On a hot summer day, there’s nothing I love more than to indulge in a refreshing iced coffee. If I’m really treating myself, I’ll head to my favorite café and order one from them. Recently, I noticed my local shop now offers cold brew.
Intrigued by this new option but not wanting to sacrifice my morning jolt, I wondered, does cold brew have more caffeine than iced coffee? Cold brew has more caffeine because of the longer steeping time and a higher coffee to water ratio.
While the answer seems straightforward, it is not as simple as it looks. Let’s get to the bottom of this energizing enigma.
What is Iced Coffee?
Every coffee chain sells iced coffee these days, and chances are most coffee enthusiasts have enjoyed one at some point in their lives.
Iced coffee is regular, hot brewed coffee poured over ice. All you have to do is brew ground coffee with hot water around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the heat to pull out the flavor and caffeine in the coffee beans.
What is Cold Brew?
Cold brewed coffee started to hit the mainstream about five years ago when the coffee giant, Starbucks, began selling it in its stores. You can now find it at almost every major chain, including Dunkin’ and even the fast-food restaurant, Wendy’s. Grocery stores also carry cans of cold brew from brands like Starbucks and High Brew.
Cold brew coffee is easy enough to understand. Essentially, a brewer takes medium or coarse coffee grounds and steeps them in room temperature or cold water for 12 to 24 hours. The longer the coffee steeps, the higher the caffeine content. The result is a rich coffee concentrate you can combine with cold milk or water.
Brewed cold coffee usually costs more than a regular iced coffee. Because it takes so long to make, coffee shops have a limited supply of cold brew, so, to keep it from selling out too fast, shop owners increase the price.
What are the Brewing Methods?
The difference between these two drinks starts with the brewing method. Brewing coffee cold to produce cold brew is quite different from brewing it hot and cooling it on ice.
The most challenging part of concocting iced coffee is getting it to cool down. You can use several methods to do so. Special brewing machines with chilling technology can cool your coffee while brewing, delivering chilled java right into your cup.
You can also place your coffee in the refrigerator after making it, though you have to be careful not to let it sit too long, which can cause oxidation and ruin the flavor.
You can also make coffee ice cubes and brew your coffee directly onto them for a unique trick that prevents watering down the coffee during the cooling process.
Still, other brewers like to drip coffee slowly onto the ice, preserving the flavor and minimizing dilution, a technique known as the Japanese method. Those most serious about their coffee rely on this approach. Here is a video on how to brew a Japanese Iced Coffee.
To brew cold coffee correctly, it should never come into contact with heat. Instead, the cold brew process extracts the caffeine, oils, and sugar it needs from the coffee beans through the extended amount of time the coffee spends steeping in the cool water.
In creating cold brews, producers must also be careful to filter out all of the sediment, leaving a smooth cup of java behind.
If you plan to make cold brew at home, you have to plan ahead because of the long steeping time required to make it. The upside is that it doesn’t take a lot of work, and there’s little chance of messing it up.
All you have to do is steep your grounds in cold or room temperature water overnight, then filter them well and combine with an equal coffee to milk or coffee to water ratio.
Is There a Difference in Flavor?
Flavor ranks close to the top of most coffee drinkers’ lists of importance, maybe just behind caffeine content. There’s no doubt these two styles of coffee each offer a distinct taste.
When brewed properly, iced coffee possesses a full flavor that holds onto the aroma, acidity, and robust taste of regular hot coffee. Iced coffee tends to be bitterer than a cold brew and may require more sugar, creamer, or flavored syrups to enhance the taste.
Unfortunately, several elements can influence the flavor of iced coffee. Ice cubes can cause dilution that significantly changes iced coffee’s flavor, making it taste weaker and thinner.
If you decide to leave the coffee out or place it in the refrigerator to cool, it may generate more acids that can also lead to flavor problems, resulting in a bitter and flat taste.
Because of its brewing method, cold brew has less acidity than iced coffee, giving it a smooth and creamy taste. Its low acid levels make it an excellent choice for coffee drinkers with sensitive stomachs.
Enthusiasts of cold brew coffee also find the taste more concentrated than that of iced java and enjoy that it contains sweet and mild notes not frequently found in iced coffee. Some consider it the more palatable of the two, particularly if you don’t use any additives in your coffee.
A major benefit of cold brew is its adaptability. You can easily alter the flavor and strength by adjusting the steeping time. Plus, since it’s a coffee concentrate, you can modify the amount of milk or water added in order to achieve the taste you want.
What’s the Difference in Caffeine Content?
Let’s face it, when we drink coffee, we’re usually not doing it just for the flavor. We’re looking for an energy boost to power us through an early morning shift or get us through sluggish afternoons.
Does cold brew have more caffeine than iced coffee is the essential question when it comes to the difference between iced coffee and cold brew.
Before we get into specifics, it’s important to know that caffeine levels vary considerably, depending on the blend of beans, the brewing method, roast level, grind size, and even the brewer. Different stores and coffee brands can be extremely diverse in their caffeine content, making it challenging to declare a clear winner.
That said, cold brew usually contains more caffeine than iced coffee, and here’s why.
While it’s hard to pin down the precise amount of caffeine in any given iced coffee, we can make several assumptions based on what we know of caffeine. Since caffeine is soluble in water, hot water remains the best way to extract caffeine from coffee beans, giving iced coffee an edge over cold brew due to the brewing method.
But, iced coffee brewed with hot water also tends to have a lower coffee to water ratio that somewhat dilutes the caffeine content, as does the ice you need to chill the coffee.
On the other hand, we have cold brew. Even though cold or room temperature water doesn’t extract as much caffeine as hot water, cold brew compensates with a long steeping time and a higher coffee to water ratio. Though, we must consider that milk or water temper cold brew, which can affect the caffeine level.
Despite this variability, it seems cold brew does contain more caffeine than iced coffee, and we can confirm this by taking a look at a few examples.
The Starbucks Example
Since nutrition information is readily available for Starbucks, it’s easy to compare caffeine content. Starbucks steeps its cold brew for 20 hours, giving it plenty of time to extract caffeine from the grinds. If you order a 16-ounce cold brew at Starbucks, you’ll be consuming 205 mg of caffeine in total or 12 mg of caffeine per ounce.
In comparison, a 16-ounce plain iced coffee from Starbucks packs in 165 mg of caffeine at 10 mg of caffeine per ounce, proving that at Starbucks, cold brew has more caffeine than iced coffee.
If that seems like a ton of caffeine, it’s nothing compared to pre-packaged cold brew cans that can reach a whopping 25 mg of caffeine per ounce, far more caffeine than you would find in almost any ordinary iced coffee.
Here’s a look at the caffeine content of some of the most popular ready-made cold brews you can purchase at the grocery store.
|Product||Ounces||Total Caffeine Content (mg)||Caffeine per Ounce (mg)|
|Chameleon Cold Brew On-The-Go Can||8||200||25|
|High Brew Cold Brew Coffee – Black||10||200||20|
|La Colombe Cold Brew Can||9||180||20|
|Califia Farms Pure Black Cold Brew||12||>150||>12.5|
|Stok Cold Brew Coffee Unsweetened||13.7||145||10.5|
So, does cold brew have more caffeine than iced coffee? Probably, but the answer is much more complicated than it seems.
Iced coffee has more caffeine to start with thanks to its hot water brewing method, but its lower coffee to water ratio dilutes it a bit. Then, there’s cold brew, which doesn’t extract as much caffeine during cold water steeping but makes up for it with a higher coffee to water ratio.
In the end, it all depends on several factors, including coffee bean blend, grind size, steeping time, temperature, and a few other variables. But, if all elements remain equal, it looks like cold brew does beat out iced coffee in caffeine content, though both can give us that extra jolt we need to get through the day.
You can refer to our guide for more detailed information on cold brew. Or you can click here to know more about the best pre ground coffee for cold brew.