Calories In Cold Brew Coffee

How do you brew? It’s not quite the standard morning greeting, but it might as well be.

After all the cold brew vs iced coffee debate is a fierce one, and most people tend to fall firmly in one camp or another. Cold brew has acquired a cult following in recent years, but what’s really in the dark swirls in your cup? And is it all that healthy? Keri Gans, RDN, dietitian in New York City and Alissa Rumsey, RD, dietitian in New York City weigh in on the cold brew vs iced coffee conundrum.

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First of all, how do you make iced coffee?

As long as there have been ice cube trays and ice cubes, there has also been iced coffee. (At least that’s what it seems like.)

“Iced coffee is simply a hot brewed concentrated coffee, diluted and poured over ice,” says Mark Romano, vice president of education, quality and sustainability at Illy. “The flavor profile is very much like the hot beverage.”

The coffee starts hot, like a standard cup of joe. The actual brewing process can include many different styles: French press, drip, pour over, stovetop pot, siphon…well, you get the picture. Next, the hot coffee is chilled and poured over ice.

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Iced coffee (16 oz) nutrition info (via Starbucks):

  • Calories: 5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fat: 0 g (0 g saturated)
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Sodium: 10 mg
  • Caffeine: 165 mg

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Okay, so how do you make cold brew?

Cold brew, however, is a totally different process—it keeps its cool from beginning to end.

It begins with roasted and coarsely ground coffee beans. Then, you add cold or room temperature water to the ground beans gradually, stir, and let the mixture sit. Cold brew has a higher bean-to-water ratio than drip coffee and an extended brew time. That adds up to a bit more buzz (a.k.a. caffeine).

And since it’s never heated, that influences the chemical profile and taste. “Depending on the coffee beans used, the roasting degree, and the grind, the cold brew method results in a lower acid solution with a natural sweetness and smooth dark cacao flavors and full body,” says Romano. Plus, the aromas and flavor tend to be more intense than the standard brew method.

Patience is key for crafting cold brew, as it usually takes 12 to 24 hours for the water to extract all the flavor from the coffee grounds. Once that’s complete, you filter out the grounds with a cheese cloth, metal mesh, or French press. Done, no fancy machinery necessary.

The process is so easy you can make your own cold brew at home in any container that can hold coffee and water. Beyond saving major cash, the DIY cold brew method puts all the fine-tuning power right in your hands.

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Cold brew (16 oz) nutrition info (via Starbucks):

  • Calories: 5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fat: 0 g (0 g saturated)
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g
  • Sodium: 15 mg
  • Caffeine: 205 mg

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Got it, so does cold brew or iced coffee have more caffeine?

Yes, the sweet aroma and rich taste are great, but java has no jolt without caffeine. Though iced coffee and cold brew begin with basically the same beans, the levels of caffeine in each varies pretty widely.

Cold brew is often considered the caffeine king, but that rep just doesn’t always hold up. Cold brew is super concentrated, but different coffee shops, and DIY methods, all dilute their brews to varying levels. “For example a Starbucks 16-ounce iced coffee has 165 mg caffeine compared to 205 mg in the cold brew,” says Gans. “But Dunkin’ is the opposite, 198 mg caffeine for iced and 174 mg for cold brew,” says Gans.

Whichever you choose, a cup or two of cold brew or iced coffee falls well within a reasonable range of caffeine intake. “Up to 400 mg per day of caffeine is considered safe for most healthy individuals,” says Gans. “Too much caffeine can cause some people to experience insomnia, restlessness, jitters, irritability, headaches, and an upset stomach.” But caffeine tolerance and side effects vary from person to person.

Which is healthier cold brew or iced coffee?

Consider iced coffee and cold brew twin sisters. They look almost identical, have the same genetic makeup (coffee beans and water), and are really hard to tell apart. That is, until you get to know them and their personalities, or in this case, their taste.

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“Nutritionally they are basically the same,” says Gans. But, she adds that cold brew has a lower acidity level. “For some individuals the lower acidity can definitely be gentler on their stomach.”

Similarly, cold brew tends to have a less bitter taste, which leads to one unexpected benefit: “Oftentimes people find that they don’t need to put as much sugar into their cold brew in order to enjoy the taste,” Rumsey says.

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Cold brew also has a reputation as an antioxidant powerhouse, but that’s a bit exaggerated. “There’s no research that shows that cold brew has any more antioxidants compared to iced coffee,” says Rumsey. Both cold brew and iced coffee contain antioxidants, including chlorogenic, ferulic, caffeic, and n-coumaric acids, according to research from NCBI. Yep, caffeine is considered an antioxidant, too.

So, what’s the brew? Ultimately, Gans and Rumsey say the cold brew vs iced coffee battle comes down to personal preference. “What really matters is what you add to it, the less added sugar and fat the better,” says Gans.

The bottom line: Cold brew and iced coffee are basically identical nutritionally. The main difference is flavor and acidity, so let your taste buds make the choice.