Cold Brew Versus Hot Coffee: More Than Just Temperature

Cold vs Hot Brew

Cold brew has established itself within the coffee world recently- but what exactly is “cold brew?” Is it any different from classic hot coffee? Are cold brew and iced coffee the same?

Let’s dive a little deeper into the less-understood side of the cold brew world.

Addressing the Misconceptions

The biggest difference between iced, hot, and cold brew coffee is how it is made.

Traditionally, coffee is made with a drip system or a French press which pours hot water over coffee beans or grounds. The hot water steeps in the beans quickly, creating a fast release of coffee. This means you can brew a hot cup in just a few minutes.

The process is almost the same for iced coffee: You still pour hot water over the coffee beans, utilizing that fast steep. Iced coffee is often this same brew, just cooled and poured over ice.

Essentially, hot and iced coffee are sisters, whereas cold brew is the distant, well-dressed second cousin. Cold brew has similar elements (obviously- as they are in the same family), but some fundamental elements separate them.

Cold brew is a process that takes over half a day to complete. It starts with the beans (double concentrated), which must remain medium to coarsely ground; they are steeped in cold or room temperature water for 12+ hours, then strained. Because this process is time-consuming, cold brew tends to be made in smaller batches over longer increments of time.

At your coffee shop, you may have experienced the “impatient cold brew customer.” Your coffee shop may make less of it and therefore have less to sell. To ensure this does not happen, make several batches throughout the course of the day to ensure you have a consistent flow.

Does cold brew taste different?

Cold brew tastes different than hot or iced coffee due to the temperature and its lengthy process. Because of the cool and slow process, cold brew is generally less bitter and acidic with a smooth and sweet taste.

Here’s the chemistry behind the taste:

Hot water creates a chemical change in the coffee beans. The compounds in coffee dissolve at a fast rate when exposed to temperatures around 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot water pulls out the coffee compounds quickly, which makes them more volatile. That means these compounds are more likely to evaporate into the air, leaving behind that coffee aroma we all know and love. This chemical reaction also causes the coffee to oxidize quickly, leaving behind a more acidic and bitter taste.

If you were to brew coffee with even hotter water, such as 210 degrees, the acid in its beans decays into bitter compounds - resulting in a sour and burnt taste. If you’ve ever tasted “burnt” coffee, it was likely brewed with water that was too hot as opposed to over-roasted beans.

Cold water, on the other hand, slows down the extraction of the compounds in the coffee bean. The oils in the coffee bean remain in the cool water longer, which leads to a stronger brew than conventional coffee.

The oxidation process is significantly slower with cold brew. Therefore, when coffee is brewed with cold water, it is typically less bitter and acidic. That’s why you get a smoother and sweeter flavor profile with cold brew. However, you won’t get that same coffee smell, because the volatile compounds released with hot water aren’t present with the cold.

We can’t say which flavor is “better,” since everyone’s palate is different. People who don’t like the acidic or bitter taste of hot coffee may enjoy the richness of cold brew, while avid coffee drinkers often miss the “bite” of their piping cup of Joe. It’s worth trying both in different roasts to see which you prefer!


Cold brew coffee jar


Does cold brew have more caffeine?

The caffeine count is about the same for a cold brew and conventional brew. Caffeine molecules are very water-soluble, so they’re released from coffee beans quickly when they touch water, regardless of the temperature of the water.

Typically, the caffeine concentration is more dependent upon the brand and roast of the beans. For example, lighter roasts tend to have a higher caffeine count than darker roasts, regardless of brewing methods.

Is cold brew healthier?

Cold and hot brews have essentially the same nutrition profile. Research hasn’t been able to prove that one has more health benefits than the other.

Because it’s less acidic, cold brew can be a little gentler on the body. If a customer has acid reflux or a sensitive stomach, cold brew may help minimize the acidity that could cause discomfort or pain during digestion. If a customer complains of sensitive teeth, cold brew may also cause less pain.  

Because cold brew has less acidity, it’s also more alkaline. Studies have assessed the benefits of an alkaline pH diet, claiming it may minimize the risk of certain diseases and prevent the flu and colds.  

Also, cold brew is generally sweeter and smoother. That means a lot of customers don’t need to use as much sugar and creamer to make it palatable.

On the contrary, some researchers believe that cold brew may extract less chlorogenic acid, which is a powerful antioxidant. So there is a small argument that cold brew coffee may be missing out on some of the healthy antioxidant properties of hot brew, but there’s still no research to conclude this.  

In general, there’s not a huge health difference between the two. Go by your taste preferences, and you’ll see the same awesome health benefits like a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and more!

Time to brew

Do you feel more comfortable talking about the differences between cold brew and conventional (hot) brew? Which type of brew do you prefer? Give us your thoughts and taste preferences in the comments below!

May 31, 2019 by Staff @ BaristaUnderground
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