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Japanese-style iced coffee vs. cold brew: Which is best?

The choices are hot brewed over ice or cold brewed. One is the winner.

Is cold brew the best chilled coffee you can drink?
Brian Bennett/CNET

When outdoor temperatures spike, sipping a frosty iced coffee is a great way to cool down while getting a caffeine fix. It's easy to make chilled joe at home, too. But before you do that, you'll have to decide which method to use. There are two main options to choose from: One is cold brew, the other is Japanese-style iced coffee. Both have their pros and cons.

Cold brew is sweet, smooth and powerful. On the other hand, the Japanese-style drink (aka hot pour-over) packs all the flavor of traditional hot coffee, yet is ice cold. This guide lays out the basics to create batches of each and why you might prefer one over the other.

Cold brew coffee certainly has some things going for it.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Cold brew

Despite its name this beverage can either be brewed at room temperature or in the fridge. It's typically made in concentrated form. That means its flavor won't be diluted by extra ingredients like ice, milk, and chilled water. 

The process calls for an approximate coffee grounds to water ratio of 1:4. Commonly used brewing containers include mason jars, a French press or a dedicated cold brew coffee maker. Brewing is complete after the coffee grounds have steeped for 12 to 24 hours. The last step is to filter the brew from the solid grounds.

The result is a super-strong liquid that's sweet, silky smooth and with no hint of bitterness or acidity. If the thought is making you thirsty, check out our full guide on how to make your own cold brew

Hot bloomed iced coffee is a great way to get chilled coffee fast.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Japanese-style iced coffee

This style of iced coffee sounds simple but is quite ingenious: You brew your coffee directly over a container or carafe full of ice. It also helps to kick the coffee concentration up a notch compared with standard drip (typically a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water) 

Personally, I like to use 70 grams ground coffee to 851 grams (30 ounces) of liquid water. That's a coffee to water ratio of about 1:12. The beauty here is the ice in my 40-ounce (1.1 L) carafe offsets the stronger drip. In the end you're left with a well-balanced, flavorful and chilled beverage. And yep, we've got a full guide on how to brew Japanese-style iced coffee yourself.

Japanese-style iced coffee brews up fast.

Taylor Martin/CNET


Cold brew coffee takes the longest time to prepare by far. Its 12 to 24 hour brew time requires patience and planning ahead. That's not for everyone, especially those who need their joe pronto.

By contrast, Japanese-style iced coffee brews in the same amount of time as regular drip (5 to 8 minutes). That alone makes it the top choice for busy morning coffee drinkers.

Winner: Japanese-style iced coffee


This next category really comes down to personal preference. Many seek out cold brew for its unique sweetness and lack of acidity. The brewing method tends to conjure deep chocolate notes too, especially from darkly roasted beans. 

If you're a fan of light and medium coffee roasts then cold brew likely isn't ideal. Coffee roasted this way often requires the brightness of acid to bring out their full flavor profile. And that can only happen during hot brewing.

Winner: Draw

Difficulty and convenience

Cold brew sounds easy to prepare. You just add coffee grounds to water and wait. No heat or special brewer is required. Even so, separating the brewed liquid from solid coffee grounds can be a pain. Unless you invest in a stand-alone cold brew gadget, straining grounds and cleaning up is often messy.

Straining solid coffee grounds is a necessary part of cold brew coffee.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Hot pour-over iced coffee, though, is almost as convenient as brewing regular drip. Just pour hot water over your grounds in a filter and you're in business. You can even use an automatic coffee maker for the task. You will need to have plenty of ice on hand, but if you already own a competent ice maker that's less of an issue.

Winner: Japanese-style iced coffee 

The verdict

I'm certainly a huge fan of cold brew coffee. I love it for its addictive, potent blend of sweetness and its big caffeine punch. Relying on cold brew, though, as my go-to everyday summer morning jolt isn't practical, at least for me.

It's hard to beat the immediate gratification of Japanese-style iced coffee. I can brew up a cold carafe in minutes. And tasting the full flavor of hot coffee in a chilled beverage, well that's icing on the cake. I just hope my ice maker can keep up.