For some, coffee is too bitter with too much bite to consume regularly. There’s another coffee option, however, that may be easier on the tongue and the stomach.
In sweltering summer months, you may reach for an iced coffee to cool down while you perk up, but the standard cold coffee options are distinctly different. Iced coffee usually consists of hot coffee that’s been cooled and served over ice. Cold-brew coffee is produced by steeping ground coffee beans for hours (overnight typically) in cold water.
The two coffees may look similar, but they can have very unique flavor profiles—and one is much better if you typically avoid coffee because of its strong, bitter bite.
What Makes Hot Coffee Bitter
Hot water releases aroma and flavor from coffee beans and grounds instantly. It’s a great option if you like, or even prefer, your cuppa to have a bit of a bite, stronger aroma, and bold flavor. However, if you don’t love these characteristics and you have the time to wait, cold-brew coffee will reward your patient spirit with a coffee that’s smooth, delicately sweet, and almost creamy.
“When you expose the coffee beans to heat, it releases oils that are full of acidic compounds,” says David Smith, CEO and founder of High Brew Coffee. “When you cold brew coffee, these acids are not released from the bean and therefore the result is naturally less acidic.”
Cold-Brew Coffee Is Less Acidic
Heat speeds up the release of the delicious flavor compounds in coffee, which is why you can press a button and have a steaming cup of decent coffee in a matter of minutes. But hot water also causes coffee’s flavor compounds to break down faster. The oils released during the brewing process may oxidize more quickly, too, leaving you with a sour cup in a matter of a few hours.
Cold water, however, doesn’t work that rapidly. It takes time for the cool water to coax flavor out of coffee beans, which means it also takes longer for the coffee to oxidize and degrade. Cold water doesn’t release as many of the acidic compounds as hot water does, either, so your final product is less bitter by far.
“Since cold brewed coffee isn’t as acidic, it also tastes less bitter,” Smith says. “Without this acidic, ‘burnt’ flavor, you can taste the coffee’s other flavors more easily.”
Plus, because the coffee takes longer to degrade, you can make cold-brew coffee ahead of time and drink it for a few days without worrying you’ll sip up a sour swig.
“The taste won’t change as the coffee cools, since it’s never been exposed to heat,” Smith says. “Therefore, day-old cold brew doesn’t taste like day-old, stale coffee.”
Will Heating Make Cold-Brew Bitter?
If you like a warm cup of coffee but loathe the bitterness, you can actually heat up cold-brew coffee for a hot cup. And you don’t have to worry about the cold brew turning bitter with the heat. The beans are long gone, so there’s no acidic oils to turn into potentially bitter flavors, even if you heat up the coffee, Smith says.
The Benefits of Cold-Brew Coffee
1. Make ahead for faster mornings. You can make cold-brew coffee several days in advance, and store it in your fridge. Pour yourself a cup in your tumbler before you leave and enjoy a refreshing java on the road.
Tip: freeze leftover coffee into ice cubes so melting ice doesn’t water your drink down.
2. It’s easier on the stomach. “Less acidic coffee is also better for your stomach and teeth, so those with sensitivities to regular coffee may be able to consume cold brew,” Smith says.
3. It’s less bitter, more smooth. People who avoid hot coffee may find the cold brew version is much more flavorful. Cold-brew coffee can be very mild, even sweet.
4. You might prefer it this way. No one takes their coffee the same, which means everyone’s palate and preferences are different. You may like the bite of hot coffee, but those who don’t may soon realize they’ve found a new coffee mate.