What’s the Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee? Plus, How to Make Each at Home.

published Jul 16, 2022
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Cold Brew Coffee and Iced Coffee
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Kitchn
Cold Brew (Left) & Iced Coffee (Right)

If you’re a fan of chilled coffee drinks, then every year you probably can’t wait until the weather starts to warm up to head to your favorite coffee shop and get a refreshing cup first thing in the morning. (Or, if you really love iced coffee — like me — then you likely drink it all year round.)

When you make a trip to your local coffee shop, whether it’s a chain like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts or a small business, you’re likely to see both iced coffee and cold brew on the menu. Although both iced coffee and cold brew are chilled and look similar upon first glance, they have some differences. Read on to learn more about the differences between iced coffee and cold brew, including how each is prepared, their flavors, and more.

What’s the Difference Between Iced Coffee and Cold Brew?

The main difference between iced coffee and cold brew is the method used to make them.

Preparation Method

Iced coffee is regular hot brewed drip coffee that is served over ice. The brewing process for iced coffee usually takes a matter of minutes.

Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, requires brewing coarsely ground coffee beans in cold water for around 12 to 18 hours or more, and then straining it. The strained liquid is then chilled before serving over ice. 


Iced coffee and cold brew also differ in flavor, explains AJ Walzer, cofounder and chief business development officer for Parlor Coffee in Brooklyn, New York, which offers their own brand of cold brew on top.

Walzer describes the flavor of cold brew coffee as having a “full body, rounded mouthfeel, and mellow acidity,” while iced coffee is typically “much lighter in body than cold brew, yet the coffee’s inherent acidity is much more present.”


Cold brew coffee also sometimes appears darker in color compared to iced coffee, as it is more concentrated. Additionally cold brew coffee is typically more expensive than iced coffee because it takes longer to make.

Credit: Joe Lingeman
Starbucks-Style Cold Brew Coffee

Is Cold Brew Stronger than Iced Coffee?

When it comes to caffeine content, cold brew coffee is typically stronger than traditional iced coffee. There are a couple reasons for this: Cold brew coffee often requires a higher ratio of coffee grounds to water compared to iced coffee, which means it typically has more caffeine than the same volume of iced coffee.

With that said, Walzer explains that the amount of caffeine in cold brew or iced coffee really depends on the amount of grounds used to make each and how much each is diluted. Products labeled “cold brew concentrate,” for example, are much stronger and less diluted than a beverage simply labeled as “cold brew.” (And, as the name implies, they are meant to be diluted before serving.)

Does Iced Coffee Taste Different than Cold Brew?

While it may depend on who you ask, the flavors of iced coffee and cold brew can differ greatly. Many people describe plain cold brew coffee as sweeter and smoother than that of black iced coffee — this is partially due to the fact that it is made with room-temperature or cool water. Cold brew is also usually less acidic-tasting and bitter than iced coffee. This is why some people might prefer to drink cold brew with little to no milk, cream, or sweetener. Iced coffee will simply have a flavor profile quite similar to hot brewed coffee, just at a lower temperature. Additionally, Walzer describes the flavor of some iced coffee as being acidic, floral, and fruity at times.