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Cold Brew vs Espresso – What’s The Difference?

Rebecca Hanlon
Last Updated: August 18th, 2023

Coffee House menus are often full of coffee made with the newest technique trend. While Cold Brew and Espresso have both been around for a long time, they have recently had a revival in both independent coffee shops and worldwide coffee chains.

If you’ve ever stood staring at a menu and wondered which beverage was right for you, debating the best choice when looking at Cold Brew Vs Espresso, this article will help you to learn the basics and make the right choice for you.

The good news is that regardless of which coffee you pick, you are sure to have a delectable coffee drinking experience.

Cold Brew or Espresso?

cold brew or espresso

You may be comparing these two beverages, Cold Brew vs Espresso, and wondering what is the better of the two? Both have distinct qualities that make them a great choice for your morning java jolt.

Cold Brew is often a confusing name for many people as it is often confused for iced coffee. Cold Brew refers to the way the coffee is made, not the temperature of the beverage. Cold Brew is never exposed to heat, instead, time is what extracts flavor and oils from the coffee.

Cold Brew is extremely smooth, slightly sweet, and less acidic than traditional coffee. It is often brewed in small batches. Many coffee shops and even national coffee chains serve Cold Brew but it can easily be made at home.

Espresso is more difficult to make at home without a machine, though the rise of pod-based espresso machines, such as the Nespresso, is changing that.

Espresso is bold and intense, often served in shot glass-sized amounts or used as the bases for other beverages such as a latte or cappuccino. It can be enjoyed cold as part of a shaken espresso or iced latte.

How Are They Made?

how are made

Cold Brew is relatively simple to make at home, though there are a few methods to pick from. Coffee should be ground coarsely. If you do not want to purchase specialty equipment, place coffee in the bottom of a large pitcher, carafe, or mason jar.

Add room temperature or cold water to the pitcher in a 1:8 coffee to water ratio. Cover and leave on your countertop for 24 hours. Time is doing the work here and extracting the flavor.

After 24 hours, place a coffee filter over a new container and slowly strain the cold brew to separate the coffee grinds from the brew. What is left will be Cold Brew. Serve over ice or chill in the refrigerator before use.

Espresso is typically made using a machine. Finely ground coffee is added to the basket of the machine and tamped down to a condensed puck.

Water is added to the reservoir and a pump and heater boil the water and then use pressure to extract the flavor from the coffee before producing a thicker syrupy shot.

What Are They Made of?

whata are they made of

Cold Brew uses the same coffee you would for at-home drip coffee machines. Most people use a carafe and coffee filter. However, a French Press maker can be used to make Cold Brew.

The French Press has a glass beaker and metal filter that separates the coffee from the liquid. Instead of adding hot water as you would for French Press coffee, add room temperature water and keep the plunger up for 24 hours before pushing down.

Espresso machines vary in the number of pieces but in general, they have a filter (known as a “porta-filter”), boiler, basket, and pump. Water from the reservoir is pumped up through the boiler and heated before pressure forces it through the basket and it becomes espresso.

How Are They Similar?

how they are similar

Both Cold Brew and Espresso are found in coffee houses worldwide. Although Cold Brew is typically found served over ice, it can also be served hot similarly to Espresso. Likewise, Espresso can be served child having been shaken over ice.

The versatility of these beverages is part of the reason for their recent growth in popularity. They both use similar coffee and both can have chocolatey notes on the palette.

Brew Time, Coffee Ratio, Grind, Caffeine Level, and Taste Comparison

Cold Brew:

  • Brewing Time: 24 Hours
  • Coffee to water ratio: 1:8
  • Coffee Grind: Coarse
  • Caffeine: 200 miligrams per 16 ounces
  • Taste: Smooth, sweet, mild
  • Traditional Serving: Large glass over ice


  • Brewing Time: 20-30 seconds
  • Coffee to water ratio: 1:2
  • Coffee Grind: Fine
  • Caffeine: 63 milligrams per ounce
  • Taste: Bold and bitter with a sweet finish
  • Traditional Serving: Shot Glass or Small Coffee Cup

Espresso and Cold Brew are unique beverages. If you’re looking for an immediate cup, espresso is the better choice as it takes mere seconds to brew. Cold Brew on the other hand takes up to 24 hours to brew.

It is made using a coarse grind in small batches. Additionally, the taste and acidity are very different. Cold Brew is extremely smooth with mild flavors and nearly 67% less acidity than traditional coffee.

While you can drink Cold Brew warm, it is traditionally served over ice.

Espresso produces a much smaller beverage, 1-2oz, and is traditionally served hot, though more recently shaking it over ice has become popular.

Espresso uses finely ground coffee and can be bitter or acidic. It is typically made as an individual serving and It has a much more robust flavor (although it does have a naturally sweet finish). Espresso also has much higher caffeine levels.

How To Drink Cold Brew vs Espresso

Cold Brew

Cold Brew is best enjoyed over ice. Many prefer to drink it as is since the flavors can be quite delectable. However, if you prefer to add sweetener or milk or cream many drink it that way as well.

Finally, if you have access to a milk frother, cold foam is excellent on top of Cold Brew. If you’re looking to make a delicious summer beverage, try a Coconut Mocha Cold Brew. The coconut milk works very well with the texture of the Cold Brew.

how to drink cold brew

Coconut Mocha Cold Brew

  • 8 oz Cold Brew
  • 2-3 pumps of mocha syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut milk

In the bottom of a large glass add 2-3 pumps of mocha syrup. If you can’t find mocha syrup, chocolate syrup will work just as well.

Add ice and give everything a stir. Finally, add your coconut milk. You may wish to froth it to a cold foam if you have that option.


Espresso is often enjoyed as is, right in the shot glass it is pulled in. Others prefer to drink it from a small mug. Yet, espresso is also the base of many delicious coffee house creations and is extremely versatile. One delicious option is a classic, Caramel Macchiato

how to drink espresso

Caramel Macchiato

  • 2 shots Espresso
  • 4 oz steamed milk
  • 2-3 pumps of vanilla simple syrup
  • Caramel drizzle

In the bottom of your heat-proof cup add 2-3 pumps of vanilla simple syrup. Next, add your 2 shots of espresso. You can even “pull” the espresso shots right into this cup over the syrup.

Add your steamed milk on top, and drizzle with caramel syrup first right to left, then front to back to create a basket weave.


alternatives-cold brew or espresso

While Cold Brew has a distinctive and delicious taste, not everyone is willing to wait 24 hours. If you are looking for an alternative, traditional iced coffee may be it.

Using a percolator or drip coffee maker, make a pot of coffee as you normally would. Wait for it to come to room temperature and then pour over ice before adding sweetener and sugar as desired.

Another alternative is to invest in a single-serve machine (such as a K-Cup or Nespresso) and brew the coffee right over the ice. You will lose some ice to melting but the strength of the coffee will make up for that.

If you enjoy espresso but don’t have the space for a large machine, a mokapot will produce strong and bold coffee right on your stovetop.

Another option if you want a nice bold coffee and enjoy a crema, is pour-over. A Chemex or pour-over maker will give you those strong flavors with some of the richer caramel notes.

Cold Brew Vs Espresso – FAQs

Which came first?

Although it seems like Cold Brew has gained popularity only recently, it has actually been around for much longer than Espresso.

Early versions of Cold Brew were made in Japan as early as the 1600s and were called, “Kyoto.” Much later it became popular in Cuba in the 1930s and from there spread to the United States and other places in the world.

Which is stronger?

Espresso is much stronger. Cold Brew is smooth and has a milder flavor than Espresso. It also has significantly less caffeine.

Which is the most popular?

While Cold Brew has become so popular lately that it has even found its way into worldwide coffee franchises, espresso remains more popular due to its versatility and the fact that it is the basis for so many other drinks.

Further Reading

About The Author

Rebecca Hanlon

Rebecca has been a blogger for over 5 years, before that enjoying a number of jobs to fund her passion for travel. She's taught English as a foreign language, a part-time Barista, a waitress, and a tour guide.

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