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Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew vs. Nitro Coffee

Written by: John Beans | Last Updated on April 17, 2021

Both hot and cold coffee drinks are delicious. Cold coffee drinks include iced coffee, cold brew, and nitro cold brew. With the number of coffee drinks and coffee terms becoming almost as complex as how wine is described, it's easy to get lost in an avalanche of questions: What's the difference between iced coffee and cold brew? Why is cold brew sold in cans? Why is nitro cold brew poured from taps?

Let's learn all about these topics!

Cold Coffee Drinks Comparison

For those who like short answers, we have prepared a comparison table for Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew vs. Nitro Coffee:

Nitro versus iced vs cold brew differences

Iced Coffee

Let's start by looking at the most classic, familiar cold coffee drink. Iced coffee is the perfect drink for summer.

Iced coffee is regular coffee brewed with hot water, which is then cooled and served with ice, and possibly with milk or syrups. As it cools, coffee loses a bit of its flavor intensity, so coffee for iced drinks is often prepared a little stronger than regular hot coffee. Cold espresso can also become sour, although much depends on the quality of the beans and your barista skills.

Preparation: There are two ways to prepare iced coffee. In the first case, the hot coffee is cooled to the desired temperature using ice or a refrigerator; in the second, coffee is prepared by infusing the ground beans in cold water (for example, using a French press) and then filtered.

Often, iced coffee is prepared similarly to a particular hot coffee drink. So there are iced lattes, iced mochas, etc. These drinks are made by mixing hot espresso with cold milk and ice.

Flavor: Generally light, refreshing, and slightly more acidic, although this will depend on the bean and the skill of the barista.

Choose iced coffee if: You like strong, refreshing coffee and don't mind adding milk or cream (since iced coffee is more acidic, you may want to add a little).

Pros:

  • Fresh, light and refreshing
  • Less caffeine
  • No special skills required
  • Variation on a familiar recipe
  • Can make cold espresso-based coffee drinks
  • Fast brewing time versus cold brew

Cons:

  • Often drink with cream, resulting in a high calorie content

Cold Brew

Cold brew coffee is a cold-extracted coffee. There are two ways to prepare it: slow drip and infusion.

Slow drip method: Ice water is placed in the upper chamber of a special tower, and flows drop by drop through a layer of ground coffee. The resulting concentrate is filtered into a third chamber.

Infusion - Coffee grounds and water are mixed and left at room temperature or in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.

Concentrated cold brew coffee is comparable to espresso in flavor saturation. To obtain cold brew concentrate, use a 1:4 or 1:5 ground coffee-to-water ratio, leave for 24 hours, then filter. This concentrate can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and must be diluted with water before you consume it. If you do not want to dilute your cold brew, then use a 1:15 ratio and leave for 12 hours.

It's best to store the cold brew in the fridge while it's infusing because this will give a smoother, cleaner taste than if it's left at room temperature.

Preparation: The process is very simple and does not require special barista skills. Just place coffee grounds in cold water for 10-24 hours, filter the drink, and dilute the concentrate before drinking.

Flavor: In a standard hot coffee, some of the most intense and aromatic constituents of the coffee beans are “washed out,” and the drink acquires a sour, slightly bitter taste. Because a cold brew coffee is brewed with cold water, it is sweeter, more balanced, and less acidic than hot coffee or iced coffee. Although the aroma and taste will be less intense, they will not change over time, so cold brew coffee can be drunk later and still taste just as good.

Choose cold brew if: You don't want to pay extra for cold brew at a coffee shop. It's easy to prepare, invigorating and refreshing, and has a soft taste. You just have to be patient because the brewing process is long.

Pros:

  • Easy to prepare
  • Unique taste without bitterness
  • Long shelf life as a concentrate
  • May boost your metabolism
  • Invigorating and refreshing

Cons:

  • High levels of caffeine if not diluted
  • Long brewing proccess
  • Moderate taste, may seem "empty" to some

Nitro Cold Brew

Nitro cold brew (or simply nitro coffee) is borrowed from beer culture. It's regular cold brew saturated with nitrogen. Cold brew coffee is poured into a keg and connected to a tap and a nitrogen bottle, resulting in a drink with a fine layer of foam. Nitrogen makes coffee more creamy, with thick, rich foam—just like beer.

Preparation: Nitro coffee is made by saturating the drink with nitrogen, but you don't need to own a keg to make nitro cold brew at home. You can use a normal whipped cream dispenser with an added nitrogen cartridge.

If you do decide to make nitro cold brew yourself, keep in mind that you need to prepare a cold brew first, which will take 8-24 hours. Once the cold brew is ready and the nitro brew system is set up, you can start adding nitrogen.

Flavor: Foamy, light, creamy beverage that looks like beer. The high caffeine content of cold brew combined with nitrogen (which speeds up the absorption of caffeine in the bloodstream) means a serious dose of energy.

The biggest difference between nitro cold brew and regular cold brew is texture. While both beverages are mild and sweet in taste, nitro brew coffee has a rich body with foam on top.

Choose nitro coffee if: You want a cold, frothy drink that not only invigorates but also improves your mood. Plus, the drink is so good on its own that there's no need to add milk or sugar.

What We Like:

  • Light, creamy taste
  • Available in cans at stores
  • No need to add sugar or cream
  • Aesthetic appearance

What We Don't Like:

  • Doesn't taste quite as good when made in a whipped cream dispenser rather than a keg
  • Complex to prepare
  • Uses up more ground coffee

The Team That Worked On This Blog Post

Patty-Cramer-Editor-Coffee-Consultant-at-MyFriendsCoffee

Editor & Coffee Consultant

Patty Cramer

I'm the coffee consultant at MyFriendsCoffee. I've been in the coffee business for over 21 years and still have a passion for coffee. My most important skill is that I know how to organize work processes.

John Beans Editor & Founder

Resident Editor-in-Chief

John Beans

I’m the resident Editor-in-Chief of MyFriendsCoffee. For more than 5 years I tried a large variety of coffees from different brands and master 7 ways to brew coffee and am not going to stop there. I switched my first coffee maker with a professional espresso machine and now my kitchen is filled with various coffee equipment.

Tessa Dixon – Beginner Barista & Content Creator

BArista

Tessa Dixon

I was born in Seattle, and this city has a strong connection to coffee culture, so it's no wonder I decided to become a barista! I’ve learned many ways of making coffee and now I know how to make any coffee delicious.