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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

We Tested 6 Methods for Making Iced Coffee at Home and Found the Very Best One

published Aug 25, 2020
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People who love iced coffee really love iced coffee — whether they just get hyped to drink it during summer or prefer to sip it all year long. A good cup of iced coffee is beloved for its sweet, smooth flavor and reputation for being less acidic than its hot counterpart. But how you make your iced cup of joe is what truly determines its flavor, so I set out to find the best method — one that wouldn’t require any special gadgets touted just for making iced coffee.

I tested six popular methods for making iced coffee at home, from the most basic (just chilling drip machine coffee) to more involved (like the Japanese pour over). And although some people think iced coffee and cold brew are in two distinct camps, we believe cold brew is an iteration of iced coffee, so we tested two methods for it here.

Ultimately, I was looking to find the best-tasting cup that also hit a sweet spot between ease and speed. Ready to see which method won? It might just surprise you.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Design: The Kitchn

How I Tested These Iced Coffee Methods

I rounded up some of the most popular methods for making iced coffee from coffee brewing and kitchen equipment basics — no fancy cold brew systems here. I used the same brand of coffee, Illy’s Classico Whole Bean Blend, across every method. I freshly ground the beans for every batch, varying the coarseness as each method required. For example, the bold brew method requires a coarse grind, while the moka pot method uses a finer grind. I taste tested all these methods on the same day by preparing the overnight methods (drip, overnight cold brew, and French press methods) in advance, and then I completed the moka pot, Japanese pour over, and Aeropress methods the next day and tasted them with my husband at the same time. I first tasted every technique plain with ice (and then I poured a little Oatly into each sample tasted, as I don’t drink dairy; Oatly is my go-to alt-milk).

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Iced Coffee Method: Regular Drip Coffee, Chilled Overnight

  • Time: 5 minutes brew time plus overnight cooling time
  • Overall rating: 2/10

About this method: According to the National Coffee Association, the ideal coffee-to-water ratio is 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground coffee for every 6 ounces of water. I prefer a stronger cup and went for 2 tablespoons for 1 cup in my drip machine. I made a half pot of coffee, about 2 cups. I placed grounds in the basket, added water to the machine, and flipped the switch on. In minutes, my coffee was ready. I transferred it to a glass jar, waited for it to cool to room temperature, then sealed the jar and placed it in the fridge overnight.

Results: This was my least favorite of all the methods. None of the delicious flavors and aromas that came through in the other methods were represented in this cup. It was bitter (not in a good way), murky, and stale-tasting.

My takeaway: If this is the only way you can make iced coffee, then so be it. But if you are able to try a different way, I recommend that instead.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Iced Coffee Method: Aeropress Coffee Made with Room-Temp Water

  • Time: 2 minutes
  • Overall rating: 3/10

About this method: The people who love the Aeropress really love it (and will sing its praises to you all day). Aeropress is a cylindrical device that on one end has a filter and basket for coffee. Water goes into the vessel and then another piece plunges the water through the filter directly into the cup. For hot coffee, you use hot water; for iced coffee, you start with room-temperature water. Once you pour water into the vessel, stir the coffee grounds and water for 1 minute, then plunge the contents into the cup. Add enough room-temp or ice-cold water to make 1 cup of coffee.

Results: While I appreciate how fast you can have your hand on a cup of iced coffee, this is a very lightly brewed coffee. The color was so light — similar to iced tea. It was actually the lightest of all the brews. What did take me by surprise was that despite how light the brew was, the coffee itself had some really nice flavors come through. 

My takeaway: This is a great method for the people who prefer a lighter, less intense cup of coffee. I felt that the overall flavor was really nice, but would have liked to let the coffee grounds steep a little longer to get more or, alternatively, to start this as a warm cup that I cooled down. This also is not a cold brew for a person who wants to add their favorite milk or alt milk. I found that the coffee flavor was muted enough as is.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Iced Coffee Method: Overnight Cold Brew in a Mason Jar

  • Time: 18 to 24 hours
  • Overall rating: 7/10

About this method: To make cold brewed coffee, begin by grinding your beans until they are coarsely ground (similar to raw sugar). You’ll need 1 ounce of coffee beans for 1 cup of coffee. Stir together coffee and water in a Mason jar, then steep overnight for 18 to 24 hours. The next day, strain the coffee concentrate. Combine equal parts coffee and cold water.

Results: I found this to be a bold cup of cold brew (and a little stronger than the French press method, below). Nice flavors and aroma came through, but I did find it to have a slightly intense, bitter finish. 

My takeaway: This method is good. You can make a large batch and have it for up to two weeks. The concentrate is strong and you can adjust its strength to taste with how much water you put in. This is a great method for the people who really love a bold cup of coffee.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Iced Coffee Method: Overnight Cold Brew in a French Press

  • Time: 18 hours
  • Overall rating: 7.5/10

About this method: The French press method starts by using 1 ounce of coffee for 12 ounces of cold water. Grind the coffee beans into a coarse grind then stir in the water in the base of the press. Place the lid on top, but do not plunge. Steep the coffee overnight, then plunge the top in the morning.

Results: I really enjoyed this method! The coffee was laced with smooth, chocolatey notes. This was also my favorite method that had oat milk in it; the oat milk gave the coffee some nuttiness that I really liked.

My takeaway: This is a great method. It extracted some lovely flavors and aroma. The only hurdle is fridge storage space (the press is quite tall when un-plunged), so you may have to create space in your fridge to accommodate. Also, you will need to have a French press at home.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Iced Coffee Method: Moka Pot Coffee Poured Over Ice

  • Time: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Overall rating: 9.5/10

About this method: For those unfamiliar with a moka pot, it’s an Italian household staple that looks similar to a percolator. A moka pot has three chambers: The bottom area is where you place boiling water, then there is a basket for coffee grounds and an upper chamber where the brewed coffee percolates to. Start with boiling the water (I used an electric kettle for this). While your water is heating up, grind your beans into fine grounds. Fill the boiling water in the bottom chamber, add the grounds to the basket, then screw on the filled coffee grounds chamber. Lastly, screw the top chamber onto the moka pot. Place the moka pot on the stove over low or medium-low heat. In moments the coffee begins to elegantly brew from out of the top vessel into the chamber. Once it begins to sputter, remove it from the heat. Pour it over ice.

Results: This was a delicious, bold cup of iced coffee. All the right intense flavors were coming through. The coffee was so strong that I thought I mistakenly put the espresso beans in it. 

My takeaway: I usually drink iced espresso at home and I felt the moka pot was the method that brought me closest to that flavor without using espresso beans. This method was fast and simple. I loved watching the brew come out of the pot spouts like a coffee fountain of deliciousness. This also was very tasty with oat milk and didn’t lose any of those bold flavors.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The Winning Method: Japanese Pour Over

  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Flavor rating: 10/10

About this method: For this method, you will need a few extra tools to make pour over coffee. There are many popular Japanese-style coffee brewers on the market, but you can also just rig up your own pour over system. You will also need to have a scale so you can have a very accurate coffee-water-ice ratio. Set the carafe on top of the scale and set it to zero. Add 8 ounces of ice, set the dripper vessel or cone on top, line with a filter, add 1 ounce of medium coarsely ground coffee, and then tare the scale again. You’ll need 8 ounces of almost-boiling water, but you don’t pour it in all at once: Pour just enough water into the grounds to wet them and let it sit for 30 seconds. This process is called blooming, and it helps release some aromas that come through in the final product. Pour the rest of the water into the vessel until you have poured 8 ounces, then allow the coffee to drain into the bottom vessel. The hot coffee drips directly on the ice, immediately cooling it down while extracting and preserving all the delicious aromas of the coffee.

Results: This super-popular method of making coffee is a favorite for a reason. Flavors and aromas that I didn’t taste in the other methods were coming through, bringing a whole other dimension to iced coffee. This was the smooth, delicious coffee without any bitter notes that I was after.

My takeaway: Being a bit of a Japanophile, I’m not surprised that this super-precise scientific method came out on top. There is no day-ahead preparation necessary, and coffee is ready in five minutes. I recommend not drinking this version with milk because it hides all those lovely aromatics. I loved this method and felt it yielded the best-tasting results. 

Final Thoughts 

After this showdown, I was pretty blown away by how each method had its own distinct personality and flavor. Since coffee is so subjective, let this be your guide to picking your ideal method based on your preferences. If you prefer a bold cup, you can’t go wrong with the moka pot or overnight cold brew methods; if you prefer a less intense cup of coffee, try the Aeropress method. I’d skip the drip version entirely, though.

Overall, between the minimal time spent and its aromatic nuance, the Japanese pour over won my heart and this battle.