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Style & Living Top Chef

What’s the Difference Between Iced Coffee, Cold Brew, Nitro, and New Orleans Style?

Know the difference between iced coffee and cold brew, and feel like you really belong when you place that order.

By Kristyn Pomranz

Spring has sprung and you know what that means: We’re back to taking our coffee cold! (Hooray!) Now, if you’re anything like us, you’ve spent the past few summers hearing people say things like, “Have you tried Java Jive’s nitro? It’s soooo much better than The Roastery’s cold brew,” all while sipping on the iced coffee you made by… putting ice into your coffee. But it’s 2018, mmmmkay, and this is the year you’re going to learn the differences in the varieties of cold coffee. So what's the difference between iced coffee and cold brew and all the rest? Let's go:

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Iced Coffee

Long before the concept of cold coffee became a nationwide obsession, most cafés served iced coffee the old fashioned way: They would double brew a carafe (meaning, twice the coffee grounds as usual), and then pour the extra-strong coffee over ice. (This is how major coffee distributors like Dunkin' Donuts brew their iced coffee.) That way, when the ice melted, the coffee would be average strength. Only issue? The ice would completely melt. So yes, the coffee was cold, but no, it wasn’t technically “over ice” anymore.

Cold Brew

Conversely, cold brew is never heated. As outlined by Chowhound, it’s made by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for 12-plus hours, so it’s the time spent — rather than the temperature — that extracts the flavor. This results in a coffee that has a more “chocolatey” body, less acidity, and double the caffeine. As such, most cold brews are served diluted, whether with ice, milk, or a combination of the two.


Nitro — which is relatively new to the coffee scene — is simply cold brew that’s been infused with nitrogen gas and then is served on draft like a beer. (In fact, a Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro was the inspiration for nitro at Cuvee Coffee in Texas.) Why? Because the tap gives the coffee a creamier, sweeter effect that’s reminiscent of a properly-poured Guinness. Unlike iced coffee or cold brew, nitro is never served over ice or with milk (such a sacrilegious act would undo the beauty of the pour), so you should probably be a black coffee enthusiast if you decide to order it.

New Orleans-Style Cold Brew

Last but not least, if you haven’t heard of New Orleans-style cold brew... you’re seriously missing out. According to Grady's Cold Brew (one of the most popular NOLA-style cold brew purveyors around), it follows the same steeping process as traditional cold brew, but the grounds are combined with chicory which gives it a sweet flavor. Although it’s delicious on its own, no beverage would be “New Orleans” style without going a bit over the top — locals like to add both milk and sweetener for a creamy, cold, and caffeinated treat.

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