Is Cold Brew Coffee Stronger Than Other Coffee Types?

Do you feel on waking up that you don’t rate the sapiens in your Homo until you’ve had your cup of joe? Welcome to my world. Late-night reading and writing always leave me in need of a serious caffeine fix. I’d take it intravenously – but I like the taste of coffee too much.

But when it’s close to 90 F by the time you wake up, it can feel just too hot for a hot coffee. So you hie over to your favorite cafe and check out their menu – and get stuck choosing between iced coffee and this newfangled stuff called cold brew coffee.

Which will wake you up better? Which tastes better? Is there any difference at all or is the mermaid just trying to get more of your money?

Cold brew coffee is an entirely different beverage from hot and iced coffee. It’s made without heat at all, instead steeping the coffee in cold water for 12 to 24 hours resulting in a very different flavor profile. Because cold brew is made with higher concentrations of coffee to water, it can also contain more caffeine.

Let’s delve into the details of this drink that’s been taking over American coffee culture by storm since 2015.

cold brew coffee

Let’s talk first about the difference between cold brew and hot coffee.

Cold Brew vs Hot Coffee

While regular hot coffee is brewed for just a few minutes using hot water, cold brew coffee is made by steeping the grounds in cold water, usually for at least twelve hours. The different processes result in very different flavors and characteristics.

Flavor-wise, hot coffee tends to be more bitter than cold brew, but releases a more complex aroma and can be fruitier, brighter, and more fragrant. Cold brew coffee tastes smoother and sweeter, often more chocolatey or cinnamony, with less bitterness and perceived acidity.

Without heat, the cold brew process doesn’t extract as much of the compounds that can tinge hot coffee with unpleasant notes, and there’s no heat-caused breakdown and oxidation that further changes the taste of the coffee. Even better, this means cold brew coffee doesn’t go stale in just a couple of hours the way hot coffee does.

Some coffee enthusiasts however find that cold brewing doesn’t extract the full flavor potential of the coffee bean and creates a coffee with rather muted flavors and aroma.

If you’re drinking coffee for its healthy antioxidant content, go for hot coffee. Hot brewed coffee contains more antioxidants than cold brew coffee because heat extracts the antioxidant compound 3-caffeoylquinic acid better.

Is Cold Brew Stronger than Hot Coffee?

In terms of caffeine content, we’ve got an apparent paradox. You’d think that hot brewing would extract more caffeine, and you’re right. Caffeine is more soluble in hot water than in cold water, so we would expect hot coffee to be stronger, right?

Cold brew coffee is made using very different proportions of coffee and water, as much as 2 to 2 1/2 times more than in hot coffee. This fact combined with the long steeping time results in a lot more caffeine concentrated in a cold brew.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Cold brew coffee is meant to be drunk diluted with an equal amount of ice, water, milk, or other liquids. This dilution can reduce the amount of caffeine to lower than an equal serving of hot coffee.

For example, a Tall (12 oz) cup of Starbucks Cold Brew Coffee contains 155 mg of caffeine, while the same size of their Pike Place Brewed Coffee contains 235 mg of caffeine.

On the other hand, if you make cold brew coffee at home and don’t add as much water, ice, or milk as Starbucks does you can easily get a lot more caffeine from cold brew.

TL;DR? Cold brew coffee can be stronger or weaker than an equal amount of hot coffee depending on the number of other liquids you add to it.

Why dilute?

Why not just make a cold brew to your preferred strength instead of making a concentrate?

It turns out that the concentration helps cold brew coffee keep better. Concentrated cold brew coffee will last up to a week in the fridge without any perceptible flavor change, up to two weeks with little change, while a diluted version will only last two to three days.

Caffeine Strength Comparison of Popular Coffees

Really need to wake up? Here’s a comparison of the caffeine content from popular Starbucks products:

BeverageShort (8 oz)Tall(12 oz)Grande (16 oz)Venti (24 oz)Trenta (32 oz)
Pike Place Brewed Coffee155 mg235 mg310 mg410 mg 
Blond Roast180 mg270 mg360 mg475 mg 
Featured Dark Roast130 mg195 mg260 mg340 mg 
Brewed Decaf Coffee15 mg20 mg25 mg30 mg 
Caffe Americano75 mg150 mg225 mg300 mg 
Blonde Caffe Americano85 mg85 mg170 mg170 mg 
Cordusio Mocha155 mg155 mg315 mg320 mg 
Reserve Latte135 mg135 mg135 mg265 mg 
Caffe Mocha90 mg95 mg175 mg180 mg 
Cappuccino75 mg75 mg150 mg150 mg 
Blonde Cappuccino85 mg85 mg170 mg170 mg 
Flat White130 mg130 mg195 mg195 mg 
Blonde Flat White150 mg150 mg225 mg225 mg 
Caramel Macchiato75 mg75 mg150 mg150 mg 
Caramel Flan Latte*75 mg75 mg150 mg150 mg 
Espresso 75 mg (solo)150 mg (doppio)  
Blonde Espresso 85 mg (solo)170 mg (doppio)  
Hazelnut Macchiato75 mg75 mg150 mg150 mg 
Cinnamon Dolce Latte75 mg75 mg150 mg150 mg 
Pumpkin Spice75 mg75 mg150 mg150 mg 
Salted Caramel Mocha90 mg95 mg175 mg185 mg 
Cold Brew Coffee 155 mg205 mg310 mg360 mg
Cold Brew Coffe w Milk 150 mg200 mg300 mg310 mg
Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew 140 mg185 mg275 mg320 mg
Reserve Cold Brew 150 mg200 mg300 mg 
Protein Blended Cold Brew  180 mg  
Cold Foam Cold Brew 155 mg205 mg310 mg360 mg
Salted Cream Cold Foam Cold Brew 140 mg185 mg275 mg320 mg
Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew 145 mg185 mg275 mg320 mg
Irish Cream Cold Brew 145 mg185 mg275 mg320 mg
Salted Cream Nitro 200 mg270 mg  
Reserve Nitro Cold Brew 280 mg400 mg  
Cold Foam Cascara Nitro 200 mg270 mg  
Dark Mocha Nitro w Milk 225 mg295 mg  
Cold Foam Dark Cocoa Nitro 215 mg290 mg  
Torched Vanilla Nitro 210 mg280 mg  
Nitro Latte 115 mg155 mg  
Nitro Freddo 215 mg285 mg  
Nitro Cold Brew 215 mg280 mg  
Nitro Cold Brew w Sweet Cream 230 mg325 mg  
Molten Chocolate Frappuccino 80 mg110 mg150 mg 
Vanilla Frappuccino 65 mg90 mg125 mg 
Caramel Flan Frappuccino 65 mg90 mg125 mg 
Caramel Frappuccino 70 mg100 mg130 mg 
Caramel Ribbon Crunch 60 mg85 mg115 mg 
Cinnamon Dolce 65 mg90 mg125 mg 
Coffee Frappuccino 70 mg100 mg130 mg 
Double Chocolaty Chip 10 mg15 mg15 mg 
Espresso Frappuccino 130 mg165 mg185 mg 
Hazelnut Frappuccino 65 mg90 mg125 mg 
Mocha Frappuccino 75 mg110 mg140 mg 
Iced Lattes 75 mg150 mg225 mg 
Iced Blonde Lattes 85 mg170 mg255 mg 
Iced Mochas 95 mg175 mg260 mg 
Iced White Chocolate Mocha 75 mg150 mg225 mg 
Iced Caramel Macchiato 75 mg150 mg225 mg 
Iced Cappuccino 75 mg150 mg225 mg 
Iced Americano 75 mg150 mg225 mg 
Iced Blonde Cappuccino 85 mg170 mg255 mg 
Doubleshot on Ice 150 mg225 mg375 mg 
Iced Flat White 90 mg130 mg175 mg 
Iced Coffee 120 mg165 mg235 mg285 mg
Iced Coffee w Milk 90 mg125 mg170 mg190 mg
Iced Clover Reserve 280 mg380 mg470 mg 
Iced Clover Blonde 255 mg340 mg425 mg 
Iced Clover Medium 280 mg375 mg445 mg 
Iced Clover Dark 280 mg380 mg470 mg 

*Other flavored lattes have similar caffeine content.

Information is taken from Caffeine Informer.

Why Does Cold Brew Coffee Upset the Stomach Less?

Cold brew coffee not only has a more rounded, less bitter taste, it’s also touted by many coffeeshops, baristas, and roasters as being less acidic. Cold brewing equipment maker Toddy claims cold brew has as much as 60% less acid. This has made cold brew widely recommended for coffee lovers with sensitive stomachs.

Surprisingly, however, a Thomas Jefferson University study recently found that the acid content of both hot and cold brew coffee is nearly equal.

When brewed until full extraction was obtained – six minutes for hot coffee, 400 minutes for cold brew (6.7 hours), far less than the usual 12 – the pH ratings of both kinds were very close. So why does cold brew taste less acidic?

The difference in how cold and hot brew coffee impacts the stomach varies by heat. In hot coffee, the chlorogenic acids are changed by heat into quinic and caffeic acids, which have bitter and astringent flavors. Heat also removes compounds that balance coffee’s flavor. This does not happen with cold brew.

Because these changes don’t happen in cold brew, you get a smoother, rounder flavor that comes across as less acidic and is less likely to give you heartburn.

However, you should also keep in mind that too much caffeine in any form can increase your stomach acidity, and since we’re all built a little differently you may have a lower tolerance to caffeine than most.

If even cold brew coffee gives you hyperacidity, try reducing your coffee intake, choose Arabica beans grown at lower altitudes or non-volcanic soils, and try using darker roasts which have lower acidity.

Difference Between Cold Brew and Iced Coffee

Cold brewing is a method of making coffee, while iced coffee is a method of serving coffee. Iced coffee can be made using either hot brewed coffee or cold brewed coffee. However, hot brewing is much faster so most iced coffee served in coffee shops is made from hot drip-brewed coffee.

Because drip-brewed coffee can have a fuller flavor profile than cold brewed using the same beans, some baristas prefer to use this method for making iced coffee. Flavor can be further enhanced by using the Japanese method of making iced coffee, which is to drip the coffee straight onto ice.

Remember what we said earlier about heat causing flavor changes in hot coffee?

The Japanese method makes the most of hot brewing’s ability to extract flavor and aroma from coffee beans but stops the unwanted flavor changes. While the usual way of making iced coffee is to let the coffee cool then serve it with ice, this gives the coffee time to go flat.

With the Japanese method, also called the flash-brewing or flash-chilling method, the shock of dripping the coffee straight onto ice halts the loss of volatile compounds and the decomposition of chlorogenic acid into quinic and caffeic acids the same way we shock pasta with cold water to stop it from cooking beyond al dente.

The result is a fruitier and more aromatic iced coffee.

It even has some of the benefits of the cold brew method, because like cold brewing the Japanese method stops the decomposition of chlorogenic acid. If you want cold coffee with a bolder flavor and more pronounced aroma, you will likely enjoy Japanese-style iced coffee better than cold brew.

On the other hand, while the process is much shorter it also requires more attention on your part and also makes less coffee at a time. If you want a milder, rounder flavor that’s easy on the tummy and easy to make in quantity, the cold brew method is for you.

In terms of caffeine content, the same principles apply. Brewing with heat can extract more caffeine, so if you’re comparing standard diluted cold brew coffee with iced coffee, there’s a good chance the iced coffee is stronger.

However, if your idea of iced coffee is cold brew concentrate with just two or three ice cubes don’t be surprised if you end up looking and feeling like a tarsier when owls are flitting overhead.

Does Cold Brew Have Fewer Calories?

If you’re watching your weight, I have good news and bad news. The good news: Coffee, no matter which way you brew it, has very few calories, on average just 1-2 calories per 8-ounce cup. While cold brew tastes sweeter black than hot coffee, the calorie difference is negligible.

The bad news: Milk, cream, sugar, and the flavored syrups and other add-ons so popular in making signature coffee drinks add lots of calories, as much as 600 in a Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino Venti (24 oz). So if your jeans are starting to feel rather tight, you can either order smaller lattes or switch to black coffee.

Because you can enjoy cold brew black or with less sugar than more bitter or acidic hot coffees, cold brew has potentially fewer calories. The same goes for Japanese-style iced coffee, which is also very good taken black.

Calorie Content Comparison of Popular Coffees

Watching your weight? Here’s a quick comparison of the calorie counts from various coffee products:

Instant coffee8 oz cup4
Espresso coffee1 oz1
Brewed coffee8 oz2
McDonald’s Cappuccino16 oz130
McDonald’s Latte16 oz180
McDonald’s Mocha16 oz330
McDonald’s Brewed Coffee (large)16 oz4*
McDonald’s Caramel Frappe21 oz670
Dunkin Donuts Latte10 oz120
Dunkin Donuts Cappuccino10 oz80
Dunkin Donuts Mocha Swirl Latte10 oz230
Dunkin Donuts Brewed Coffee10 oz15
Dunkin Donuts Caramel Swirl Frozen Coffee32 oz1170
Starbucks Brewed Coffee16 oz5
Starbucks Caffe Americano16 oz15
Starbucks Caffe Latte16 oz220
Starbucks Caffe Mocha (no whipped cream)16 oz290
Starbucks Caffe Mocha (with whipped cream)16 oz360
Starbucks Cappuccino16 oz140
Starbucks Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha (with whipped cream)16 oz560
Starbucks Caffe Vanilla Frappuccino Blended Coffee16 oz430
Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino24 oz600
Starbucks Nitro Cold Brew w Sweet Cream12 oz70
Starbucks Iced Coffee (sweetened)12 oz60
Starbucks Iced Caffe Americano12 oz10

How to Make Cold Brewed Coffee

Cold brew coffee is the easiest to make of all coffees, as you can literally do it while you sleep. Or rather, the brewing happens while you sleep. There are two methods you can use, the slow drip method and the immersion method.

The drip method requires a cold brew drip tower and ice water.

Coffee enthusiasts praise the method for its ability to extract better-nuanced flavors from coffee beans than the easier immersion method. The immersion method however is usual for home coffee brewers, requiring only a non-reactive container for the coffee and water, and a filter for straining the brew afterward. We’ll describe the immersion method here.

To make immersion cold brew coffee, simply place coarse-ground coffee in your cold brew bottle or French press, add cold water, and let it sit in your fridge for 12 – 24 hours. A ratio of 1 part coffee to 5 -10 parts water will make a cold brew that’s drinkable straight (but keeps only 2-3 days), while stronger ratios of up to 1:2 will make concentrates that will keep well for a week.

Filter before serving.

Ratios are given in weight of coffee (grams) to milliliters of water. So a 1:5 ratio means 100 grams of coffee to 500 ml of water. You can experiment with ratios, as different coffees will taste better at different ratios.

How to Make Japanese Iced Coffee

You don’t need special equipment to make Japanese-style iced coffee yourself.

You can use a Chemex, Aeropress, or French press. All you have to do is make coffee using only half to two-thirds the usual amount of water, and make up the rest with ice in the receiving container.

This method works especially well with pour-over coffee makers like a Chemex or Hario. Brewing over ice is very important; you can’t just add the ice after, as you would lose the technique’s benefits.

Because you’re using less water than usual to make the coffee, you should use a finer grind. This allows your limited water to extract more flavor from the beans.

Related Post: Can Espresso Be Made With Any Coffee?

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