When the weather gets warmer, consumers make the switch from hot to cold coffee. Iced coffee and cold brew are the most popular go-to’s for this category during the summer, but many consumers don’t know the difference. While both drinks are served cold, they offer flavor profiles and caffeine levels as diverse as the coffee itself. If you’ve ever wondered how these tasty brews are made, then you’ve come to the right place.
How It’s Made: Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew
Iced coffee and cold brew essentially use the same basic ingredients – coffee and water – but they utilize different processes to bring out coffee’s signature flavor and functionality.
There’s not a whole lot of mystery behind what it takes to craft an iced coffee, but what results is as delicious as it is refreshing. Essentially, an iced coffee is exactly what it sounds like – coffee served with ice. This also makes iced coffee one of the simplest cold coffee drinks to create: simply brew up a regular batch of hot coffee in your machine, then add ice.
Of course, there are a few expert tips that can make your iced coffee taste its best. The biggest threat to flavor is ice melt, which can quickly dilute your drink on a hot day.
One way to do this is by making your brew strong. An experienced barista might do this by doubling the amount of ground coffee used for a hot version of the drink. As the ice melts, your coffee will maintain its flavor instead of getting watered down; although you can also just wait for hot coffee to cool before adding ice.
If you’re willing to do a little more prep (or just want to feel fancy), then you can whip up a tray of coffee ice cubes. To make your own, simply pour cooled, leftover coffee into an ice tray and freeze. When you’re ready to enjoy your iced coffee, you can add the frozen coffee cubes which will not risk diluting your drink.
Believe it or not, cold brew’s name refers to the process of creating the coffee drink, not the temperature at which it is served. Technically, cold brew could be served hot or cold, though cold seems to be the preference.
The biggest difference between creating a cold brew versus an iced coffee is time. Coarsely ground coffee is steeped in cold water for 12 to 24 hours. The longer the coffee steeps, the stronger the flavor of the drink; that means serving it with ice will not dilute the flavor in the same way it would an iced coffee.
After steeping, the grounds are filtered from the coffee and then served with ice and a splash of water, milk, or a milk substitute. Yum!
Taste & Caffeine Differences
The initial heat process used to create iced coffee means it imparts a slight bitterness on a lighter bodied brew. Meanwhile, because cold brew is made without heat, it mutes perceived acidity during the brewing process. This results in a flavor that is smoother and sweeter than an iced coffee. Of course, the type and amount of coffee used for either process will also have a huge impact on flavor.
Depending on the method used, caffeine content can vary wildly between iced coffee and cold brew. The slower cold brew process extracts more caffeine than a traditionally prepared coffee. Caffeine levels can also vary wildly among to Ready-to-Drink (RTD) coffee brands, whether they are marketed as iced or cold brewed. An RTD cold coffee can have as little as 50mg of caffeine, or as much as 400mg.
If you’re thinking about launching a coffee brand of your own, this is something you’d want to consider. High-potency caffeinated beverages can be a real problem for consumers sensitive to caffeine, so you’ll want to cater your caffeine content – as well as your coffee flavors, processes, etc. – to the tastes and needs of your target consumer.
Coffee has been a beverage staple around the world for centuries and there’s a ton of ways it can be enjoyed. Most consumers would agree that, at least during the summer months, nothing beats a coffee served cold.
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