Cold Brew Coffee vs Espresso: What’s the Difference?

When I was at university my friends and I used to go to this little coffee shop where we’d study and just hang out. It was there that I learned to drink cold brew coffee and I fell in love with it. However, espresso is one of the staples in the coffee world. So cold brew coffee vs espresso, what is the difference?

The key differences are that cold brew is made with cold water and therefore has a much longer brewing time (12-24 hours). Espresso, on the other hand, is made with hot water and high pressure resulting in a short extraction time (2 minutes).

Now for the detailed comparison; what should we, as coffee lovers, know about these two coffee beverages?

What is Cold Brew Coffee?

Most say that this kind of coffee originates from Kyoto, Japan. However, in the Netherlands, they have a similar drink called “Dutch coffee” or “Toddy”.

As the name suggests, cold brew is made with cold water, room temperature water to be exact. Medium or coarsely ground beans are used instead of finely-ground coffee beans. As a result of the extended period of time that the coffee is brewed, it can taste less acidic with a light and smooth flavor profile.

Cold brew in takeaway cup on table next to plant

It is very often served over ice. It can also be mixed with milk and syrup to spice things up. I like it when a bit of condensed milk is added, but there are many other ways to sweeten your cold brew. All of this makes it perfect for hot summer days.

However, cold brew concentrate can also be used to craft hot drinks, giving them a different flavor profile as compared to normal coffee drinks or espresso drinks.

What is Espresso?

Espresso is a highly concentrated form of hot brewed coffee that originates from Italy. It is made with medium to finely ground coffee grounds that are tightly packed. The wonderful coffee flavors are extracted by forcing hot water under pressure through the grounds. All of this is done using an espresso machine.

Espresso machine with white cup

Espresso shots are composed of rich flavors and a combination of bitterness, sourness, and sweetness all blended together to give the perfect cup of coffee. It has a very intense flavor.

Espresso can be drunk on its own or be used as the base for drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos.

Cold Brew vs Espresso

Other than how they are brewed, these two coffees are remarkably different. Here are their differences summed up.

Taste Differences

An espresso has quite an intense taste with a good mixture of bitter, sour, and sweet. Cold brew coffee on the other hand tends to taste less acidic and have a light and smooth flavor.

Acidity Level

While cold brew might taste less acidic new research suggests that the temperature of the water doesn’t influence the actual ph of the coffee. This means that if you want a less acidic drink you should opt for darker roasts to make your coffee with.

Amount of Caffeine

The caffeine levels in cold brew are less per ounce (about 29,5 ml) than in espresso. One ounce of cold brew contains about 12,5 milligrams of caffeine compared to 64 mg of caffeine in one shot (an ounce) of espresso.

However, we never drink just one ounce of cold brew, do we? A grande cup of coffee at Starbucks is 16 ounces (473 ml), which amounts to about 200 mg of caffeine in the case of cold brew. Most espresso-based drinks that come in a grande cup have two shots of espresso in them. Meaning a latte of the same size will have 128 mg of caffeine in it.

General cup sizes at coffee shops.

This means that if you compare the amount of caffeine that you will consume in terms of the amount that you will actually consume per drink, espresso has less caffeine than cold brew. But if you want to compare it based on the amount of caffeine per ounce of coffee, espresso doesn’t have quite as much caffeine as cold brew.

Of course, when you prefer more shots of espresso in your drink, the situation might look a bit different and you will sit with a cup of coffee with higher caffeine content.

Health Considerations

Cold brew is good for your mood and helps your metabolism. Some people claim that because of the lower acidity levels in cold brew, it can be a bit lighter on your stomach than espresso, but as I mentioned earlier, it seems that acidity is not influenced by the temperature of the water. If you want a less acidic brew, go for a darker roast.

Espresso, on the other hand, contains antioxidants that are not extracted when the coffee is brewed cold.

This means that both drinks in themselves are healthy. It is when we start to add things such as cream and sugar that the playing field changes.

Origin

While espresso originated in Italy, cold brew’s origin is a bit less clear some say that it comes from Kyoto, Japan. However, in the Netherlands, there is coffee called “Dutch coffee” or “Toddy”, which, is also brewed with cold water for an extended period of time.

Thermometer next to sun

Water Temperature

Espresso is made using hot water, but cold brew is made with cold water. This is the main difference between these two types of coffee. It is also the reason why cold-brew tastes so different from espresso.

Grind Size

Where cold brew is made using medium to coarsely ground coffee, espresso is usually made using a finer grind. However, using a too fine grind for espresso can lead to bitter espresso. If you want to know more about bitter vs sour espresso, I have just the post for you.

Person holding a timer

Brew Time

Cold brew is left in the water for extraction for quite a long time (12-24 hours). On the other hand, it is much easier to make your morning cup of coffee with espresso as it takes only about two minutes to brew. This problem can, of course, be rectified by starting to brew your coffee the day before.

Equipment Needed

While you need special equipment to make regular espresso, that is not the case with cold-brew coffee. Although you get machines that can help you to make cold brew, they are not necessary. You can make it without expensive equipment. For example, you can make great cold brew with a French press.

So, Cold-Brew Coffee vs Espresso

The brewing method used for these two coffee beverages is the main difference between them and also the reason for all the other differences. The higher temperature of the water used for espresso might be the reason why some coffee drinkers prefer either espresso or cold brew. However, there is no straight answer as to which is better. Like with most things in the coffee world, it is up to personal preference which coffee flavor you like best.

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Cold brew vs espresso: the differences

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