● Serve cold or over ice for maximum enjoyment! Try using coffee ice cubes to avoid watering down your drink. 

Preparing cold brew can be a long process, but it’s worth the wait for its distinctive flavor, which surprisingly diverges from typical iced coffee flavor profiles.

Cold brew’s unique taste

A 2022 study on how coffee brewing temperature affected flavor found that “cold brew is more floral” and less complex than hot brewed coffee.

Generally, the filtration process for cold brew can result in a sweeter, less acidic coffee with a more mellow taste.

Many variables can affect the taste, however, from how coarse or fine the ground coffee is to the kind of water used in the steeping process. Cold brew can likewise be affected by adding spices, syrups, and sweeteners, and can even be infused with nitrogen gas to create the increasingly popular “nitro cold brew.”

In short, there are thousands of delicious variations of cold brew to explore, whether you prefer your coffee simple or with all of the fixings. But is cold brew really that different from iced coffee in its origins, process, and taste? 

The history of iced coffee

Similar to cold brew, iced coffee’s roots can be traced back to 1840 in Algeria. Named “Mazagran” after the fortress where the drink supposedly became popular among French troops stationed there, the “original iced coffee” was prepared by combining coffee syrup and cold water.

In the United States, the first major advertising efforts to sell iced coffee go back to the early 1900s, when sellers were challenged with coming up with more ways to promote uses for coffee beans in the summer.

Iced coffee is ubiquitous today, featured prominently at major coffee chains, and even sold in prepackaged portions at most local grocery stores. However, when it comes to preparation, iced coffee couldn’t be more different than cold brew. Let’s dive into the entire process of how iced coffee is made, from the beans to the cup.

How is iced coffee made?

Iced coffee is simple to make. Here are the basics:

● Brew hot coffee using your preferred method. Even though this coffee will be used for iced coffee, you should prepare it how you normally would. In other words, grinding your beans yourself or using ground beans, and using the appropriate coarseness.

● Immediately pour the hot coffee over ice to shock the brewing process.

● Add your preferred sweeteners, milk or substitute, and other ingredients as desired.

It really is that simple; there’s no other trick or secret to making iced coffee. Still, many regions of the world have their own traditional or experimental takes on iced coffee recipes, creating a fascinating spectrum of different iced coffees to try and enjoy.

But how does iced coffee compare to cold brew coffee in terms of flavor? It’s a question worth asking if you’re trying to find the perfect cold coffee drink to cool down with on a hot day.

Exploring the taste of iced coffee

Because iced coffee is brewed the same as hot coffee, it maintains the same flavor profile as the hot coffee. 

This means that iced coffee can have a more complex, intense taste than cold brew's lighter, more mellow quality. The flavor compounds are closer to traditional hot coffee and, therefore, preferable to cold brew for some. However, it’s important to remember that the origin of the hot coffee will play a large role in the individual qualities of the taste of the iced version.

If you’re a regular iced coffee consumer, you know that you can mitigate some of the coffee acidity by infusing it with your favorite milk or syrup. As your ice melts, it will also affect the flavor of the iced coffee; this can eventually give your coffee a slightly watered-down or diluted taste. To avoid this, you can use coffee ice cubes. 

Craft the cold coffee you crave with Breville’s high-end coffee makers

While cold brew and iced coffee are both refreshing beverages you can enjoy any time of the year, their distinct brewing processes and flavor profiles offer two different cold coffee options. If you prefer a more mild coffee beverage, try a cold brew. On the other hand, if you love the complex flavors of traditional hot coffee, you may want to go with an iced coffee. 

No matter which you choose, you can enjoy coffee shop-quality iced coffee or cold brew at home with Breville’s line of professional-grade coffee machines

The Breville Precision Brewer brews craft filter coffee automatically—the world’s first 60 oz. drip coffee maker with the precision to do so. And, with 6 preset features, you’ll always be able to brew the perfect cup for any occasion. If you like your coffee cold, you’ll be especially excited to try the Iced and Cold Brew presets.

Customize your Breville Precision Brewer experience by selecting either the standard glass carafe or an upgraded thermal carafe to better regulate the temperature of your brew. Other features you can look forward to include adjustable control for bloom time, precise brewing temperature control, and a completely adjustable flow rate. Want to save a particular set of brewing parameters for easy access? The “My Brew” preset allows you to do just that.

So, whether you crave the floral sweetness of a fresh cold brew or the intense complexity of iced coffee, with Breville, you can easily craft and improve upon your favorite coffee creations, all from the comfort of your own home.



1. New York Times. Does Anyone Drink Hot Coffee Anymore? https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/08/style/iced-coffee-starbucks.html

2. Medium. The history of cold-brew coffee is fascinating. (An 1840s Algerian fortress is involved.) https://timeline.com/the-history-of-cold-brew-coffee-is-fascinating-an-1840s-algerian-fortress-is-involved-1ed720352075

3. Perfect Daily Grind. How Cold Brew Captured The Millennial Market. https://perfectdailygrind.com/2020/01/how-cold-brew-captured-the-millennial-market/

4. Perfect Daily Grind. How is cold brew technology evolving? https://perfectdailygrind.com/2023/07/cold-brew-technology/

5. Perfect Daily Grind. Why does cold brew taste different to other coffee brewing methods? https://perfectdailygrind.com/2023/04/why-does-cold-brew-taste-different/

6. The Economic Times. Coffee Song: A rethink on Coffee. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/coffee-song-a-rethink-on-coffee/articleshow/12732778.cms

7. Smithsonian Magazine. What’s the Deal With Ordering Iced Coffee in the Winter? https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/whats-deal-ordering-iced-coffee-winter-180971616/

8. Huffpost. How Should You Brew Iced Coffee? Experts Share The Best And Worst Ways https://www.huffpost.com/entry/iced-coffee-podcast-cold-brew_n_57280d31e4b096e9f08ef478

9. Perfect Daily Grind. Why does cold brew taste different to other coffee brewing methods? https://perfectdailygrind.com/2023/04/why-does-cold-brew-taste-different/

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Understanding cold brew vs. iced coffee