What’s the Difference Between Hot and Cold Brew Coffee?

Alright, alright, alright. We know what you’re going to say. “Hot-brewed coffee is hot, and cold-brewed coffee is cold. That’s the difference.” But for those of you who actually drink coffee, you know there’s a little more to it than that. Cold brew tastes different from the hot-brewed coffee you just threw some ice in. So what’s up with that? What’s the actual difference between hot and cold brew coffee?

Coffee Beans

Most of us think that coffee comes from beans, but that’s not technically correct. Coffee beans are actually seeds that come out of berries from some species of coffea. The most common species we use are coffea arabica and coffea canephora. Respectively Arabian coffee and robusta coffee. So yeah, coffee beans are really seeds. Now you can correct every barista you know, we guess. 

But the ultimate goal is to take these coffee seeds and turn them into brewed coffee. They first need to be picked and eventually dried–at which point they become the “beans” we buy from the grocery store. After that, all that’s left is to grind them and brew them. Or we pay to have someone else do it and pump a bunch of vanilla into it or something.

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What’s the Difference Between Hot and Cold Brew Coffee?

Normally when you’re brewing your coffee, you’re doing it hot. Drinking coffee hot has historically been the most common way to go about it. Normally brew temperatures hover just below the boiling point of water, between 85 and 88 degrees Celsius (185-190 Fahrenheit). High point gets up to 93 degrees (199 Fahrenheit). 

However you brew your coffee, the process draws out different properties of the bean. What we care about is the caffeine. As a byproduct the ground beans also get a little acidic, the compounds that also make your coffee bitter.

Iced Coffee

Iced coffee is exactly what you hopefully think it is. It’s hot-brewed coffee that you’ve thrown some ice into. Which, for coffee enthusiasts, is probably less than ideal. Mostly because the ice will melt while it’s in the coffee (even if it has already been cooled). Then everything gets watered down and gross. Preventing this is the same reason people will put frozen grapes in white wine.

Long short, iced coffee is just hot coffee. It’s got all the same properties as hot coffee and whatnot.

Cold Brew Coffee

Chemistry time; temperature changes the way reactions work. Mostly, the speed at which reactions occur. The hot temperature makes the acidic compounds decay into what we take as a bitter taste. That’s why people may get really particular with how hot their water is. 

Cold brew isn’t like iced coffee. When cold-brewing coffee, the water you put your coffee grounds in is cold. And the reaction here takes longer–cold brew can take anywhere between half a day to all day to get ready. But coffee beans/grounds make for complex molecules. So when you’re throwing them into the water multiple reactions are going on. 

Anyway, what ends up being extracted isn’t the acidic stuff–which is why cold brew tastes less acidic and less bitter. Luckily for you, the caffeine content is roughly the same.

If you’ve heard whispers of cold brew being more or less healthy than hot brew, you’re probably not alone. Some arguments are rendered about the lowered acidity being better for your health. While the difference is enough for you to probably notice, in terms of pH, they’re basically the same. So just drink whatever you think tastes better. 

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