Cold brew and Iced coffee – is there a difference?

19 Mar 2021


They’re both perfect for a summer’s day, but they’re not quite the same thing…

A piping hot mug of coffee can be warm and comforting. But sometimes you just can’t beat an iced version. Cool, refreshing, and so easy to guzzle down, iced coffee is an ideal summertime beverage. But who says it has to be limited to summer? We reckon iced coffee should be a year-round treat.

When it comes to preparing a revitalising, chilled coffee, what’s the difference between cold brew and iced coffee?

What is cold brew coffee?

Although cold brew is generally served chilled, the term ‘cold brew’ actually refers to the process of preparing the coffee rather than the temperature of the final product. Once prepared, there’s nothing stopping you from heating it up if you like!

The way cold brew coffee is prepared gives it a high caffeine content, and it tends to be much stronger than iced coffee. It can be served chilled from the fridge or paired with ice. Because cold brew is so strong, adding ice won’t water it down or diminish its flavour too much; a bonus if you want to slowly sip and enjoy.

Many cafes and coffee shops prepare large batches of cold brew all at once, then bottle it up and pop it in the refrigerator. You can do the same at home — ideal if you’re in a hurry and need to grab and go.

How do you make cold brew?

cold brew coffee in a glass with ice seen from above

Cold brew coffee highlights that, sometimes, the quality just can’t be rushed. Just as our Rabot Estate cacao beans take seven days to gently dry in the warm embrace of the St Lucian sun, cold brew coffee needs time to develop its unique depth of flavour.

Unlike espresso or filter coffee, which can be rustled up in a matter of minutes, making a batch of cold brew requires coarsely-ground coffee to be steeped in cold water for at least 12 hours – the longer the coffee steeps, the stronger and richer the flavour becomes. After straining the next day, the coffee is ready to go.

To prepare your own cold brew coffee, you don’t need a specific cold brew coffee maker. You can use thin paper coffee filters, cheesecloth, or a finely-woven handkerchief to strain the mixture.

Perfecting your cold brew recipe

However, there is an art to making the perfect cold brew coffee. Getting the texture of the grind just right is key to a balanced flavour profile. Too coarse, and the coffee may taste flat or watered down; too fine, and the result may be bitter. Before the cold brew coffee is left to steep, you should gently stir the grounds to break up any large lumps and ensure an even brew.

Other factors come into play, too. Different types of coffee beans produce varied aromas and flavour profiles that can alter cold brew coffee characteristics. As a celebration of International Coffee Day, we explored four of the most popular coffee types: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa.

Arabica is the most widely-used coffee bean type due to its dynamic flavours and characteristic fragrance. It also pairs particularly well with chocolate — so well, in fact, that we love using it in all our coffee chocolates. From the sweet, buttery Caffe Latte Selector to the velvety Coffee and Walnut Cake Selector, the nuances of Arabica coffee match bold, impactful flavour with the indulgence of rich cacao.

We’ve even created five unique coffee blends ourselves. From punchy Rocket to smooth, mellow Cashmere, find the one that satisfies your caffeine craving the best.

What is iced coffee?

iced latte in a glass on a table

Iced coffee does exactly what it says on the tin: you take regularly brewed coffee and serve it over ice. The beauty of iced coffee is that the combinations are nearly endless. If you like to get straight to the point with your caffeine fix, you can pop some ice cubes in an espresso. Alternatively, you can cool a latte or flat white.

If you have a sweet tooth, you can add honey, sugar, or flavoured syrups. For the ultimate combination of creamy chocolate, caffeine, and nutty indulgence, why not try creating an iced version of our Hazelnut Latte Sachet?

How do you make iced coffee?

Making iced coffee is satisfyingly simple. Just brew your coffee as usual — you can use whichever method you like best. That could be a French press, drip filter, or even whipping out the Velvetiser to prepare a deliciously decadent Chocolate Latte Sachet to fulfil your mocha craving.

When your coffee is ready, leave it to cool and pour over ice. Do you ever prepare too much filter coffee in the morning? If you don’t fancy drinking it at room temperature or blasting it in the microwave, transforming it into an iced beverage is a tasty way to prevent waste.

The drawback to this way of preparing chilled coffee is that the ice dilutes your drink. You can combat this by doubling the amount of ground coffee you use when brewing.

If cooling and pouring coffee over ice feels a little bland, you could always shake things up — literally — and take a leaf out of the Greeks’ coffee book. In sunkissed Greece, the ‘frappe’ is a coffee staple.

Frappes and iced lattes

frappe coffee with whipped cream

Rather than just combining coffee and ice, the Greeks shake it together to create a light, frothy texture. Adding a dash of evaporated or condensed milk provides the finishing touch to this refreshing beverage. You can make your own by mixing the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. With a little vigour, you’ll have the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

If you fancy an extra little treat with your frappe, why not enjoy the delicate crunch of a Luxury Biscuit? Though dunking a crumbly cookie in a hot coffee until its chocolate chips begin to melt into a velvety goo is an irresistible experience, you may be surprised by how well cookies and iced coffee go together, too. After all, coffee and chocolate are the perfect companions in any form.

Iced lattes can also be made in a slightly different way. A shot of espresso is often poured straight from the machine into a cup of ice and milk. Though the hot espresso will melt the ice a little, it quickly cools. This method looks very visually appealing, as the dark coffee trickles down through the light milk.

How are they different?

Because they are prepared in different ways, cold brew coffee and iced coffee yield different flavours. Extracting coffee through heat tends to bring out more bitter and acidic notes. In contrast, cold brewing produces a smoother result. If you’re sensitive to acidic foods and drinks, cold brew coffee can be more gentle on your digestion.

The longer coffee steeps, the higher its caffeine content. Cold brew coffee is often left for 18 to 24 hours, meaning the resulting cuppa packs a real punch. Spot on for an energy boost if you have a big day ahead, but if you find strong espresso gives you the jitters, you might find iced coffee a more suitable option.

When it comes to flavour and aroma, cold brew coffee is more dynamic than iced coffee, which yields a thinner taste as the ice melts. If you prepare a milkier coffee, the creamy sweetness of the milk will balance out the coffee flavour regardless.

Whether you like robust black coffee or a velvety latte, why not change up your morning brew and try a revitalising iced coffee? Or, take one of our carefully selected coffee blends and have a go at making your own cold brew.