Assuming you’ve been exposed to the relatively new concept of cold brew, you have likely seen hashed out in some form or another. If you’ve stood in a line at your local (or not so local, no judgment) coffee shop, these conversations seem to continue to pop up; “Iced coffee is more acidic”, “cold brew is better for your stomach”, “cold brew tastes weird”, “cold brew tastes better”, “hot coffee melts ice in your cup”. So it is fitting that this is where we start as we begin to examine cold brew. What really is the difference between iced coffee and cold brew?
Instead of giving more opinions, the aim is to equip you with a solid, measurable answer to this question, and in a roundabout way, teach you how you can make your own cold brew at home. The procedure is actually very simple and if you enjoy little home projects, this should also be really fun for you too.
Prep Time: 10 mins.
Steep Time: 16-20 hours
-½ gallon Water
-0.37 lb. of coarsely ground coffee
The easiest way to do this at home is using a French press, to make straining easy. Fill the French press with the room temperature water; between 60-80° F, then pour your coffee grinds on top of the water. Lightly stir the grounds to ensure that all of the grinds are wet and allow them to sit and “bloom” for 30-45 seconds. Lightly stir the ground coffee again, cover and let sit and steep for 16-20 hours. When you are all ready to drink what you’ve worked for, simply press down on the plunger and pour out your cold brew! There you have it.
Prep Time: 10 mins
Steep time: 4 mins
Cool Time: 2-3 hours (or you can just throw ice in it, but ew)
-0.5 gal Water
-0.2 lb coffee ground coarsely ground for a French Press
This process begins almost like your average French press would. Increasing the amount of coffee by 25% to combat the inevitable effect of ice. Here you’ll want to get your water up to temperature (refer to our brew guide on the French Press), pour it over the grounds, and let it sit for 4 minutes. After your coffee is made, you’ll want to chill it. To avoid a weak and watery cup do not simply add ice, let it chill in the refrigerator prior to serving.
The moment of truth:
Using a pH meter to measure the acidity of each of these coffees, we submerged the business end of a pH meter into the coffees in a shallow glass with just enough coffee to cover the meter’s end.
Iced Coffee: 5.10
Cold Brew: 5.47
Let’s talk about what all of this means. Aside from the fact that you had to wait a whole day for your cold brew to be ready to drink, what are the differences? Without tasting the coffees, the cold brew is not melting ice, which is already gives it an advantage. What about cold brew’s claims of a gentler cup? That’s when we look at the acidity, or pH level, that we’ve taken. As some of us might recall from Chemistry class, pH 7 is considered neutral level, and water should be relatively neutral. The typical acidity of an average hot cup of black coffee is around pH 4.75-4.9, depending on a whole host of factors. What sets cold brew apart from iced coffee is a significantly lower acidity, typically hovering around 5.25-5.75. This is what gives cold brew the right to claim that it is less taxing on your tummy. In this experiment, iced Peru organic coffee came in with a pH of 5.10, while the cold brew of that same exact batch of coffee measured at 5.47. While this may not seem like a huge difference, for a little perspective, the approximate difference between battery acid and lemon juice is only 1 pH level.
That’s the science, but what about the taste??? First of all, and I cannot possibly say it enough, this is subjective. I like eggs with pasta sauce (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it), but does that mean that everyone will? NO!! Having said that, there is smoothness and clarity to cold brew that cannot be matched by simply icing hot coffee. There is most definitely a distinctive flavor to cold brew; some people are just not into it. If you’re still with me, I dare you to drink that cold brew you made black. I say that, knowing that there are some of you reading this and clutching to your sweetened creamer like it’s going to save your life. Just try it; see how you feel. I can say with some confidence that you will like it more that drinking that iced coffee black. You might pick up on some flavors in your coffee that you wouldn’t have seen before. Your stomach might feel better than it did when you had that iced coffee yesterday. Who knows? You might even come away from this with a real taste for cold brew.
If nothing else, this experiment hopefully taught you to be a little more critical of your coffee. Perhaps all it did was show you how to make cold brew at home or perhaps you’ve firmly decided that you don’t like cold brew and hate me for telling you to waste all of this time to learn about it. All of that considered, my sincere hope is that you have gained knowledge and insight about your favorite brown bean water. It is in my (admittedly heavily biased) opinion; good things come to those who wait.