Traditionally, iced coffee was hot coffee poured over ice. But today, cafe menus from Starbucks to your favorite local shop are filled with cold brew coffee items. But what is it exactly? And is it better for you than the original?
Instead of being brewed with hot water, cold brew is brewed cold. The result is a morning cup of icy goodness that’s filled with all of the benefits you’d expect from coffee — antioxidants, a caffeine kick — and more.
Because it’s made differently, the perks are unique, ranging from a less acidic beverage to a totally different taste. You can order to-go, choosing from a variety of different cold brew options on menus around the country or you can learn to brew it at home.
No matter how you get your drink, here are the benefits you’ll reap by switching your usual iced coffee for a beverage brewed cold.
Since oils and acids from coffee are more easily extracted when you use hot water, cold brew is slightly less acidic than hot or iced coffee. The happy consequence of that could be “less stomach pain, acid reflux and fewer symptoms of the GI distress that some people who tend to be bothered by coffee report,” notes Amanda Baker Lemein, RD. Though it’s worth noting that like traditional hot and iced coffee, cold brew can similarly have a laxative effect, she says.
“Another potential benefit of a lower acidity drink could mean it is better for your teeth, as highly acidic foods can wear away at the enamel,” adds Lemein.
While it takes some prep, cold brew only requires a few steps to perfect, and it’s more simple than you’d imagine. You can make a big batch to save money and streamline your mornings. “One of the main benefits of cold brew is you can make it in almost any situation if you’re creative. You don’t need any fancy devices to make it,” says Asser Christensen, a Q Arabica Grader who grades and scores coffees. “Most people have a French press at home, which works great. Just add water and coffee, and let it steep in the fridge.” You can even steep ground coffee and water in a plastic bottle overnight, or use an Aeropress or even a mason jar.
Then just wait. “A cold brew relies on steeping the coffee grounds in room temperature water for a period of 12–24 hours,” says Alex Azoury, a barista and founder and CEO of Home Grounds. “The longer your mixture infuses, the stronger your coffee.”
“Cold brew has a milder taste and is naturally sweeter than traditional hot and iced coffee, making it easy to drink black,” says Dorian Bodnariuc, a coffee blogger at Coffee Brewing Methods. If you’re watching your weight, coffee can be a sneaky calorie bomb, so drinking it black can help you meet your goals.
If you prefer to add milk, “the smoother flavor of cold brew blends nicely with your favorite milk of choice and doesn’t seem as watered down when served over ice, like some iced coffees,” adds Baker Lemein.
Cold brew is also arguably more flavorful than iced coffee because iced coffee is simply regular coffee poured over ice, which dilutes the drink, says coffee blogger Shabbir Nooruddin. “The taste is better due to the fact that lower temperatures prevent some of the stronger tasting compounds being extracted.”
To keep the flavor even more potent, freeze coffee ice cubes instead of using water ice cubes, suggests Azoury, and add these to your brew.
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“Because cold brew takes a higher coffee-to-water ratio than traditional brewing, it will have higher caffeine content,” says Baker Lemein. If you’re looking to decrease your caffeine intake, consider this when choosing your coffee size. But if you’re simply looking for an easy, strong drink to get you going in the morning or and help you stay energized through a hard workout, cold brew will do the trick.
Add making your cold brew to your meal prep schedule on Sundays; one big batch can last you all week. “Hot brewed coffee would last about an hour after brewing, and then it starts to lose its flavor,” explains Bodnariuc. “Cold brew, on the other hand, extracts different compounds from coffee that do not oxidize, and can last for up to two weeks in the fridge.”
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