What Is Iced Coffee? The History, Details, & How To Make It

Iced coffee is a popular beverage amongst coffee lovers. Its refreshing taste and temperature are a relief on hot summer days compared to regular hot coffee. But what is iced coffee, and how is it different from other cold coffee drinks? And is there a difference between iced coffee and cold brew?

Since so many topics and definitions in the specialty coffee world get confusing, this article aims to define this beverage clearly, including how it differs from other popular cold coffee drinks. We’ll also explore its history, flavors, and brewing methods.

An artful picture of iced coffee

So if you’re ready to beef up your knowledge about iced coffee, keep reading to learn everything!

**Best of Brewing is supported by our readers, and we sometimes earn a commission through the affiliate links on our website.**

What Is an Iced Coffee?

Iced coffee is a flexible term that can encompass various cold coffee beverages. You can technically consider drinks like an iced latte or iced Americano to be an iced coffee drink, and the definitions people use sometimes overlap.

However, in its more specific definition, iced coffee refers to regular drip coffee that you cool and serve over ice. In this way, it contrasts many other popular cold coffee drinks with espresso as the base. And unlike cold brew coffee, which we’ll discuss later, iced coffee is brewed using hot water and a standard brewing method.

Iced Coffee Ingredients

what is iced coffee?

The primary ingredients for making iced coffee are simple: coffee, water, and ice cubes. You use the same coffee bean as you would for any other brewing method, although you often change the brewing ratios to avoid dilution. Many people also make an ice cube with coffee so that melting does not weaken the flavor.

And while cold brew is technically a distinct drink, many people consider it a type of ice coffee.

What Does Iced Coffee Taste Like?

The flavor profile of iced coffee depends on the specific coffee beans used and the brewing method of your coffee shop. Generally, iced coffee retains much of the usual coffee flavors you know from its hot version. But the cold temperature can mute some of the flavors and highlight others. Iced coffee often has a smoother and less acidic taste than hot coffee, making it a popular choice for those who prefer milder flavors.

Is Iced Coffee Just Cold Coffee?

While it would be accurate to say iced coffee is cold coffee, it is not the same as simply cooling down a hot cup of regular coffee. For proper iced coffee, you brew with a stronger ratio (more coffee to water) so that a strong flavor remains even as the ice melts.

With cold brew coffee, as we’ll discuss next, the brewing method is completely different.

What Is the Difference Between Iced Coffee and Cold Brew?

While you can consider cold brew coffee as a type of iced coffee—and you usually drink it with ice—it has a distinct brewing method. Instead of brewing with hot water, you make cold brew by steeping ground coffee in cold water for a longer time, usually 12-24 hours. When brewing water is less than 25 °C, extraction dynamics change.

Standard cold brew is made as a concentrate with a tight ratio and diluted with water and ice upon serving. We have an article dedicated to the showdown of cold brew vs iced coffee!

Is Cold Brew Stronger Than Iced Coffee?

Because of the way extraction changes with cold water, cold brew coffee tastes smoother and less acidic than regular iced coffee. Most people taste cold brew to be sweeter, without the usual bitter flavors of hot coffee. Additionally, the caffeine content is usually stronger since it is a concentrate.

What Is the Difference Between Iced Coffee and Iced Latte?

The primary difference between iced coffee and iced lattes is the base ingredient. While iced coffee uses regular coffee served over ice, an iced latte uses espresso as the coffee base, along with cold milk for a creamy texture.

You can add milk to iced coffee, but it will not have the texture and strong flavor of an iced latte.

Iced Coffee vs Iced Espresso

You might be wondering what would happen if you poured espresso over ice. Many coffee shops offer this, and the result will be something in between the taste of espresso and coffee. The ice will dilute the espresso a bit, but the strong flavors will still be there.

Another popular drink with iced espresso is the iced Americano, which dilutes espresso with cold water before adding ice. You can read up more on the difference between iced coffee and iced Americano to learn the full details.

When Was Iced Coffee Invented?

Since there are many traditions of drinking cold coffee worldwide, it is hard to give one origin story for iced coffee. The most commonly cited origin comes from Algeria in the late 1800s. When the French were taking over Algeria around 1840, they supposedly drank coffee with cold water, often sweetened with sugar.

But in the United States, iced coffee did not seem to be around until 1987, when a shop called Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf served a blended iced version of coffee.

Who Invented Iced Coffee?

Did one person invent this cold coffee drink? If the origin stories above don’t sound exciting enough, there are also invention stories that come from 17th-century Vienna and Vietnam. But whether or not there was an invention of iced coffee, the drink has exploded in popularity due to places like Tim Horton, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks offering it on their menus.

Iced Coffee Health Considerations

You might be wondering if there are any differences in nutrition content or calories between regular coffee and iced coffee. Let’s check out some of these health considerations.

Is Iced Coffee Good For You?

Assuming you consume coffee in moderation, iced coffee has similar health benefits to regular coffee, such as decreased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Coffee is also a source of antioxidants. And, of course, it is also a fantastic source of energy!

And studies show cold brew is just as healthy as regular coffee. Since cold brew coffee tends to have a natural sweetness, many people add fewer sweeteners to it, making it even healthier.

Is Iced Coffee Less Acidic?

If you brew a strong coffee with hot water and serve it over ice, the acid content will be about the same. But if you make iced coffee with cold brew, it tends to be less acidic. The hot water extracts more acids from the coffee grounds, whereas cold brewing creates a smoother flavor profile.

Many people who have sensitive stomachs or acid reflux prefer cold brew to regular coffee for these reasons.

Iced Coffee at Starbucks

Starbucks brews a special blend of coffee for use in their iced coffee drinks. Like most menu items, you can customize it to your preferences, including adding more or less ice and syrup. You should note that the default iced coffee at Starbucks comes with multiple pumps of sweet syrup which add calories to the drink.

Starbucks also offers a separate section on their menu for cold brew coffee that they serve over ice, the default containing no sweeteners or syrups.

What Is the Best Iced Coffee at Starbucks?

If you love the natural sweetness of coffee, the cold brew at Starbucks is an easy way to get a refreshing energy boost with a delicious iced coffee. You can also try their regular iced coffee without a sweetener.

Otherwise, feel free to customize your drink with other sweet syrups like vanilla or caramel. The best iced coffee will be whatever makes you happy!

What Is Iced Coffee at Dunkin Donuts?

Similar to Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts is known for its iced coffee offerings. Their iced coffee is made with their signature coffee blend and can be customized with various flavors, such as hazelnut or mocha. Dunkin Donuts also provides the option to add cream, sugar, or sweetened condensed milk to enhance the taste according to individual preferences.

The iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts sometimes tastes a bit off, depending on the location. So adding cream or sugar definitely makes it more palatable.

Making Iced Coffee At Home

There are many coffee recipes for homemade iced coffee. Depending on your equipment, you may find making cold brew to be the easiest. You can even buy premade cold brew coffee and simply pour it over ice. Brewing stronger instant coffee also works.

But with a typical drip coffee maker, brew stronger coffee and let it chill in the fridge. Instead of the usual 1:17 ratio of coffee to water, use a ratio like 1:12. This ratio is approximately two tablespoons of ground coffee for every four ounces of water. This iced coffee recipe explains the process in detail.

La Colombe Cold Brew Coffee

La Colombe Cold Brew Coffee for making iced coffee at home

Ovalware Cold Brew Maker

Cold brew maker for homemade iced coffee

Pro tip: pour chilled coffee into your ice cube tray and freeze it the day before. Coffee ice cubes can chill your drink without diluting it as they melt! Additionally, the best coffee beans for iced coffee are those with a lighter roast!

Iced Coffee Variations and Additions

Besides the standard additions of sugar and cream, there are many other syrups, sweeteners, and other flavors that people add to iced coffee to spice it up. Let’s explore some of these variations and additions!

Black Iced Coffee

Black iced coffee refers to the classic iced coffee served without any additional ingredients. It showcases the true flavors of coffee, made extra delicate in its cold form. Compared to the obvious sweetness of sugary syrups, coffee’s natural sweetness is subtle. But if you appreciate the simplicity and want fewer calories, black iced coffee is the way to go!

What Is Thai Iced Coffee?

Thai iced coffee is a flavorful and indulgent variation of iced coffee. You typically make it by brewing strong coffee along with spices such as cardamom or anise. You sweeten the coffee with condensed milk and pour it over ice. The spices add a rich aroma and the subtle sweetness of the milk is delicious and refreshing.

What Is Vietnamese Iced Coffee?

Vietnamese iced coffee, also known as “Ca Phe Sua Da,” is a popular and unique variation of iced coffee. The term translates literally to “ice milk coffee,” and it involves strong coffee combined with sweetened condensed milk.

The serving size is usually small, but this method uses strong coffee so do not drink too much!

Ice Coffee with Chocolate Syrup and Whipped Cream

Combining iced coffee with chocolate syrup is one of the most popular variations, essentially a slightly different take on the iced mocha. An iced coffee mocha tastes best with milk or cream, and you can add whipped cream as an extra touch.

How Long Is Iced Coffee Good For?

Iced coffee stored in the fridge will last for a day, but you might notice off flavors after storage for a few hours. When hot coffee changes temperature, the taste goes out of balance. At home, we don’t expect any brewed coffee to last more than a few hours, although cold brew in the fridge can last up to a week.

Is Iced Coffee Good the Next Day?

Iced coffee, when stored properly, can remain good for up to 24 hours. It is best to refrigerate any leftover iced coffee in a sealed container to maintain its freshness. However, keep in mind that the flavors may slightly change over time, so it’s recommended to consume it within a day for the best taste experience.

Read more about how long coffee lasts for more details and storage advice.

What Is Iced Coffee: FAQ

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about iced coffee.

What’s in iced coffee?

Iced coffee typically consists of stronger brewed coffee that is chilled and served over ice cubes. You can also include ingredients such as milk, cream, and sweeteners based on your preferences.

What is special about iced coffee?

Firstly, iced coffee can be a refreshing alternative to hot coffee during warmer weather. Iced coffee also has a unique taste, usually having a more subtle sweetness and a smoother acidity.

Is iced coffee stronger than hot coffee?

The strength of iced coffee can vary depending on the specific recipe. But you usually brew a stronger coffee which eventually gets diluted when you serve it over ice. Per unit consumed, iced coffee can have a higher caffeine content than hot coffee.

Which is stronger cold brew or iced coffee?

In terms of caffeine content, cold brew coffee can be stronger than traditional iced coffee due to its higher coffee-to-water ratio and longer steeping time. However, the flavor profile and perceived strength can differ between the two methods, offering unique taste experiences.

Is iced coffee easier on your stomach?

For some individuals with sensitive stomachs, the lower acidity of iced coffee and cold brew may be easier to tolerate compared to hot coffee. The taste is also smoother with a subtle sweetness.


Hopefully, you now have a much clearer idea of what iced coffee is and how it’s different than other cold coffee drinks. From classic iced coffee to variations like Thai and Vietnamese iced coffee, there are endless possibilities to explore and enjoy. Cheers to this refreshing coffee beverage!

Want more coffee tips directly in your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter here.

Show 7 Comments


Comments are closed