Starbucks Iced Coffee vs. Cold Brew (Hint, They’re Different)

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Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew coffee are not the same thing. Here's a look at all the differences between these two popular cold coffee beverages.
Starbucks iced coffee versus cold brew.

Starbucks Cold Coffee

Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew coffee are two of the most popular drinks at Starbucks.

Both drinks are cold coffee served over ice. In fact, the “Cold Coffees” section of the Starbucks menu is where you’ll find both drinks listed.

But being a coffee beverage and being served cold are where the similarities end between these two distinctly different Starbucks drinks.

RELATED: Best Starbucks Iced Coffee: Top 10 Drinks & Starbucks Coffee Guide: Cold Brew

9 Differences Between Starbucks Iced Coffee and Cold Brew Coffee

The main difference between Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew coffee is the brewing process. Iced coffee is hot-brewed, drip coffee that’s cooled down, whereas cold brew coffee is brewed with cold water for about 12-24 hours. Furthermore, Starbucks cold brew coffee and iced coffee are made with different coffee beans.

The brewing methods and two types of coffee blends result in beverages that have different flavors, consistency and caffeine content.

If you’re ready to order a cold coffee beverage, but not sure what to get, here’s a look at every way Starbucks iced coffee differs from cold brew.

1. Coffee Blend & Flavor Notes

Starbucks Iced Coffee Blend contains Latin American and East African coffee beans. It’s flavor is described as having notes of caramel and cola.

Starbucks Cold Brew Coffee Blend has Latin American and African beans blended specifically for the cold-brew process. It’s flavor profile is chocolaty with notes of citrus.

2. Brewing Temperature

Starbucks iced coffee is brewed with filtered water just under boil.

Starbucks cold brew coffee is made with cool, filtered water. The coffee is brewed at room temperature.

3. Brewing Time

Starbucks baristas brew iced coffee in a matter of minutes.

To make a pitcher of iced coffee, the baristas drip-brew pre-measured bags of iced coffee blend at double-strength. The coffee is then poured over ice in a pitcher to dilute it and cool it down so it’s ready to serve.

On the other end of the spectrum, making cold brew coffee is about a 20 hour process at Starbucks. To make a batch, baristas brew 5 pounds of coursely ground cold brew coffee blend in large paper filters placed in a large bucket of cool, filtered water.

Since making cold brew takes a long time, baristas brew new batches based on the amount they have left, strategically doing it so it’s finished during open store hours.

4. Body (Coffee Consistency)

Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew coffee have different bodies or mouth-feel.

The iced coffee is described as “medium-bodied and well-balanced.” Whereas, cold brew has a bit more of a syrupy consistency and is considered full-bodied.

5. Acidity & Sweetness

The different brewing methods for making iced coffee and cold brew (heat versus time) have a big impact on the level of acidity and sweetness in each cup of coffee.

The bottom line is, if you want a less acidic, naturally sweet cup of coffee, opt for cold brew.

Starbucks explains cold brew extraction like this:

It’s time rather than heat that extracts the flavor, caffeine and sugars from the coffee beans. This creates lower acidity and the naturally smooth, sweet taste [Starbucks cold brew] is known for.

6. Serving Options

Starbucks iced coffee is served lightly sweetened with Classic syrup. A grande size drink has about 80 calories. Customers often order it with a splash of milk.

Since cold brew is naturally sweet, a plain cup of cold brew is simply served over ice without additional sugar. A grande has about 5 calories making it one of the best Starbucks low-calorie drinks.

For something a little more decadent, one of the most popular ways to order cold brew is with a topping of vanilla sweet cream cold foam.

In addition to Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, customers also are crazy for Salted Caramel Cream Cold Brew. A holiday favorite is Irish Cream Cold Brew which really brings out the chocolaty notes.

Nitro cold brew is one of Starbucks newest cold brew options. For this drink, cold brew is combined with nitro gas which makes the drink smooth and velvety and super cold. It’s not served with ice.

7. Caffeine Content

The differing brewing methods (heat vs. time) also affect the caffeine content in Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew.

Cold brew contains more caffeine than iced coffee since the lengthy brew time extracts more caffeine from the coffee beans. In fact, cold brew coffee is one of Starbucks most caffeinated drinks.

Specifically, a grande cold brew has 205 mg of caffeine and a grande nitro cold brew has 285 mg. However, a Starbucks grande iced coffee has 165 mg of caffeine.

8. Available as Decaf

The Starbucks menu does not offer decaf iced coffee or decaf cold brew.

Here’s a little known secret, however. It is possible to order decaf iced coffee at Starbucks. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get decaf cold brew.

It’s true, Starbucks does not have pitchers of decaf iced coffee ready to serve. But, if you have a few extra minutes, the barista can brew an individual cup of decaf coffee dripping into ice for you using the pour-over method.

Not sure what a pour over is? Check out this Starbucks Lingo Guide.

In addition to decaf iced coffee, Starbucks decaf drinks include any espresso beverage.

So if you want a handcrafted, cold coffee beverage there’s a world of options including iced lattes, iced mochas and drinks like the Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso.

9. Price

Iced coffee is one of the cheapest drinks on the Starbucks menu and it’s cheaper than cold brew.

As of this writing (Feb 2022) a grande iced coffee is about $3.45, cold brew is about $4.25 and a nitro cold brew is an additional $1.

RELATED: How to Score Free Iced Coffee at Starbucks

Comparison of Starbucks Iced Coffee & Cold Brew

This chart shows a quick comparison of all the ways Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew differ from each other.

Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew are brewed differently, have different flavor profiles and caffeine content.

Questions You May Have

Which has more caffeine, Starbucks iced coffee or cold brew?

Starbucks cold brew coffee is brewed for 12-24 hours allowing more caffeine to be extracted. Cold brew has more caffeine compared to iced coffee. Specifically, ounce-for-ounce, Starbucks cold brew contains 24% more caffeine than iced coffee.

Does Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew taste different?

Starbucks iced coffee and cold brew are made with different blends of coffee and different brewing methods. The results are cold coffee drinks that taste differently. For instance, Starbucks iced coffee is medium-bodied with flavor notes of caramel and cola. On the other hand, cold brew is full-bodied, naturally sweet with chocolaty flavor notes.