Iced coffee is a delicious, refreshing, and energizing summertime favorite, and has been for decades. In recent years however, you may have noticed that cold brew, a variation of iced coffee, has skyrocketed in popularity.
It seems like almost everyone serves cold brew now, from hip craft coffee cafes and coffee shops to international chains like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Tim Horton’s.
What’s the actual difference between iced coffee and cold brew, and how did these two types of coffee originate? Are there other types of iced coffee beverages besides just regular iced coffee and cold brew? In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the world of iced coffee and and Cold Brew coffee.
History of Iced Coffee
Iced coffee is rumored to have originated in Algeria in the mid-1800s. 19th century French colonial troops stationed in Algeria’s Mazagran fortress invented a delicious sweetened beverage made with coffee syrup and cold water, which was aptly named “mazagran.”
Over the decades, mazagran made its way to Portugal, Austria, and Catalonia, where it’s sometimes mixed with lemon, sugar syrup, or even rum. Most coffee connoisseurs believe mazagran to be the original iced coffee. Many other countries have their own national variations on iced coffee, including Australia, Chile, India, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Iced Coffee Today
As its name suggests, iced coffee is literally just coffee served chilled. It’s often combined with different creamers, milks, dairy substitutes, or flavored sweeteners to create concoctions that almost resemble desserts.
When iced coffee first started gaining popularity in the United States, it was prepared simply by pouring regular hot coffee into a glass of ice. However, the melting ice cubes diluted the coffee, creating a subpar beverage that tasted weak and watery.
To combat this dilution of flavor, restaurants and coffee shops soon learn to brew iced coffee using double batches. They would use double the amount of coffee grounds when brewing the hot coffee, so that even when diluted with ice, the resulting iced coffee still tasted just as strong as a cup of hot coffee.
History of Cold Brew Coffee
It was pioneered by Blue Bottle Coffee and Stumptown Coffee Roasters around 2010, and for the first few years of its existence, it remained a very niche, very quirky method of preparing coffee, only available at hipster cafes and coffee shops. However, in 2015, Starbucks began offering cold brew in some of its locations.
Within the next few years, cold brew expanded to every single Starbucks in the entire United States. Other coffee chains started to offer cold brew as well, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Peet’s Coffee, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
Now it seems like cold brew has become a permanent and unescapable part of the coffee landscape, joining a formidable roster of predecessors, including the frappucino, the flat white, and the pumpkin spice latte.
Cold Brew Coffee Today
When cold brew first exploded onto the popular market, many people were skeptical. What is the difference between cold brew and regular old iced coffee? Was cold brew just made up by coffee chains to scam unsuspecting iced coffee lovers?
It turns out, the process of making cold brew is quite different from the process of making regular iced coffee. When done correctly, the cold brewing process creates a glass of coffee that’s smooth, rich, and balanced, without the harsh tones of acidity and bitterness that can sometimes mar a glass of regular iced coffee.
How is Cold Brew Coffee Made?
Unlike iced coffee, which is brewed using heat and then poured over ice, cold brew is never exposed to heat. To make a batch of cold brew, you need to steep coffee grounds in room temperature water for at least 12 hours ( everybody has an opinion on this) and can do this by using something like the Toddy System which you can get on Amazon. or a variety of more “homemade” methods
Or, if you feel like making just a basic brew, you can easily make cold brew at home by combining coffee grounds and water in a jar, leaving it out overnight, and then filtering the grounds out using a muslin cheesecloth. (See my post on brewing coffee without a Coffee Maker)
The extended brewing process at room temperature extracts the natural sugars, oils, and caffeine from the coffee grounds, creating a finished product that’s smooth, highly caffeinated, and that enhances the flavors of the coffee used taste that regular iced coffee lacks.
For example, if you make cold brew with say coffee from Brazil, the coffee natural chocolate nutty taste will really come through.
Cold Brew Coffee Vs Iced Coffee
So what are the major differences between iced coffee and cold brew? Coffee hipsters tend to prefer cold brew over iced coffee mostly because of the flavors and extra kick you get out if it since it’s brewed at room temperature and then poured over ice. After having cold brew regular iced coffee will taste weak or even watery.
Also some glasses of iced coffee might taste stale, overly acidic, or overly bitter due to the brewer and coffee roast level used. In contrast, good cold brew can last up to a couple of weeks and still have its flavor profile.
The time-intensive brewing process that Cold Brew requires creates a strongly caffeinated, smooth, and silky finished product that tastes great with or without milk and sugar. Keep in mind that due to the brewing process, at most coffee shops, cold brew is also a bit more expensive than regular iced coffee.
Although cold brew is very popular right now, it’s not the only kind of iced coffee options that are out there. As we mentioned earlier, many different countries from all over the world have their own regional variations on iced coffee, all of which are equally delicious and unique.
Variations of Cold Coffee
Iced Café Con Leche
from Key West, a city off of the southern tip of Florida, is famous for its Cuban coffee, which is a strong espresso shot brewed with sugar, and milk. If you love your coffee super strong and super sweet, you’re sure to love iced café con leche.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Is one of the most famous international variations on iced coffee and you should check out my post on making it so you can try it out. It’s a blend of strong coffee and sweetened condensed milk that can be found at a lot of specialty coffee shops, Asian restaurants, and bubble tea cafes. Sometimes, it’s even served with tapioca boba pearls.
Thai Iced Coffee
Tastes similar to Vietnamese iced coffee, but it traditionally also contains soy, sesame, and corn syrups, as well as cardamom.
From Brazil, is a super popular riff on iced coffee. It’s a combination of iced coffee, chocolate, and Coca Cola, poured over ice and then topped with a generous mountain of whipped cream. If you’re in need of caffeine kick, you might want to consider trying a mocha cola!
Italy’s version of “iced” coffee comes in the form of by pouring a shot of strong, piping hot espresso over a scoop of vanilla gelato. It’s a delicious, decadent way to finish a meal that only the Italians know how to perfect!
To the uninitiated, iced coffee might seem basic and simple. However, a little bit of research reveals that the world of iced coffee is much wider than it might initially seem. There are dozens of different kinds of iced coffee out there, each made using unique ingredients and preparation methods.
Cold Brew coffee is absolutely delicious, and if you’ve been reluctant to try it in the past, you absolutely should give it a try! Who knows, you just might discover your new favorite beverage!