Cold Brew vs Hot Brew: Why The Different Taste?

Last Updated: by: Amanda T

cold brew vs hot brew

Good old hot coffee is a classic morning delight that has been widely consumed for centuries now. Cold-brew popped up on menus some years ago, and its popularity has been on the rise ever since. Those who drink cold brew may wonder why the flavor profile is different from the flavor profile of hot coffee. We are here to answer that question for you.

What Makes Them Taste Different?

Cold-brew is often described as being very smooth and full-flavored without any acidity or bitterness. In general, hot brew has a more acidic taste than cold brew and can be considered at times more harsh in comparison. It also has a stronger aroma.

Hot coffee and cold brew can taste wildly different, even if they are both brewed with the same blend. The reason for this is the brewing process.

Hot coffee can be brewed many different ways, but the end result mostly remains the same due to the water temperature. Almost all brewing methods produce good flavored coffee, but steeping hot coffee will help develop a lot of flavor. When steeping hot coffee, it takes four to eight minutes depending on batch size.

Cold brew has its very own brewing method that is very different from the ones used for hot coffee. Using a 3:1 ratio, large batches of coffee grounds are steeped in cold water. Usually, the steeping process lasts between 12-20 hours. In any brewing method, the longer coffee steeps, the bolder the flavor. However, you will get a bitter result if coffee is over-steeped. For cold brew, the limit for steeping is 24 hours.

How Does Brewing Temperature Affect Flavor?

The natural oils and acids in coffee are what gives coffee its recognizable aroma and taste. When water is forced through coffee grounds, it pulls out these oils. The temperature of the water makes a big difference because it changes the oxidation rate.

What is the oxidation rate? When the oils in coffee are exposed to oxygen, that is oxidation. The rate at which this happens partially determines the level of bitterness the coffee has. When hot water is used, such as for hot coffee, more oils and acids are released at a faster rate. When cold water is used, the oxidation is slower, and fewer of the compounds oxidize.

During the slower oxidation in cold brew, some of the compounds attributed to bitter flavors are left behind. This is why cold brew tends to be smoother, less aromatic, and slightly sweeter in flavor than black hot coffee.

Other Flavor Factors

We have already discovered the main reason cold brew and hot brew taste different: the temperature used during the brewing process and how it affects the oxidation rate. However, there are two other variables that contribute to the differences in taste. These include the roast used and the grind.

1. Roast Used

Hot coffee can be brewed with any roast you want. Different roasts have different flavor profiles. If the roast is lighter, it will have a mellow flavor, but with more acid. Medium roasts usually taste balanced and can range in flavor from nutty to earthy to floral. Dark roasts have sweeter notes and full body with less acidity. They can have flavor profiles with caramel or smoke.

Cold brew is typically a dark roast, but can be a medium roast as well. The flavors of these roasts carry over well in a cold brew, giving it low acidity and full body.

coffee roast

2. The Grind

Cold brew always uses a coarse grind. In fact, it is considered an extra-coarse grind. The grind used for hot coffee differs depending on the brewing method. To give some examples, a french press uses a coarse grind because it steeps. A medium grind is used for drip coffee makers and pour-overs. Fine grind is for making espresso.

The coarser the grind, the more likely it is you are steeping your coffee. Steeping coffee develops a full flavor for your brew. This is the case in cold brewing and hot brewing. Fine grind can also get a really strong coffee flavor when water is forced through it, which is exactly why it is used for espresso.

Note: click here to see a list of our favorite budget coffee grinders

coffee grinds


Now you don’t have to wonder why there’s a difference in taste between hot brew and cold brew. You now have the coffee knowledge to explain that they taste different due to the temperature of the water when brewing, because that affects oxidation rate and the flavors left behind. Don’t forget that the grind size and the roast used also play their own part. Share the coffee knowledge wealth with others!

Header image credit: T.Tseng, Flickr