Iced Coffee vs Hot Coffee. Everything You Need to Know

Why scorch your tongue on a piping hot espresso in the middle of a mid-August heat wave when you can have iced coffee? And why not mix things up around Christmas with a cold brew?

Because coffee was designed to be hot, for one.

I may be stepping on some toes, but I can’t stay silent any longer. So today, we’ll dive straight into the rabbit hole of the flavor, nutrition facts, and health benefits of hot coffee vs. iced coffee and how one is better than the other (or is it?).

Equipment and Brewing

There are dozens of ways to brew hot coffee, from a traditional pour-over pot to a new-fangled Aeropress. Some take weeks to master, like pulling shots on a manual espresso machine, while others (Nespresso and Keurig machines) are so easy to use, it literally takes a single press of a button to enjoy a cuppa. Each of these methods comes with a unique piece of hardware, like a Turkish cezve with a hot sand bed or a glass siphon.

I won’t go into details of all the ways you can brew a hot cuppa because we’ll be here all day (or maybe the whole week). You can check them out in my other posts to learn more about the equipment and techniques.

I know you have your favorite way of making coffee, so let’s imagine you want to make an iced drink from an espresso shot, French press coffee, or any other brewing method you enjoy. You’ll need to use a couple of pro-barista tricks:

  1. Double the bean-to-water ratio regardless of your preferred brewing method. You need a concentrate that’s too strong for drinking straight. The melting ice cubes will mellow out the concentrate and make your cold drink taste just right.
  2. Take the coffee off the heat once it’s brewed. Don’t keep the drip machine carafe on a hot plate, and don’t let the French pressed java to remain in the pot for long. Instead, pour the coffee into a jar or a bottle with an airtight lid. If you expose your coffee to heat or air for too long, it will turn bitter and sour. Let it sit on the counter and transfer the brew into the fringe once it has cooled down.
  3. Pour the cooled coffee over ice and serve immediately. Don’t forget the coaster, as the glass will start sweating immediately. Enjoy the drink before the ice melts and makes it undrinkable.
  4. Use leftover coffee to make caffeinated ice. To avoid that horrible watered-down taste, substitute regular ice cubes with frozen coffee. If you do this, you can skip the first step and use your regular bean-to-water ratio.

You can also use cold brew to make iced coffee. It takes soaking the coarsely ground beans in room-temperature water for 12 to 24 hours to get a concentrate. In this case, you can skip most of the steps above and simply add ice to the brew.

Just remember that iced coffee and cold brew are not synonyms. In fact, most coffee chains make iced coffee from espresso shots or drip coffee. So when we discuss the flavor, health benefits, and other pros and cons of hot or iced coffee, I’ll be clear whether the benefits are only true for cold-brewed java or iced coffee in general.

Flavor, Acidity, and Bitterness

There’s no way to tell how the beans will taste until you try different roasts and brewing methods. Still, these considerations should help you find the right coffee for drinking cold:

  1. Choose bold flavors over nuanced palettes. Drinking your coffee cold and diluting it with ice will mellow out intense notes and wash out the subtle nuances altogether. Save your favorite exotic single-origin beans for espresso, and go with overwhelming blends for iced coffee.
  2. Use light roasts for bright acidity. If you’re looking for a refreshing brew to enjoy black with ice, go with lightly roasted beans, as they offer vivid acidity that translates well into a cold drink.
  3. Select dark roasts for iced latte. Arabica and Robusta blends roasted to the second crack taste heavenly in a mix with milk or half n half for hot or cold coffee. The bolder the flavor is, the more pronounced it will remain when poured over ice.

I suggest you drink your iced coffee as fast as possible without getting a brain freeze. The longer you wait, the less like java your drink will taste. After 15 minutes, the dregs at the bottom of the glass will be more water than coffee.

Prices and Availability

In the days of yore, you couldn’t get your hands on iced coffee on Christmas. But things have changed, and now any cafe or coffee shop will have a few cold coffee drinks on offer all year round. You can expect a wider range of iced coffee with specialty drinks in the summer months, just like you can enjoy your pumpkin spice latte around Thanksgiving.

When it comes to pricing, most coffee chains offer iced drinks for up to $0.40 or $0.50 more than their hot counterparts. For instance, you can get freshly brewed coffee for $1.85, but iced coffee will cost $2.25. As iced coffee takes longer to brew and requires additional expenses for making ice, its higher price tag shouldn’t be surprising. Cold-brew is even more expensive, starting at $2.95.

Iced Coffee vs Hot Coffee

Iced Coffee vs Hot Coffee: Health Benefits

Coffee has plenty of health benefits, like making your heart stronger or decreasing the chances of obesity and diabetes. You can learn more about those with a quick Google search. Instead, let’s focus on the differences between hot and iced coffee, and there are plenty:

  1. The aroma of roasted coffee can decrease insomnia-induced stress (at least in rats). Considering iced coffee rarely has a strong smell, you can only enjoy this benefit with a hot brew.
  2. Being exposed to a hot drink makes you warmer towards the others. Holding a hot cuppa instead of an ice-cold glass will increase the feeling of interpersonal warmth, supporting your psychological wellbeing.
  3. The antioxidants responsible for coffee’s health benefits are more active in hot brews. To enjoy their positive effects, use hot brewed java to pour over ice rather than opting for a cold brew that suffers lower antioxidant activity.
  4. Iced coffee tends to be less acidic and milder on a sensitive stomach thanks to its diluted state. Cold-brew is often believed to be less acidic. Still, this study found the pH level of hot and cold-brewed coffee to be similar, and this research showed the concentration of chlorogenic acids known to cause GERD to be similar for both brewing methods.

As long as you remember everything is good in moderation and keep your caffeine and sugar intake under control, you should enjoy all benefits of coffee without suffering side effects.

Iced Coffee vs Hot Coffee: Caffeine

Looking at a giant 24-ounce glassful of iced coffee, it feels natural to assume it’s packed chock-full of caffeine. The reality, as ever, is much more complex and harder to understand.

To make things easier, let’s consider Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts iced coffee. Both are espresso-based. So if you order a tall iced drink, you get a 12-ounce beverage that only holds one shot of espresso and 75 mg of caffeine. A venti is a 24-ounce drink with three shots of espresso or 225 mg of caffeine.

If you’re not one to go with standard drink orders, you can always increase the caffeine in your iced coffee by adding extra shots. Each additional espresso serving will boost the caffeine content by 75 mg. Just be mindful of the number of iced drinks you enjoy throughout the day. Without the heat and aroma of hot coffee, it can be easy to forget the brew is caffeinated and go overboard. I don’t have to tell you how jittery and unfocused too much of the brain juice can make you.

So does iced coffee have more caffeine when you make it at home? Even if you follow my suggestions and use a concentrate instead of your regular brew, it might be slightly less caffeinated than your hot coffee, depending on the amount of ice you use.

So iced coffee isn’t the way to cut back on caffeine. The only way to follow your doctor’s orders is to switch to decaf or half-caf. Luckily, the Swiss water method makes for a much more passable brew than ever before.

Iced Coffee vs Hot Coffee: Calories

Black coffee is virtually free of calories, regardless of your brewing method. And ice is equally free of nutritious value. So if you get an espresso shot or a tall iced cafe americano without sugar, both will add merely 5 calories to your daily caloric intake.

Once you start adding sugar, syrup, milk, or cream to your coffee, that’s when the nutritious value of your drink skyrockets. You can try to keep it down by switching to zero-calorie sweeteners and non-fat milk if you don’t enjoy your java black.

On the bright side, an iced latte (100 kcal/12 oz) is lighter on calories than a hot latte (150 kcal/12 oz), as part of the milk is replaced with ice. Just don’t go crazy with toppings and syrups to make iced coffee more flavorful, and you’ll be able to keep to your healthy weight.

Final Thoughts

Iced coffee has its benefits, like not making a miserably hot summer day even more miserable. It isn’t much healthier, though ice usually makes it less caffeinated and calorie-dense than a similar hot drink. Ultimately, your iced java is a function of the hot brew you use, so if you enjoy a certain bean hot, it might be nice poured over ice if you follow my tips. I’m going to stick with espresso and French press, but you do you.

Renat Mamatazin

Renat Mamatkazin


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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