Cold Brew vs Hot Brewed Coffee: Everything You Should Know

Before the mid-2010s, if someone mentioned the words “cold brew” you would think they were talking about beer. However, now that everyone and their mother knows about cold brew coffee, there’s little chance of confusion, even on a college campus.

In this article, we’ll go through the differences between cold brew and hot brew to see how they stack up against each other.

Cold Brew vs Hot Brewed Coffee

What's the Difference?

First, a short history lesson.

The discovery of coffee is kind of murky in a way. Ethiopian legends claim a goat herder made the original discovery of coffee’s effects in the 9th century, while written evidence appears only in the 15th century in Yemen. While it doesn’t matter who was the first, the important thing here is that both the legendary and written accounts say that coffee was brewed hot.

It wasn’t until the 1600s that cold brew hit the emerging coffee scene in Japan. Yes, Japan of all places. And it’s interesting to note that Japan still has a very strong coffee culture.

Cold brew vs hot brewed coffee : the main difference is the obvious: hot coffee is brewed with hot water (usually 195-205 F), and cold brew with room temperature or cold water.

Apart from the obvious difference in the water temperature used for brewing the coffee, each method has distinct subtleties in flavor, the equipment you need, and a bunch of other things you may not know.

Let’s look at each difference in more detail.

What the Difference

Equipment

Hot brew: The equipment you need for making hot coffee ranges from the super-simple (manual pour over) to the incredibly complex and expensive (espresso machines).

In between, you’ll find things like moka pots (used on your stove), auto drip machines, Keurigs, and dozens of other appliances, each with their advantages and disadvantages. An important note is that some hot brewing methods require filters or pods, depending on the style of machine.

Cold brew: In the cold brew coffee vs hot brewed coffee showdown, cold brew has the upper hand in equipment and cost. To make cold brew, you don’t need a filter or expensive machine — a simple jar or other container is all that’s required.

Both: Looking past the coffee-making equipment, you also need a way to make ground coffee. Of course, you can buy pre-ground, but what’s the fun in that? Grinding your own coffee not only improves the flavor, but it’s also part of the ritual. So, a coffee grinder (auto or manual) is also a must-have.

Ideally, it’s also best to use a kitchen scale to measure how much coffee you’re putting in. Of course, after a few times making coffee hot or cold, you can eyeball it.

And finally, you need great coffee, preferably whole beans. Despite what you may think, there are no rules for what type of coffee to use for each method. You can go with a light, medium, or dark roast depending on your personal preferences.

Brewing Process

Hot brew: The consensus is that hot-brewed coffee should be made with water that’s just under the boiling point — 195-205 F. It’s said that this temperature range releases the most flavor. For a well-balanced cup of coffee, don’t boil the crap out of your coffee and you should be good.

Usually, it takes under 10 minutes to brew a hot cup. As the water passes through the coffee grounds, it extracts the essence of the beans and almost instantly results in a full-flavored coffee experience.

Cold brew: A big difference with cold brew is the time it takes — it’s measured in hours and not minutes. Since hot water extracts coffee faster, it takes a lot longer with room temp. or cold water. Most sources say that 12 hours is the minimum steeping time for cold brew, while some claim up to 24 hours produces the most flavor. Again, this is all up to your palate — if you prefer a 12 hour steep, don’t let anyone tell you differently.

The general rule for cold brew is to use 1 oz (~28 grams) of coffee for every 1 cup (~240 ml) of water. Most recipes recommend using medium-ground coffee, but you can also try experimenting with a more coarse grind to see what tastes better. It’s also your choice if you want to use room temp or cold water.

Pour the water into a large enough container (depending on how many cups you want to make0 and then pour in the coffee grounds. Stir a bit (not vigorously), cover with a lid or something like a towel, and let it sit on your counter or in your fridge for at least 12 hours.

Hint: You can use a French Press or a regular mason jar to make cold brew.

After the coffee has steeped, you’ll need to filter out the grounds, even though most of them settle at the bottom of the container. You can use a paper filter, cheesecloth or anything else you have that can act as a filter.

Acidity and Bitterness: Science and Perception

When comparing hot brewed vs cold brew coffee, you often hear people say that cold brew is smoother, less acidic and less bitter. Science says differently. It seems that drinking something cold changes the perceived flavor profile (much like alcohol).

In a study published in Nature Magazine, researchers discovered something truly amazing. The pH in both hot and cold brew was found to be about the same (between 4.85-5.13)! If you’re rusty with chemistry, regular water has a pH of 7.0. So, both hot and cold have about the same acidity. When it came to antioxidant levels, there was a significant difference — hot coffee had more antioxidants than cold. The authors noted that this requires further study.

Cold Brew vs Hot Brewed Coffee 3

By the looks of it, acidity and bitterness have little to do with the extraction method and more to do with the coffee — type, roast and grind size. Lighter roast coffee is more acidic, while darker roast is less acidic but more bitter. And as you know, drinks like espresso which use a fine grind and large ground-to-water ratio are much more bitter.

Flavor

Flavor is subjective.

Both cold and hot coffee can be flavorful, and a lot depends on the coffee. Baristas and coffee connoisseurs recommend buying whole beans and grinding them as you need them instead of buying pre-ground coffee.

Drinking coffee fresh and hot will taste way different than tasting it cold. Think of any food or drink — some foods are good both hot and cold, like pizza for example — while other foods get pretty nasty when they’re cold and don’t taste good.

Hot coffee has a stronger aroma. It’s a more inviting smell, the traditional “coffee” aroma that you’re used to. Cold brew is more subtle in smell and has a distinct flavor profile that’s smoother and sweeter. As we showed above, any differences in acidity or bitterness are negligible between the brewing methods.

Versatility

It’s hard to make an argument for either hot or cold being more or less versatile. Both methods produce versatile coffee that you can add milk, sugar, water, ice, syrup and anything else you want.

Traditional hot coffee drinks, like cappuccinos and lattes, can be combined with ice to make iced cappuccinos and lattes, and you can do the same with cold brew. Cold brew drinks are just not as popular. One difference we see in versatility is that cold brew can be heated and drunk hot. If you let hot coffee get cold, it’s kind of gross.

Looking at Google search trends from 2004-2020 shows that cold brew is more popular in the warmer months, peaking in June-July. Cracking open the fridge and pulling out freshly-steeped cold brew when it’s hot and humid outside is one of the best feelings in the world.

One thing to keep in mind is cold brew vs hot brewed iced coffee. They’re not the same thing. Cold brew can only be called cold brew if it doesn’t use hot water. Iced coffee, like anything with ice in it, gets diluted (which some people don’t mind), whereas cold brew is a concentrated brewing method.

Cost

Comparing the cost of cold brew vs hot brewed coffee is pointless unless you look at specific hot brewing methods. For example, the cost of pour over vs cold brew is about the same. You need some type of container and way to filter out the grounds, that’s it.

When looking at hot brewing methods like auto pour over, Keurig, moka pot, or other methods that require additional equipment, you’re looking at the one-time cost of the machine itself, plus maintenance costs — pods, filters, cleaning supplies, etc.

The biggest takeaway is that cold brew doesn’t cost you anything except for the filter. You can buy cheap paper filters in bulk, or if you have a machine that uses filters, you can use those. Some people also claim that you can use cheaper coffee with cold brew, which is another cost you can save on. In our opinion, if you want to make hot coffee when it’s cold and cold brew when it’s sweltering outside, just use the same coffee.

Cold Brew vs Hot Brewed: Benefits for Health

Coffee is hands-down the best drug for your health.

Coffee has been shown to:

  • boost energy levels
  • improve physical performance
  • aid in weight loss
  • lower risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia, heart disease and stroke
  • protect your liver

What’s amazing is that not all of coffee’s benefits are linked to caffeine. According to studies, coffee has also been shown to increase longevity regardless of whether you drink regular or decaf. Perhaps this is connected with the high level of nutrients and antioxidants found in coffee.

The differences in health benefits for cold vs hot have not been established; however, extrapolating from what we already know (see the section above on Acidity and Bitterness), cold brew may contain fewer antioxidants, and therefore fewer health benefits. Take this with a grain of salt. We get plenty of antioxidants through a well-balanced diet, so the slightly lower levels of antioxidants in cold brew are negligible.

Cold Brew vs Hot Brewed Coffee: Caffeine

Caffeine content shouldn’t be the crux of your decision-making process for cold vs hot. Since few studies exist comparing caffeine levels, we can’t say for sure that one method produces stronger coffee.

The studies that have been published have found a slight difference in caffeine for darker roasts. Dark roast coffee brewed hot had more caffeine than the same dark roast brewed cold. But again, these differences weren’t significant, and the researchers made it a point to say that additional studies are required to further test this conclusion.

The real effect on caffeine levels is what we’ve known for years: coffee type, roast and grind size.

Final Thoughts

Cold brew and hot brew coffee isn’t the same as comparing apples and oranges, more like comparing granny smith and honeycrisp apples — one has a sharper taste, one’s sweeter, and it’s a matter of preference. Heck, some people can drink both and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Cold brew is more popular in summer months, it’s extremely easy to brew and requires little skill or equipment to get started. The cold-brewing method popularized by the Japanese has skyrocketed in popularity in the past five years, with more and more people discovering the refreshing brewing method.

Hot brewing methods were the first to be used and spread around the world. Recent studies show that hot coffee has more antioxidants than cold brew, but for cold brew coffee vs hot brewed, caffeine levels are similar.

To wrap up, drink what you like. Experiment with cold brew if you haven’t tried it, and see for yourself how simple it is to make.

Whether you like your coffee hot or cold, caffeine lovers share one love for the drink that unites the world.

  1. Official Bulletproof Coffee Recipe. (n.d.). Retrieved from
    https://www.bulletproof.com/blogs/recipes/official-bulletproof-coffee
  2. Young, S. (2017, April 10). Stop putting sugar in your coffee immediately, and stir this in instead. Retrieved from
    https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/coffee-add-salt-not-sugar-better-flavour-taste-cup-caffeine-bitterness-sodium-a7675916.html
  3. Helmenstine, A. M. (2017, December 29). Why Adding Salt Makes Coffee Taste Less Bitter. Retrieved from
    https://www.thoughtco.com/does-salt-in-coffee-reduce-bitterness-607366
Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin

2021/03/31

Founder and owner of Lion Coffee and 3ChampsRoastery, 1st place winner of Ukrainian Barista Championship 2017. Interested in travelling, football and Formula-1 (besides coffee, of course).

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