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Iced vs. Cold Brew: The Answer You Didn’t Know You Needed to the Question You Didn’t Ask

The pursuit of the perfect brew continues.

Attention guys, gals, and nonbinary pals, today I am here to settle once and for all the least heated (pun intended) debate in the beverage world: iced vs cold-brewed coffee.

You’ve seen it everywhere; plastered on the sandwich boards in front of your local Starbucks, on the cute hipster cans in the grocery store beverage aisle, and even Dutch Bros. (an AZ favorite) is advertising the trendy caffeinated beverage we know as cold brew. They sell it like a whole new drink, it’s supposed to be smoother and less acidic and it’s even rumored to have more caffeine.

It’s also worth noting that you can cold brew tea and it turns out great! If you haven’t tried making it yourself yet, the way you cold brew something is by using cold or room temperature water and letting it sit for a long time, usually around 20-24 hours, then you filter out whatever it was you were steeping and serve it over ice. This is different from traditional iced beverages which are brewed double strong and poured warm or hot over ice to dilute them and cool them down.

Personally, I am a beverage fiend. Serve it hot, serve it cold, as long as it’s not served with sugar it’s perfect for me. I’ve tried cold brews and iced coffees and teas individually, but it never occurred to me to really find out which one I should be drinking. That is, until yesterday. I started to ask myself, is cold brew worth the hype? Is there something to be said for a classic iced coffee or tea? Only one way to find out!

The Experiment

cold brew pre

Then came the experimenting. I pulled out my French press and a clean mason jar and I got to work. For the coffee, I used Starbucks’ Pike Place roast, and for the tea I used The Republic of Tea’s Mango Ceylon black tea. I started the cold brews a day early; I brewed the French press coffee just like normal except with cool water straight from the tap instead of boiling. I did the same with the tea: twenty-four ounces of filtered water and three tea bags. After I took some before photos, I sent them to the fridge to brew overnight.

As soon as I got home from school I pulled out the cold brews and started working on the iced. Without even tasting them I could say that the cold brews both looked very aesthetically pleasing in their soft colors and respective frosty containers. There was already a pot of coffee, courtesy of my mom, so I brewed the tea according to the instructions on the jar: eight ounces of hot water and two tea bags which you then pour over ice.

The ice melted super quickly for the tea, a little less quickly for the coffee, and I just managed to get a picture before it was taste test time. I had a couple trusted advisors (i.e. my mom and sister) taste the drinks with me, and we came to a bit of an impasse.

The Results

cold brew post

For tea, it’s no question, cold brew all the way! The iced tea tasted weak and watery and wasn’t cold or refreshing enough, whereas the cold brewed tea was not only a gorgeous golden mango color, but also had a solid but delicate flavor and a refreshing frostiness that made it incredibly easy to drink. This particular tea had sunflower blossoms included with the black tea and mango flavorings, and only in the cold brew were the floral notes able to shine through in the taste.

Coffee was a different issue altogether. The first taste of the iced coffee tasted exactly like coffee – only cold. The first taste of the cold brew tasted like every other cold brew I’ve ever had: a little bitter, a little flat, a little lacking. The second sip of the iced coffee tasted a little flatter than the first, but I still have to say that it was overall more enjoyable than the cold brew.

My mom agreed with me on the coffee issue, but my sister didn’t. She preferred the cold brew. I have no idea why, but my hypothesis is that since my mom and I like our coffee black, we preferred the stronger coffee taste of the iced coffee while my sister, who’s a cream-and-sugar person, liked the more gently steeped cold brew.

This is just a hypothesis, though. Don’t take my word for it, try it for yourself! Hopefully you’ll be able to find your new favorite beverage and be more confident in your coffee shop orders – or save yourself some money and do it yourself!

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Nick Scaringelli is a high school student from sunny Scottsdale, Arizona...