Cold Brew vs. Americano: Cold Coffee Comparison

It’s a blazing hot day, and you are exhausted, so it’s time to get an iced coffee! But if you don’t drink much coffee (or always go for hot drinks), you might feel lost with the options on the menu.

A cold brew? An iced Americano? What’s the difference?

These popular cold coffee drinks seem similar but share much less than you might think. I wrote this guide to explain the differences between cold brew vs. Americano and help you choose the best refreshing brew that suits your tastes!

What is cold brew?

Cold brew coffee is a strong drink prepared by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for an extended period.

No espresso machine or other fancy coffee equipment is required to prepare the cold brew. You can simply steep coffee grounds in a mason jar or a plastic container.

Cold brewing produces a highly concentrated coffee with plenty of caffeine and intense flavors. Diluting exceedingly strong cold brew concentrate with additional cold water is common.

Much like espresso, cold-brewed coffee can serve as an ingredient in other beverages. I love using it as a base for iced lattes, but you could also try to make cold brew-based cappuccino.

cold brew coffee with ice

What is an Americano?

An Americano is an espresso-based drink prepared by diluting two or more espresso shots with water. It’s a straightforward beverage that lets you enjoy the bold flavor of espresso while toning back its bitterness.

The Americano is traditionally a hot-brewed coffee. However, an iced version made with cold water and ice is a well-established variant of the classic hot coffee.

Although hot Americano is more popular in the U.S., iced Americanos are common worldwide. It’s one of the most ordered coffees in South Korea, where local coffee enthusiasts enjoy it because it goes down so smoothly!

iced americano coffee close up

Cold Brew vs. Americano: what’s the difference?

Iced Americano and cold brew have coffee and cold water in them — and that’s where the similarities pretty much end. The two are surprisingly different drinks, although both are great options for a refreshing summer pick-me-up.

Here’s my breakdown of the key differences between cold brew coffee and iced Americano.


Cold brew coffee is rooted in Japanese brewing practices, while Americano (hot or iced) is an American drink with some Italian heritage.

The Japanese have used the cold brewing method for centuries — only they initially used it for tea. When Dutch merchants introduced coffee to Japan around 1700, it only made sense for the Japanese to replace the tea leaves with ground coffee beans.

In addition to the steeping process, the Japanese invented the slow-drip coffee brewing system, where cold or room-temperature water can run through coffee grounds slowly for several hours. This method of brewing coffee is today known as the Kyoto-style cold brew.

Around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, cold brew coffee arrived in Cuba. Whether the Cubans learned the process from Japan or reinvented it independently is unclear.

Nonetheless, cold brew traveled from Cuba to America, where coffee shop chains like Blue Bottle helped popularize it in the early 2000s.

Today, cold brew is a popular beverage, partly because it can easily be made at home with a mason jar or French press coffee maker.

Due to its strength, cold brew can replace espresso in cold coffee drinks. Other innovations have also been popular, such as nitro cold brew, where nitrogen gives the coffee a beer-like head of foam.

Americano is said to have originated in World War II-era Italy. According to a common tale, American soldiers — used to drip coffee — found the Italian espresso unpalatably strong and bitter. They diluted the espresso with hot water to approximate the coffee they made back home.

It’s a nice story, but we can find references to Americano from over a decade before World War II. Yet, the Americano was most likely born sometime in the first half of the 20th century. It quickly became popular in America following the war.

Nobody seems to know who replaced the hot water with the cold to create the first iced Americano. Nor do we know when it happened, though it was probably at some point after World War II.

Whoever the mysterious barista is, I certainly thank them for their genius invention!

barista holding cold brew coffee glass


You might think that cold brew and iced Americano are made with the same ingredients, but this is where the drinks’ main difference lies. A cold brew is prepared by adding ground coffee to cold water, while an iced Americano is made by diluting hot-brewed espresso with cold water.

The difference in the ingredients stems from the wildly different brewing methods between Americano and cold brew.

To make a cold brew, you need coarse ground coffee that you submerge in preferably filtered cold or room-temperature water in a mason jar or a French press.

You must let the container sit in a refrigerator for at least 12 hours. You can stretch the steeping time to 48 hours for an extra-strong cold brew concentrate.

Adding cold water to ground coffee beans doesn’t extract its compounds as effectively as hot water, so the cold brew method takes a long time. However, it does give the resulting cold brew a unique taste profile.

I’ll get to that a bit later, so keep reading!

On the other hand, to make an iced Americano coffee, your barista (or you, if you are making one at home) starts by pulling a double espresso shot. Even though it’s served cold, iced Americano begins its life with espresso brewed hot.

Depending on the cafe, the barista may allow the hot espresso shots to cool first. They might also use pre-made espresso coffee that has already come to room temperature. Then, they will finish the drink by pouring cold water onto the coffee and adding ice cubes.

An iced Americano’s more-or-less standard coffee-to-water ratio is 1:2 — twice as much water as espresso. However, the ratio can vary depending on the particular coffee shop and may be anywhere between 1:1 to 1:5.

Of course, you can add milk to either brew to make an iced latte. Many cafes offer other flavorings and additives, such as sugar, cream, or flavored syrups.

There are also additional twists you sometimes see on the menus. For example, you might spot a sparkling Americano — an iced Americano made with carbonated water!

glass of iced americano from the top

Serving size

Serving sizes for cold brew coffee and iced Americano are identical, generally beginning at 12 ounces (355 ml). Both are typically poured into a tall glass in cafes.

Some coffees — like a straight espresso shot or a cortado — have standard serving sizes. Iced Americano and cold brew aren’t like that. Neither of them has any generally applicable size standard.

Typically, cold brew is made in a big batch using a large container to serve a portion of any size. Similarly, the thing that defines iced Americano is the coffee-to-water ratio, not how much of it you make.

That said, iced coffees come in larger sizes than hot ones. For example, the smallest Starbucks cold brew and iced Americano sizes are 12 ounces (Tall). Meanwhile, a hot Americano and regular black coffee start at 8 ounces (Short).

That’s simply because cold coffees contain ice, so the larger cup needs to accommodate it.

These drinks also tend to be bigger on the upper end of the size scale. Looking at Starbucks again, you can get iced Americano as big as 24 ounces (Venti), while its hot equivalent stops at 20 ounces. On the other hand, cold brew is available in a ginormous 30-ounce Trenta cup. So cold brew is the way to go if you like drinking coffee by the bucket!

tall glass with cold brew coffee


Espresso is often considered the strongest coffee, so you may think Americano packs more flavor than cold brew — but that’s not necessarily true. Both drinks have a strong taste, but a cold brew is generally smoother while iced Americano retains a more traditional coffee flavor.

The cold tap water used in cold brew preparation extracts aromatic and flavorful coffee compounds at a different rate than hot water. This makes cold brew coffee have a generally low acidity and a smoother taste than an iced Americano.

While the coffee bean type naturally affects the final drink’s flavor, you may notice dark chocolate, red fruit, and floral notes in cold brew.

Iced Americano tastes much like you’d expect from a coffee made with an espresso machine (or a Moka pot, if that’s your preference). The brew will be more acidic and bitter since the hot water temperature extracts the compounds responsible for these flavors more effectively.

However, adding ice cubes and/or water dilutes the espresso and cuts down the bitter flavors. You can still taste the original flavors of the coffee beans, whether they are earthy Indonesian or fruity and bright Ethiopian varieties.

A cold brew generally has a more robust flavor than iced Americano. That’s simply because Americano is diluted, while cold brew often isn’t.

Even if the drink in front of you was made by diluting a concentrate, the original form is so ridiculously strong that you won’t even realize the dilution.

Neither of the drinks will have much aroma. Since cold brew coffee and iced Americano are chilled drinks, no hot steam wafting from the mug or glass could carry smells to your nose.

A cold brew has a richer, smooth mouthfeel and more body than iced Americano, as it’s less diluted. Finally, regarding calories, both drinks are nearly calorie-free, as long as you only add ice cubes.

pouring cold brew coffee into a glass

Caffeine content

On average, a small 12-ounce cold brew has a higher caffeine content of 150 mg, while a similarly sized iced Americano has around 125 mg of caffeine.

A cold brew typically has more caffeine than an iced Americano because it’s made with more coffee beans. However, this is only a general estimate, and many things could affect how much caffeine is in the drink.

A few key factors that affect the strength of cold-brew coffee are the steeping time, the type of coffee beans, and how much coffee was used to make it.

Since coffee may be steeped anywhere between 8 and 48 hours, the brew time has a massive effect on the resulting cold brew. If you steep cold brew longer, it becomes stronger.

How’s that for coffee poetry?

Cold brew vs Americano

There are also big differences between coffee shops, because they may steep their cold brews for different lengths of time or use different grind sizes and coffee varieties.

For example, a 16-ounce cold brew from Starbucks has approximately 205 mg of caffeine, whereas a similarly sized drink from Dunkin Donuts contains 237 mg.

Iced Americano has the same amount of caffeine as the espresso used to make it. According to USDA data, a single shot of espresso has about 63 mg of caffeine.

You can make an iced Americano with one or two shots, but a 12-ounce brew contains a double shot. Hence, a small iced Americano generally has about 125 mg of caffeine.

Yet, like with cold brew, espresso coffee can have more or less caffeine depending on the beans and the extraction process.

Going back to Starbucks, although their smallest 12-ounce iced Americano is made with two espresso shots, it contains approximately 150 mg of caffeine.

Is cold brew stronger than an iced Americano? In general, yes, but check your favorite coffee shop’s menu for the exact details.

And, as usual, you can always customize your drinks to your preference. If you make a cold brew concentrate, you can dilute it as much (or as little) as you want.

Similarly, you can always ask for extra espresso shots for your Americano.

So, iced Americano vs. cold brew wins on your books? Now that you know their differences, you can order a coffee that’s perfect for your daily cup.

A cold brew is a smooth caffeine bomb, while an iced Americano can satisfy any coffee lover with its traditional flavors. Whichever you choose, you’re set for a good iced coffee experience!

Ready to test your knowledge of all things coffee? Check out my Coffee Trivia questions to challenge yourself and learn fascinating facts that even baristas might not know!

About The Author