Caffeine Showdown VI - Cold Brew vs. Hot Brew Coffee

We all know that coffee is one of the most popular and well-loved drinks in the world, and it’s the go-to beverage when people need a burst of energy to start their morning, get through a groggy afternoon, or finish out their day strong. 

But in the world of coffee, there are a lot of options. Arguably the two most popular ways to enjoy a cup of java are hot brew and cold brew coffee. 

But what’s the difference between the two? Do they really taste that different? Are there hidden benefits to enjoying one or the other?

Folks, that is exactly the question that we’re going to be answering today in the next caffeine showdown! Gather round, because this one might get ugly…

Today, we are going to dig deep and put two widely-loved challengers against each other! In this caffeine showdown, we’re going to see who comes out on top between cold brew and hot brew coffee!

Let’s get into it.

Are Hot and Cold Brew Really That Different?

You might be asking yourself “wait, is there really that big of a difference between cold and hot brew coffee?” And the simple answer is yes. In fact, there’s probably a lot more of a difference than you realize. 

The main difference comes in the way that the coffee flavor itself is taken from the coffee grounds. The method that is used to extract the delicious coffee flavor that we all love plays a large role in the final product of the brew in almost every way. 

So depending on whether you brew the coffee cold or hot, you’re going to get a very different chemical reaction, which in turn gives you different smells, flavors, and even degrees of smoothness.

As you’ll see in the rest of the article, the differences are large enough between cold brew and hot brew that each have its fans and naysayers, and the debate between which one is better is never-ending. 

Let the showdown continue. 

A Distinction: Cold Brew vs. Iced Coffee

One of the most important things we need to clarify is that iced coffee is not the same as cold brew coffee. 

Iced coffee is, in fact, just another way to serve hot brew coffee. In other words, iced coffee is simply coffee that was brewed using heat, and then cooled down using ice. So it’s going to have the same flavor profiles, aromas, and chemical composition as a hot brew, it’s just cold. 

To be more specific, some argue that when you use ice to make a hot brew into an iced coffee that you’re actually diluting the flavor, dampening the smell, and changing the texture.

So remember, in this article, when we’re talking about cold brew, we’re not talking about iced coffee. 

Let’s Talk About Caffeine 

Okay, so something else we want to get out of the way before we dive in is the caffeine content of each of the brews.

Depending on who you ask, you’re going to get a variety of different answers when it comes to which brew is stronger, hot or cold. 

Science is often cited on both sides. Hot brew lovers will talk about how the heat pulls more caffeine out of the coffee. Cold brew lovers will say that the caffeine has more time to steep in the water, and there are more coffee grounds (which means more caffeine). And the truth is, both sides are right… but they’re both also wrong.

Let us explain. 

There is not a single, definitive answer to the question “which has more caffeine, hot brew or cold brew?” because there are way too many variable factors involved. Things like the exact temperature of the brew (“cold” and “hot” has many meanings), how coarse or fine the coffee is ground, the water-to-coffee ratio, the exact method of the brew– there is even evidence that a more humid or dry day when brewing plays a factor.

When you look at things objectively, there are so many variables that it’s tough to easily say which brew has more caffeine.

Now, under perfect scientific conditions that are carefully measured with ratios accounted for, technically hot brew coffee has more caffeine per fluid ounce. But the real bottom line is that it’s going to vary so much from day to day and cup to cup that there is no single right answer in a real-world setting. 

So when it comes to caffeine content we’re going to keep things fair and it’s going to be a draw in this showdown. 

Hot and Cold Brews: The Chemical Difference

There are actual scientific differences between the chemical reactions that take place in a cold brew versus a hot brew. To prove this, some studies were performed at Thomas Jefferson University to more deeply understand exactly how the brews can taste and smell so different.

In the study, the researchers left no stone unturned and measured everything from caffeine levels, antioxidant levels, acidity, taste, and consistency. What they found may surprise you. 

Biggest Surprise with Hot Brew

The results of the project showed that when compared to cold brew, hot brew had one very different chemical reaction, and it had to do with antioxidants. Research showed that when the coffee was brewed hot (no matter which roast was used) that the antioxidant levels stayed the same consistently. When it was brewed cold, however, the antioxidant levels were lower. Something even more interesting– when the experiments were conducted with cold brew the roast did matter– the antioxidant count was low for lighter roasts and got even lower as the roasts got darker. 

Biggest Surprise with Cold Brew

The researchers also found something interesting when it came to the cold brewing process: cold brew coffee is less acidic than hot brew. This held true over all three of the roasting temperatures. While the difference in acidity wasn’t massive, it was measurable and does affect the overall flavor profile of cold brew (and might be milder on the stomachs of coffee drinkers who suffer from heartburn or other similar digestive issues but love their coffee). 

Now that we know that there are definitely some specific chemical differences between a cold brew and a hot brew, let’s take a look at each of the brews in-depth. 

Cold Brew Coffee In-Depth

The way that you make a cold brew coffee is by steeping the coffee grounds in cold water for one to two days (or longer). You can just put the grounds directly into the water and then strain them through a cheesecloth, or they even sell filters designed to keep the grounds contained while cold brewing. Cold brew coffee is a slower, more gentle process as the water is slowly flavored by the grounds which ends up in a less acidic brew. Cold brew coffee is often sweeter than hot brew, and typically more smooth going down when enjoyed. 

When you’re making cold brew coffee, it’s recommended that you use coffee grinds that are a bit larger and more coarse than standard coffee grinds. When it comes to cold brew, the larger surface area of the coffee grounds means that there’s more coffee for the water to absorb the flavor of.

The flavor of cold brew tends to be sweet, light, and smooth on the tongue and palette. This is because the process of the coffee flavors is a slower, more gentle, and subtle method. Because the grounds aren’t exposed to intense heat, you’ll often get more natural flavor notes that can be released more organically and slowly. What results is a cleaner flavor that highlights the flavor notes of the original coffee beans.

So how cold does the water have to be for a proper cold brew? Technically you can do it with room temperature water and then set the water to steep in a refrigerator so that it gets cold. What you’re looking for is water that’s about fifty or sixty degrees Fahrenheit (50 - 60° F). If you get colder than that (or hotter) you’re risking that your cold brew will come out tasting weak or watery.

You’ll want to choose cold brew as your drink of choice if you’re looking for a brew that takes a little more time, tends to cost a little more money, and will likely be more smooth and less acidic.

Hot Brew Coffee In-Depth

Hot brew coffee is the most popular way to enjoy those sweet ground bits of java heaven. Most commonly used with a drip coffee maker, the main thrust is that hot water is used to interact with the coffee grounds to pull the flavor, aroma, and caffeine out of them using heat. 

The type of grind is more important with hot brew because the sweet spot tends to be somewhere in between fine and coarse. If you grind the coffee too coarsely the brewing process may not work properly, and if you grind the coffee too finely the water might pass through the coffee and filter too quickly and result in a weak-tasting brew.

When coffee is brewed hot, it tends to be more bitter and acidic than cold brew because of the effect the heat has on the coffee grounds. This lends to the flavor profile that hot coffee drinkers love and expect, and when brewed properly tastes like nothing else. As we’ve mentioned earlier, another benefit of using hot brew is that the antioxidant count is as high as possible making for a healthier drink overall. 

So what is considered “hot” for hot brewed coffee? This is a key factor. You want the water close to boiling, but not quite boiling– if the water is too hot you’re going to miss out on some of those delicious earmark smells and flavors you’re going for. You’ll want to keep the water somewhere between a hundred and ninety-five to two hundred and five degrees Fahrenheit (195 - 205° F). 

Hot brew coffee commonly has a more powerful “coffee” flavor than a cold brew, and tends to have a more complex, robust set of flavors as well. Overall, hot brew coffee is the most popular, most affordable, and the most convenient way to enjoy a cup of joe.

In Conclusion… Who Wins This Showdown?

So who is the winner of this caffeine challenge? Who will walk away from this fight with the title of “best brew”? Will it be hot brew or cold brew? To make our final decision let’s take a look at the facts. 

There is no question that cold brew coffee is absolutely delicious– it tends to be sweeter and less acidic than other brewing methods. However, cold brew takes longer to brew because the coffee needs to steep for at least a full day. Hot brew coffee is much faster than cold brew no matter which method you choose. You can do a pour-over for a luxurious cup of hot coffee, use a drip machine for a pot that will be done in minutes, or even a Keurig which will get you a fresh, hot cup of coffee in moments.

When it comes to price, cold brew tends to be more expensive because it requires more coffee grounds to execute properly. Hot brew is commonly more affordable than cold brew, even if you use single-serving options like K-Cups (it’s is also more commonly available complimentary at places of business). 

Remember, when it comes to caffeine content, hot or cold brew is going to vary greatly, so we’re not putting too much stock in that area. But when it comes to overall health benefits it can be a toss-up depending on what aspect you’re looking at for the different brews. Because cold brew is sweeter it can be argued that it needs less sweetener. However, hot brew coffee has a higher antioxidant count so which gives it a slight edge when it comes to health benefits. 

So who is the winner, really? 

All things considered, we’re not going to talk about taste– that is largely a matter of individual preference. But when you look at cost, health benefits, and overall convenience, the winner in our eyes is going to be…. (drum roll please)...

Hot brew coffee. 

But, we do want to give cold brew coffee its moment in the spotlight. We’re not saying “don’t drink cold brew.” Cold brew is a delicious, wonderful, unique way to enjoy coffee. In fact, we think of cold brew coffee using this analogy: 

Imagine that your delicious hot brew is like settling down in front of the couch for your favorite TV show or a streamed movie. It’s something you’re going to do often, and it’s nice, simple, and enjoyable. Now think of cold brew as a trip to a movie that’s playing in theaters. It’s a little more time, a little more energy, but the overall experience is worth it. 

That leads us to this final point…

Why Not See For Yourself

At the end of the day, the truth is that while we think that hot brew coffee is the overall winner of this race, we also believe that it can definitely be a “both/and” kind of scenario. 

This is the challenge that we put forth to all of you coffee drinkers, no matter which brew is your favorite: 

Cold Brew Drinkers: if you’re a cold brew drinker we challenge you to try more hot brew.

Hot Brew Drinkers: if you’re a hot brew lover, we challenge you to try more cold brew.

The challenge is simple, just replace one cup a week. That’s it. 

And the best news is that whether you’re drinking cold brew, hot brew, or using any other method to make your coffee, you can enjoy the fresh, delicious flavor of our JOJO Java K-Cups.

Remember that here at JOJO Java, not only is all of our coffee brewed in small batches to guarantee the freshest K-Cup you’ve ever had, but we also have unique and flavors you’ll come to crave. Try one of our everyday blends, one of our special blends, or even one of our fun blends, and you’ll be treated to the best cup of K-Cup coffee you’ve ever had. 

On top of all that, our coffee is all ethically sourced, non-GMO, and fair-trade. 

It’s time to take our challenge and switch up your preferred method of brewing using some JOJO Java K-Cups. 

Get yours now. 

Written by: Tim Kearney