Cold brew coffee and iced coffee are arguably the trendiest summer drinks in coffeehouses around the country — but they hold their own in winter months, too. In a Dunkin Donuts poll, 56 percent of those surveyed said it is never too cold for an iced coffee. Devotees aren’t deterred by dropping temperatures — maybe they just wear gloves.
But many are torn between the two methods. To cold brew or to ice, that is the question. Here we’ll break down the differences:
Cold Brew: The Smooth, Low-Effort Concentrate
With a brew time that lasts up to 24 hours, you’d think cold brewing would be a complicated process. But it couldn’t be simpler — easy to enjoy with or without fancy equipment. While it takes time, cold brewing is less finicky than ice brewing. Basically, you just set it up and walk away until it comes time to strain the concentrate. You can mix it up in a pitcher, no problem, and just let it sit in the fridge until it’s time to separate the brew from the grounds with a sieve or other filter.
Minimizing the coffee’s exposure to oxygen is a must, since oxidation creates a bitter brew. You can sidestep bitterness simply by using a container that holds only the necessary volume of coffee and water, and no more. Some cafes are even opting to serve cold brew on tap — further reducing its exposure to oxygen and enriching its texture with nitrogen, and offering a slick new visual from across the counter.
The long brewing process is what makes the coffee concentrated — resulting in about twice the caffeine as regular coffee. The deep, smooth flavor, low acidity and typically chocolatey notes of cold brew complement the rich sweetness of dairy, so don’t let any self-proclaimed purists guilt your customers out of adding milk.
Cold brew is also a dream for a fast-paced cafe. Iced coffee takes longer to prepare and serve, but cold brew just needs to be poured from its refrigerated storage vessel.
Iced Coffee: The Classic
Since iced coffee is brewed hot, it can be more bitter than cold brew. But high temperatures can also extract more coffee solubles than cold brew, adding to iced coffee’s body.
To counteract bitterness, it is essential that hot coffee be cooled quickly in order to become tasty iced coffee. Brewing directly over ice does the trick, maintaining aromatics and desirable acidity. It is thinner than the original hot brew, but with a full body. It is even less oxidized than cold brew — fresher, in other words. (Though cold brew fans will argue the superiority of a long, cold brewing process.)
But how can coffee poured over ice be anything but watery? It helps to use more grounds than usual (say, 10 percent more) but don’t overdo it. Also, introduce hot coffee to ice drop by drop — not all at once. Known as the Japanese method, this cools the coffee faster and doesn’t melt as much ice.
So, which one wins?
Cold brew is a bit easier to brew, can be prepped ahead, and provides a uniquely rich, smooth brew. Iced coffee is arguably more authentic and fresh, preserving more solids and therefore more nuances of the coffee’s character. It comes down to what you want to serve, and what your customers want. You can offer your favorite (or easiest) option, or try serving both for awhile and see how they sell.