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Caffeine: Is Cold Brew Coffee Stronger Than Hot Coffee?

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When it comes to choosing between traditional coffee and cold brew, there are many important factors to consider. If you’re curious about the difference in taste between these two preparations, be sure to check out this article. But if you’re someone who sometimes just needs a whole lot of caffeine, then don’t worry – we can explain the difference in caffeine content between hot coffee and cold brew.

As a quick note, traditional iced coffee is actually just coffee brewed hot, and then chilled. So throughout this article, when we refer to hot coffee, think about a typical cup of drip coffee – but keep in mind that everything regarding caffeine content will be exactly the same in iced coffee.

As it turns out, this pressing question of which method of preparation serves up more caffeine is…well…complicated. We’re going to first explain what’s at play, and then walk you through the answer.

Why it’s complicated

It turns out that caffeine content can actually vary wildly, even between two different cups that should be basically the same. It wouldn’t be crazy to assume that any old cup of hot coffee should have the same amount of caffeine, right? Well, actually, that’s not necessarily true.

cup of hot coffee

Image credit: coyot, Pixabay

This wonderful graphic from the Huffington Post shows the differing caffeine content found in coffee from nine popular chains. This may be worth keeping in mind next time you’re bleary-eyed and caught between a McDonald’s and a Starbucks.

But it’s not just about a difference between brands. Even if you make your own coffee every morning, and even if you do everything you can to keep the preparation standardized, caffeine is a fickle compound and you may get different amounts depending on the day.

Factors that affect this include everything from grind size to water temperature, and even the humidity of the day. Here’s a handy guide that goes into more detail about all of this variation.

One of the primary factors affecting this variation in caffeine content is the temperature of the water used when brewing. Hotter water is generally able to extract more caffeine. With this in mind, it would make sense that hot coffee should have more caffeine than cold brew, right?

But, actually, it’s even more complicated.

Why it’s even more complicated

Of course, there are many different ways to make cold brew, but generally cold brew is prepared with a much higher coffee-to-water ratio than traditional drip. As a rule of thumb, one part ground coffee to seven parts water is a good ratio to stick with for cold brew. This is in contrast to hot coffee, for which a ratio of one to four is proper.

cold brew

Credit: Cold Brew, Wikipedia

Because cold brew is often made with such an impressive amount of coffee grounds, there’s more opportunity for caffeine to be extracted. Even if a smaller portion of caffeine actually moves into your drink, the end result can lead to a more powerful cold brew than hot coffee.

The answer

So what does this all mean? The answer is that it really can be a case-by-case basis. Generally, cold brew does have more caffeine than hot coffee – thanks to a higher coffee-to-water ratio in the brewing stage – but this can change based on how everything is mixed. If you drink straight-up cold brew concentrate, expect your hair to stand straight up and your energy levels to skyrocket. But if this concentrated cold brew is diluted – as it generally is before being served – then you’ll likely be drinking just about as much caffeine as you could expect from a hot cup.

Either way, it’s your coffee. Whether you’re drinking it for the taste, for the precious caffeine, or just because it’s your morning ritual – don’t worry too much and just enjoy it.

Want to know more? Read our guide comparing cold brew and iced coffee.


Featured image credit: Cold Brew Coffee by Abi Porter is licensed under CC BY 2.0.