It’s no secret that coffee offers considerable health benefits, some of which come from the coffee itself and others from the caffeine.
But, while a hot cup of joe may be the go-to for most people, what about cold alternatives?
In particular, what about cold brew coffee vs hot brew? After all, having a cold drink makes much more sense if it is hot outside and cold brew has been increasing in popularity recently.
So, what is it and what are the implications for health?
Cold Brew Coffee vs Hot Brew Coffee
As the name suggests, cold brew coffee is produced by brewing the coffee without heat. Making the coffee involves the coffee grounds being steeped in cold or room-temperature water for around 12 to 24 hours.
The idea can seem odd but it’s not really.
For one thing, it isn’t heat that produces the coffee that we drink.
Instead, there is a chemical reaction when coffee grounds are combined with water. Adding heat to the mix simply serves to speed up that reaction. By doing so, hot brewing lets you have a cup of coffee in 5 minutes, while cold brew takes much longer. This happens because cold brewing results in less acid being formed during the process. As a result, cold brewed coffee has less bite than conventional coffee. For many people this is the greatest advantage of cold brew over hot brew.
One of the biggest differences between cold brew and hot brew coffee is oxidation.
For many people this is the greatest advantage of cold brew over hot brew. For example, apples and bananas change their color when exposed to air and over time flavor will be altered as well (1). The nature of hot brewing means that oxidation happens quickly. The process produces that bite I mentioned earlier and makes hot coffee somewhat acidic.
- Cold brewed coffee still goes through oxidation but this happens more slowly. As a result, the acidity is much lower and some people even swear that the coffee tastes sweeter.
Cold Brew Coffee and Health
So, what are the implications for health?
There has been considerable research on coffee and health, so we know that many of the powerful compounds (including antioxidants) survive the hot brewing process. This helps explain why there is a connection between coffee and longevity.
However, most of the research has been done on hot coffee, not coffee that has been cold brewed.
This means we don’t fully know whether cold brew coffee is better, worse or about the same for health (2). But, there are some patterns we can look at.
One area is the lower acidity.
In theory, this may be better for health, although the connection between acidity and the body is heavily debated. Regardless, the lower acidity can make cold brew coffee easier to drink for anyone who gets an upset stomach from regular coffee. Hot coffee is often consumed with additions, such as sugar, creamer or milk. These calories can add up fast, especially if you drink multiple cups of coffee in a day. In contrast, cold brew coffee is typically served as-is, without additional ingredients. The idea is this lets you savor the flavor. Plus, the lower acidity means that you typically don’t need anything to sweeten it. This difference could be relevant to health, making cold brew a better drink for some. This is especially significant for chlorogenic acid, which is an antioxidant. This tends to be less prevalent in cold brew than hot brew coffee (3). Theoretically, that could result in fewer health benefits, but it’s unclear how large the difference is.
While the health benefits of cold brew and hot brew coffee may be similar, there are some other areas to think about.
One is preparation time.
Cold brew has to sit much longer than hot brew before it is ready. So, you have to be somewhat organized and plan ahead if you plan to make it yourself. However, on the plus side, cold brew doesn’t go stale as fast as regular coffee, so you can prepare a batch ahead of time. This is a major advantage first thing in the morning, as you can simply take your coffee and go. In particular, many estimates suggest that you can keep the cold brew concentrate in your fridge for around two weeks.
- However, be aware that the flavor starts to decline after the first week. One option is to simply make small batches to ensure the best flavor and freshness. From there you can tweak, such as making more in the warmer months
Cold Brew vs Iced Coffee
So, what about iced coffee? Cold brew and iced coffee are both cold drinks and they have their share of fans.
The key difference between the two is the brewing. Iced coffee is brewed normally first and then cooled down. This process results in a different flavor outcome, especially as iced coffee still has the bite that regular coffee offers.
In terms of health benefits, iced coffee would end up being most similar to hot brewed coffee – because the brewing method is the same.
There are also other variations. For example, the Japanese iced coffee method involves brewing the coffee hot and chilling it immediately with ice.
The site Pax Coffea talks about this idea. The approach has aromatic benefits, giving the iced coffee considerably more flavor. Because the coffee is chilled quickly, it doesn’t have time to become stale (4). This contributes to the flavor differences and makes the method more attractive overall. That style is another alternative and can work for many. But, it is still a variation on hot brewing, so the end result is different than cold brewed coffee. Cold Brew vs Hot Brew Caffeine
When it comes to cold brew, one common question is about the caffeine. After all, caffeine is a key reason that people drink coffee and you might be looking for a stronger effect.
Realistically, caffeine content is extremely unpredictable.
It varies based on a range of factors, including the coffee beans themselves, the type of roast and the brewing method. This is a topic that the site Caffeine Informer considers in detail. For that matter, nutritional values for caffeine are actually estimations, which shows just how hard it is to be certain.
When you take the various preparation measures into account, cold brew coffee is roughly the same as regular coffee for caffeine (5). But, needless to say, this varies considerably depending on the preparation, along with the beans you are using.
One other thing to consider is quantity.
Typically, cold brew coffee is often served in relatively small containers and can be on the expensive side (The Kitchn explains why this happens). In contrast, hot coffee is easy to get, inexpensive and often served in larger containers. As a result, you might get more caffeine from hot coffee, simply because it is easier to consume significant amounts.
- That balance may change if you mostly drink coffee at home.
Making Cold Brew Coffee
Even though it takes a while, cold brew coffee is easy to make. In fact, you can even make it overnight, which the video below shows.
But, the basic idea is just to steep coffee grounds in cold water for 12 hours or more (ideally). Coarse coffee works best and you can use a range of tools, like a coffee filter, nut milk bag or cheese cloth to do so.
There are also specialized containers that you can use if you want to.
This container is one example. It is extremely popular and can be used for cold brew coffee, as well as iced tea and coffee. For many people, this type of product is perfect for making the whole process easy and hassle free. After all, you can store the container in your fridge and there is less potential for mess than with cheese cloth or anything like that.
My personal favorite right now is a brand called Tiny Footprint Coffee. I love the flavor of the coffee, along with the fact that it is organic. The company also focuses on being carbon negative, which is an attractive goal.
There are also many other popular options, such as the ones in the image below.
As with coffee in general, it will be a matter of trying out different alternatives until you find brands and flavors that work for you. Of course, you may already have preferences if you’ve been drinking coffee for a while.
Is Cold Brew Coffee Better for You?
Hot brew and cold brew are fairly similar at the end of the day, so choosing between them mostly comes down to personal preference. Likewise, it may simply be a matter of what you want.
After all, cold brew is a great alternative to iced coffee in the middle of summer but it may not be so attractive in the winter.
As time goes on, we may learn more about the implications for health – and we might even find that cold brew has hidden advantages. But until then, the choice simply comes down to personal preferences.
With that in mind, it’s worth trying cold brew at least once, even if the idea sounds unappealing. The approach does result in a considerably different flavor and many people love it even though they didn’t expect to.
Want to Improve Your Health?
Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
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