Cold brew vs. cold drip: What’s the difference?

Cold brew remains one of the hottest new trends in the North American coffee sector, having grown exponentially in the last ten years, however, we’ve also seen the rise of “cold drip” coffee – a beverage with some key similarities and differences.

Cold brew vs. cold drip: What’s the difference?

In recent years, cold coffee beverages have become increasingly popular through the summer months in the US and Canada. Cold brew remains one of the hottest new trends in the North American coffee sector, having grown exponentially in the last ten years.

However, alongside cold brew, we’ve also seen the rise of “cold drip” coffee – a beverage with some key similarities as well as some key differences.

Read on to learn more about why these product categories are growing in the North American market, and about the differences between the two.

Cold drip and cold brew: An overview

One in seven Americans drink coffee at least once a week; more than 60% drink it every single day.

Over the years, a range of different coffee product categories have emerged in the North American market. For example, as chains like Starbucks and Tim Hortons grew in the 1980s and 1990s, espresso-based beverages like cappuccinos, lattes, and flat whites became considerably more popular.

Cold coffee is no different. Since entering the market in the late 2000s, it has skyrocketed in popularity across the continent.

According to the National Coffee Association’s 2020 American Coffee Consumption report, more than 50% of consumers have heard of cold brew, 34% have tried it, 15% drink it occasionally, and 5% drink it regularly. Around 40% say they’ve heard positive comments about it from friends and family.

And while the initial growth of cold brew and cold drip was fuelled by millennials, consumption is now increasing across other age groups. Allegra’s World Iced Coffee report says that “cold brew consumption is growing consistently across age groups, up 29% among consumers ages 45-59, 27% among ages 30-44 and 27% under 30”.

This popularity has been reflected in the overall growth of the cold coffee market. The US cold brew market was worth $110 million in 2015, $310 million in 2020, and is predicted to reach a staggering $944 million by 2025 if growth continues.

The difference between cold brew and cold drip

It’s clear that cold coffee beverages are becoming increasingly popular with North American consumers, and it doesn’t seem like this will change any time soon.

However, there are two main types of cold coffee in this segment: cold drip and cold brew. What are the differences?

Cold brew is arguably more popular. Its name is fairly self-explanatory: cold brew coffee is brewed at cold (or at least ambient) temperatures. Brewing it is simple; you steep ground coffee in brewing water for 18 to 24 hours, before filtering it out and drinking it.

You can brew cold brew in any number of different vessels, from a French press to a glass pitcher or a mason jar, depending on the amount you want to make. A very coarse grind size is recommended for brewing cold brew coffee, as extraction takes place over such a long time.

In contrast, cold drip is slightly more complex. Cold brew coffee is made by steeping ground coffee in water – a method known as immersion. However, cold drip is a percolation brewing method; this means that the water passes through a bed of coffee grounds, rather than the grounds being submerged in it – not unlike standard drip coffee.

Cold drip is also more difficult to brew. It typically requires a specific brewing device called a “drip tower”, which separates the coffee and the water.

The water reservoir is positioned over a chamber for the coffee grounds, and allows water to drip very slowly into the coffee bed. The water then drains through the grounds and a filter into another vessel which collects the brewed coffee.

Cold drip coffee brews within three and 12 hours, which is noticeably quicker than cold brew. The exact time will depend on the grind size and the drip rate of your equipment, which can be tricky for inexperienced brewers to fine-tune.

Difference in flavour profiles

Despite the fact that they are both cold coffee beverages, the two distinct brewing methods mean that cold brew and cold drip taste different.

Both are smoother, less acidic, and less bitter than coffees brewed using hot water. Temperature plays a key role in coffee extraction, and using a lower brewing temperature means that you extract a completely different range of soluble compounds.

Both are also less aromatic, and commonly associated with “brown” flavours – brown sugar, caramel, chocolate, and cocoa, to name just a few.

However, while cold brew is smooth and sweet, it generally has a lighter body than cold drip. The cold immersion brewing method brings out more sweetness and floral flavours.

Cold brew is also usually brewed as a concentrate. Many people dilute it with cold water and serve it over ice to drink, or use it as a base for other beverages.
In contrast, cold drip has a slightly heavier body and richer flavour, but the low brewing temperature still brings out the same sweet and floral notes as it does in cold brew.

The percolation also means cold drip coffee is brewed ready to drink – so while drinking it with ice is fine, you shouldn’t dilute it.

Ultimately, both are refreshing and enjoyable summer alternatives to a hot cup of coffee. However, remember that the coffee you brew will only taste as good as the beans you use – so make sure you pick a coffee that you think you’ll enjoy.

Cold coffee options are becoming increasingly popular with American consumers, and for good reason. Their smoothness, sweetness, and lack of bitterness and acidity make them a tantalising prospect for coffee drinkers looking for a summer alternative.

So, next time you reach for a soft drink to keep you cool during the sun, think about cold brew or cold drip coffee instead. You can even try brewing them at home!"

Cold brew vs. cold drip: What’s the difference?