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Iced Coffee Vs. Cold Brew Vs. Nitro Brew, What’s The Difference?

Now that the blazing summer heat is upon us, a hot tea or coffee is no longer an appropriate option to fuel our bodies whether it be to get us out the door in the morning or to give us a pre-workout energy boost.

Taking the place of our steamy, delicious friend for the next few months is its chilly cousin. I am of course talking about iced/cold-brewed coffee. For anybody who has been drinking coffee for a decent period of time, they will surely know about iced coffee and its important and unique role to help cool us off and caffeinate us all in one cup.

With the popularity of this iced drink increasing exponentially, other cold alternatives have been released to vary the selection and flavor combinations possible.

How do all the cold coffee variations compare though? In this article we will cover the differences in their brewing process and how it changes the flavor and smoothness, as well as if you need to choose one over the other if you want to limit your calories or caffeine intake…

close up of ice coffee with milk

What Is Iced Coffee?

The OG and simplest cold beverage, iced coffee is a classic favorite. It is made the same way as hot coffee, but contains twice the strength (double the amount of coffee grounds), and is poured over ice. Once the ice melts the double strength turns back into a normal strength cup of coffee.

Brewing coffee hot brings out the acid qualities in the bean, meaning iced coffee is light and smooth, but also has a more bitter and acidic taste to it. The flavors usually dictate adding sugar or creamer, but when it is drunk straight, it is very healthy and low calorie.

Containing only 5 calories per serving, I wouldn’t worry about cutting out coffee on a diet, especially when you add a calorie-free sweetener. The caffeine is the only thing you need to be cautious of, as a 16-ounce serving (about 500 ml) will deliver 190 mg of the stimulant to you.

This is a moderate amount of caffeine and is usually handled well by most, but when you get the 24 and 31 oz serving sizes it is important to check with your barista how much it contains and what your tolerance can handle.

cold brew being poured into a glass

What About Cold Brew?

While it might not be at the popularity of iced coffee, cold brew deserves an honorable mention for a close second in recent years.

The process of making cold brew is very different than iced coffee as the coffee grounds are soaked in water for 12-24 hours to let the caffeine and flavors infuse. The grounds are strained out and the liquid that is poured out on the other side is cold brew.

Since the coffee beans are never heated they release much less bitter and acidic flavors, resulting in a smoother, and sweeter coffee than iced. Because of the richer flavor, you are less likely to need added ingredients, keeping the calorie content low.

Like iced coffee, cold brew also contains about 5 calories per serving when drank alone, but does contain a bit more caffeine. This coffee has about 205mg per the same 16 oz serving, which isn’t much more than iced coffee but again it is important to mention the bigger sizes increase this number as much as 150mg more, which can be way too much for some individuals.

nitro brew

What The Heck Is Nitro Brew?

Definitely one of the newest cold coffee inventions, nitro brew is very unique and quite expensive, to say the least.

This coffee begins its creation as the same as cold brew, soaking in water for 12-24 hours, but has an added step at the end. The coffee is added to a keg, combined with nitrogen bubbles and comes out of a tap into your clear cup. When poured, the coffee ends up having a foamy head and cascading nitrogen bubbles that fall down the drink and add to the “woooahh” effect.

This is nothing new though, as a certain Irish Draught beer has been doing this for generations with their product. This happens because the nitrogen bubbles form slower than CO2 bubbles and become less buoyant, making them sink to the bottom of the glass.

Because of this effect, nitro brew doesn’t usually have added ice or sweetener/creamer. Luckily the cold brew with nitrogen is a great combination, as it results in a more sweet and smooth consistency that makes it easy to drink straight.

Like its predecessors, the calories have not changed even with the added nitrogen (5 calories per serving). The big difference is the caffeine content, which is noticeably higher than iced or cold brew coffee. Containing 280mg in 16 ounces, this coffee is easily the most caffeinated by a big margin, which goes without saying to use your own judgment on whether you can handle that much at one time.

close up of coffee beans

Take Home Message

When it comes to black coffee, you can never make a bad choice. The one difference you should be aware of is the caffeine content found in each variation.

It should also be mentioned that each one is almost double the price of the one preceding it… so choose wisely on what you can afford!

With all that being said, the calories are all the same across the board, meaning your personal preference should be the deciding favor this summer if you are still working on that beach body and want to watch your intake.


Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

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Billy Galipeault

Billy Galipeault

Writer and expert

Billy is passionate about all things fitness and nutrition, with an emphasis on muscle and strength building. He's currently serving active duty in the air force, while building his body muscle by muscle in his free time.

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