Cold drip, ice brew, iced drip, cold brew, kyoto drip, cold extract coffee, Japanese drip, the list goes on. With so many names for these two different brew methods, it’s no wonder there can be confusion about what the difference is, and most importantly, which do I want to drink now?
For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to refer to the two styles as cold brew and iced drip.
The origins of both find themselves in debate. It seems plausible that cold brew, with is rudimentary design and refreshing quality, originated from Latin America. Iced drip stems from the 1600s, while Japan was trading coffee among other things with the Dutch.
The two different methods are often confused because they both sound similar, are black, and served cold. To differentiate the two, I like to think of ice drip as served short like an espresso, and cold brew served long like a long black or filter coffee. Both are equally as delicious, but let’s break them down.
Cold brew, in its simplest form, is ground coffee steeped in cold water then filtered. Steep times can vary from four or five hours right up to a couple of days depending on the desired end result. Light, medium, and dark roasts can all be used depending on flavour, and usually a very coarse grind is used, owing to the long steep time.
The filter can be cloth, paper, or fabric. The vessel could be anything from a big coffee plunger (French press) or dedicated cold brewer like the toddy system, or simply a bucket and a hessian sack.
The end result holds little texture, is super refreshing, and drinks best really cold. The flavour can be anything from quite dark and almost tannic to very light, clean and refreshing depending on how it’s brewed and the coffees used. My favourite cold brews have usually either been really rounded, fresh, and something you enjoy without having to think too much about it, or juicy and big, using a particularly great and different coffee that absolutely jumps out of the iced cup.
Iced drip is far more intricate. The brew tower usually resembles something from an alchemist’s laboratory. Cold or icy cold water drips at a rate of around one drop per second onto a bed of coffee. It slowly travels in contact with the coffee before passing through a final filter where it drips away into a service jug. Typical set ups take between three to 12 hours to brew.
Again, different roast degrees might be used. Here, the grind setting makes a huge impact on the final brew, affecting on texture and flavour. Typically, iced drip has a port-like texture. It’s a lot more viscous and can be enjoyed chilled over ice or at room temperature, depending on the coffee. It’s far more like a concentrate in that you would typically drink it as a shot or very short drink (30 to 60 millimetres). Because of its intensity and texture, it works great as a base of an iced coffee with milk or coffee cocktail.
For both methods, being brewed without any heat and over such an extended time means the end result is much lower in acid and quite gentle on the stomach compared with other styles. It stores well in the fridge over time and is highly caffeinated.
In terms of operational costs, cold brew is cheap and easy, so much so, that I think every café should serve it. It only requires a bucket and a filter. Even if you can’t brew it yourself there are plenty of quality re-sellers available, making the process as easy as selling soft drink or bottled juice.
Ice drip on the other hand requires a far more elaborate system to brew, and needs to be maintained the whole time. But, the brew apparatus tells your customers you’re serious about coffee – and it’s a great talking point to start the conversation of specialty coffee.
For me, both styles are thoroughly delicious with neither better than the other. I tend to enjoy cold brew like iced tea and iced drip like a delicious espresso on a hot day. If I’m at the beach or having a barbeque and want something refreshing, I’ll go cold brew every time. If I’m at a café or getting work done, iced drip is my first preference.
I’d encourage you to try a range of different expressions of both (or brew your own) until you find what’s great for you.