Cold Brew VS Espresso [The Ultimate Guide]

Published: 01/08/23 •  8 min read

If you’re a coffee lover, then you likely have a favorite way to make coffee. Maybe that’s with a French press, or an espresso maker, or a drip coffee machine. However you make it, your morning cup of coffee is something of a ritual before you get going.

Have you ever considered the differences between different types of coffee? Do you order an espresso from your favorite bougie coffee shop on occasion and think, ‘Maybe I could make this at home?’ During the summer months, do you order a ‘cold brew’ from Starbucks without a second because it’s 70-plus degrees?

Sure, you feel the caffeine kick of both the espresso and cold brew, but do you know the differences between them? If you’re looking to become a coffee connoisseur, then knowing the difference between these two caffeine favorites is paramount. Here’s our definitive guide to the differences between cold brew coffee and espresso.

What’s The Difference Between Cold Brew and Espresso?

In order to understand the differences between two of the most popular coffee beverages, we’ll have to break them down into their individual drinks.

What is a Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold Brew Coffee

The process of creating cold brew coffee originated in Japan centuries ago. Whereas when making traditional hot coffee, the coffee grounds are steeped in boiling water before the liquid is released, in cold brew, the coffee grounds are steeped in room-temperature water for anywhere between 12 and 24 hours.

This process infuses the flavor into the cold water before it is extracted. Cold brew coffee can easily be made with a French press, though its critical that the water temperature be maintained throughout the brewing process.

The different taste in a cup of cold brew from conventional brewing methods comes from this infusion of the coffee beans in cold water and the length of time for which they are submerged. Coffee beans release slightly different chemicals when submerged than when submerged in hot water.

Nitro Cold Brew

One other type of cold brew drink that’s worth mentioning is nitro cold brew. Nitro cold brew is the introduction of nitrogen into the cold brew – maintaining the cold brew taste – but creating a smoother texture.

You can buy special equipment that produces nitro cold brew.

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What is an Espresso?

Espresso

An espresso is a type of hot coffee drink that has a higher caffeine content per volume (per 100ml of coffee) than most other coffee beverages. An espresso is essentially a short, sharp shock to the system – whereas drip coffee is typically a drawn out caffeine hit, as most standard drip coffee is served in 8oz cups.

Two Italian men invented the first espresso coffee machines – Luigi Bezzera and Angelo Merondo – they created a device that produced ‘espresso’ coffee by forcing highly pressurized water through ground coffee beans to create a drink that was high in caffeine content but low in hot water content. This is why your average espresso comes in a small cup.

Espressos are served in ‘shots’ – mostly in single and double shot offerings. This is broken down in greater detail in our article on espresso shots, found here. Shots of espresso typically contain 212 milligrams of caffeine per 100g of espresso.

How Do The Brewing Times Differ?

One of the main differences between cold brew coffee and espresso (double or single shot) is brewing time. The cold brewing process lasts a long time – it is often a 12 to 24-hour process where ground coffee sits in cold water, allowing the coffee grounds to release their caffeine and other chemicals at a much slower rate.

The result of this is a darker roast and a strong taste. Often a favorite among cold coffee lovers in the summer, cold brew coffee is used as the base for various iced coffee beverages.

Meanwhile, the brewing time of an espresso is just 25 to 30 seconds, yet the actual caffeine content per 100ml of coffee is much higher than that of a cold brew. A cold brew coffee is a slow burn, while the espresso is the flash fire.

An espresso is measured in fluid ounces as is typically a one fluid ounce of hot water forced through 7.5 grams of coffee, as denoted in our table.

Which Grind Size is Used For Cold Brew And Espresso?

Getting the grind right and properly is one of the most important parts of making an espresso or a cold brew coffee. For most applications of making cold brew, you’ll want coarse ground coffee. This is usually between 5 and 10 seconds in your electric coffee grinder. Always use fresh coffee beans!

In contrast, for regular drip coffee, you’re more likely to want a fine grind or medium grind – between 10 and 15 seconds.

Making an espresso, however, is a completely different process. As an espresso infuses the maximum amount of coffee flavor in the shortest time, you’ll want to have a fine grind for the strong coffee taste you’re used to with espressos.

Does Cold Brew Have More Caffeine Than Espresso?

Whether or not cold brew coffee has higher caffeine levels than an espresso is largely down to how you make either beverage. Both are an adventure in coffee in their own right. There are a number of factors that determine caffeine levels in any coffee beverage.

It’s All About The Beans, Baby!

Coffee Beans

One of the most important elements of coffee is the different types of coffee beans used to make the ground coffee product. There are several different types of beans, but the most common are Robusta coffee beans and Arabica coffee beans.

Robusta coffee beans typically produce darker roasts and is the most common type of coffee beans used in making espresso. They have a higher caffeine content than their Arabica counterpart, as they are grown at lower altitudes.

Many cold brew coffees will use either Arabica or Robusta, although Arabica beans have lower acidity levels than Robusta beans.

By the bean, Robusta typically contains 2.9 milligrams of caffeine per bean. Meanwhile, Arabica beans (unroasted) typically contain 1.9 milligrams of caffeine.

Is Cold Brew Stronger Than Espresso?

Yes! Cold brew coffee is much stronger than espresso because the ground coffee is steeped in cold water for much longer. Given that the basic process for making cold brew is a very high extraction time, you can expect your cold brew to much stronger than your average espresso.

The cold brewing process requires a huge volume of beans and has higher levels of caffeine because of it.

In a cold brew, the coffee to water ratio should be 1 ounce of coarsely ground beans to one cup of water. This is solely for creating black coffee, without any additives.

In a single shot of espresso, there is 7 grams of finely ground coffee per 1 fluid ounce of hot water. Espresso is therefore stronger than regular coffee, but cold brew is stronger than espresso due to the brewing time.

How Many Milligrams of Caffeine Are in Each?

In a typical cold brew coffee, you’re likely to find 200 milligrams of caffeine.

In a typical espresso, you’re likely to find 212 milligrams of caffeine, per shot.

How Acidic is Cold Brew vs. Espresso?

Cold brew is a highly concentrated coffee that has a low acidity level. Most cold brew coffee has an acidity level of 4.96 – 5.13 on the pH scale. This is due to the choice of beans and the fact that the beans are kept in cold water for an extensive period of time.

Meanwhile, as mentioned above, espresso is more of a short, sharp shock. One shot of espresso takes roughly 30 seconds to make as highly pressurized hot water is forced through finely-ground coffee beans. One cup of espresso (one shot) has an acidity level of 5 – 5.6 on the pH scale.

The acidity levels of both are subject to change based on volume and the number of milligrams of caffeine.

Cold Brew VS. Espresso, Which One is For You?

The answer to this question is largely a personal one! But, if you like your coffee cold (even in the bleak mid-winter, you mad bastard), then a cold brew is undoubtedly the coffee type for you.

If you’re looking for a place to buy cold brew coffee before you try making your own, then you have plenty of options! Cold brew concentrate is a specific blend of coffee produced by many different types of coffee roasters.

The below option from Java House provides you a cold brew concentrate, that you can use with your Keurig coffee maker!

Java House Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate Single Serve Liquid Pods, Sumatran, 12 Count…
$14.99 ($1.25 / Count)

Single-Serve Cold Brew Concentrate Pods

We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/21/2024 12:21 am GMT

However, if you prefer the immediate pick-me-up provided by coffee but want something even stronger than regular brew coffee, the espresso is the best option!

Conclusion

Any coffee fan may have a hard time choosing between espressos and cold brews in their hunt for the perfect cup of coffee. That’s understandable! Your choice between cold brew and espresso is really a choice between different types of coffees of different strengths and with different brewing processes.

Each has its benefits and disadvantages. The quench of a cold brew may do the trick in the summer months! However, the immediate perkiness of espresso in the morning sometimes can’t be beaten!

Hans Mast

Hans loves coffee and loves teaching about coffee