By Sally Perkins
We all know the feeling: you need your early morning coffee fix, and yet it’s the summertime, it’s baking hot and you’re looking for refreshment as well as a pick-me-up. For a long time, the answer to this dilemma was simple – iced coffee. A lovely, velvety hit of rich caffeine served chilled and over ice.
However, time and progress wait for no barista, and there’s a new kid on the block that’s looking to cut in on iced coffee’s summertime reign. It’s the cold brew coffee, and it wants to make you choose between them. So what’s the difference between these two beverages?
Iced coffee is the traditionalists’ choice for a refreshing blast of cold caffeine. This is because it is exactly what it says it is – coffee on ice – and therefore loses none of the strong flavour that coffee is famous for. Because of its simplicity, it is also applicable to any form of coffee: if you’re an espresso drinker, you can have an iced espresso; if your tipple is a complex caramel cinnamon soy mocha, it’s not a problem; get it over ice. In fact, because you can make any coffee an iced coffee, some of them become almost like an ice-cold coffee flavoured milkshake, giving you two drinks in one.
Cold brew coffee is something entirely different. While iced coffee starts out hot and is cooled by ice, cold brew coffee never gets above room temperature. The coffee grounds are stewed in either cold or room temperature water, and this produces a finished beverage that has a different set of characteristics than your average coffee. This is due to the chemical process that takes place during brewing.
Because of the lower temperature of the water, the chemical reaction that takes place is slower and less powerful, giving cold brew coffee a milder and more subtle flavour. For some people, particularly those with sensitive palates, this is preferable to the more intense flavour of traditionally brewed coffee. It also produces a less acidic brew, as acidity is released from coffee grounds when heat is applied. Cold brew coffee is therefore preferable for those who enjoy coffee but find themselves susceptible to acid reflux.
Despite potentially vying for the same consumers, cold brew and iced coffee are essentially different beasts. One offers the opportunity to keep drinking the same coffee that you always have, but it is simply chilled for the summer, while the other offers a different, milder coffee experience. If you can’t decide, a good old fashioned taste test may be in order!