Cold Brew vs Espresso

Photo of cold brew on the left and an espresso on the right. Cold Brew vs Espresso

Other than the temperature, what differentiates a cold brew from an espresso? It turns out that these drinks are very different from one detail to the next.

There are many differences between a cold brew and an espresso. A cold brew takes 12-24 hours to make and uses coarse ground beans. It is served with ice and is smooth, sweet, and chilled. Espresso is made in 30 seconds and uses fine ground beans. It is served hot and has an intense and very potent flavor. A cold brew has more caffeine than an espresso due to its long steeping period.

There’s a lot more to know on cold brew vs espresso below!

What is a cold brew?

A cold brew is a cold and rich drink that is served over crushed or cubed ice. It can be served black or mixed with creamer, milk, and other additives. Most cold brew lovers will thoroughly enjoy making them all different, done through the additives but also the brewing time for the coffee grounds! The steeping or brewing time can be anywhere from 12-24 hours.

What is an espresso?

An espresso is a hot, small drink brewed in 30 seconds and served in a small cup. It can be served plain or mixed with other ingredients to form your favorite hot drinks, such as a flat white, a mocha, and more.

Fun Fact:

Did you know that espresso is extracted over 45-60 seconds for a long black? 

Key differences between a cold brew and an espresso

If you’re looking to get more specific about what differences you can look for in these delicious and unique drinks, let’s take a look at the key differences! 


The cold brew originated in Japan, where it’s been made that way for centuries. It’s become popular worldwide more recently, and it could be because the internet offers easy connection and communication. An espresso, on the other hand, comes from Italy. For those experienced coffee drinkers, this probably isn’t surprising — Italy is known for robust coffee!


As different as these two drinks seem, I found it funny how their ingredients — when made authentically — are basically the same! Both are made using ground beans and water. A cold brew uses tap water, nothing warmer, and an espresso uses hot water. The brewing process, of course, is entirely different. I’ll get into that next!

Brewing process 

I was surprised to learn how much is involved with making a proper cold brew, so I found this interesting! A cold brew starts by putting your grounds into a sealable container and adding 1 cup (250 ml) of tap water. You’ll then close the container and steep the brew for 12-24 hours. How long depends primarily on your taste preference and patience.

Then, strain the coffee grounds out of the liquid. Pour the resulting liquid over a tall glass of ice, mix as desired, and enjoy! While the brewing process does take a while when you think about it, it’s an excellent choice for the summer months.

Espresso is made using an espresso maker, obviously. The beans are added to the maker, extracted and combined with hot water, and poured into a cup. The entire process takes about 30 seconds when made traditionally, and it’s served straight.


The serving size is pretty different between these two. A cold brew is about 1 cup (250 ml), or a bit more if you add in creamer or milk. The espresso will be 4 oz (118 ml) in comparison. 


For me, the taste difference is one of the fascinating parts of this comparison! The steeping process of a cold brew removes a lot of the acidity from the coffee, making it a great choice for those with digestive issues. It leaves a rich and full taste without the familiar bite of the coffee itself.

Espresso naturally has a vibrant, bright, and rich taste to it, too. It’s notoriously bitter and certainly has an acidic bite to it! The heat of it is a great choice for those that love a powerful and small shot to help boost their energy!

What is stronger: a cold brew or an espresso?

Now that I’ve talked about the taste and flavor profile, you probably think espresso will be the stronger of the two, right? It’s not the case, believe it or not! The espresso’s bitterness gives many drinkers the impression that they are inhaling the strongest caffeine content, which is why many choose it! However, the caffeine content in a cold brew is much higher because it takes more beans and a slower steeping process, which infuses more caffeine into the drink!

Regarding the strength of the flavor, it is a personal opinion here. A cold brew technically has a richer and fuller flavor because you’re taking more than just the natural acidity of the grounds. Those who have cold brews often will say that espresso can’t compete with the full flavor of the cold brew.

However, hardcore espresso lovers and drinkers will quickly say that a properly made espresso balances the acidity with a rich and robust flavor for the perfectly blended drink. There are also factors to consider, such as the temperature of the water and the extraction process.

So, which is correct? It depends on what you’re looking for! A cold brew is great for a rich and low-acid drink over ice. Espresso is great for a quick pick-me-up with a bitter taste from top to bottom. Which is going to be more matched to your own taste preferences?

Calories in a cold brew vs. an espresso

When coming at this from a calorie-counting perspective, you’ll find that espresso does win the competition. It only contains 0 to 3 calories. In comparison, a cold brew has the same calories as an iced coffee, according to Women’s Health Mag. This is about five calories, making it slightly higher than espresso. However, this is still much lower than many coffee shop concoctions you’ll find out there.

The other consideration when calorie counting is that many drinkers often will add creamer to a cold brew, as mentioned. So don’t forget to factor that into your counting! You can, of course, make your cold brew healthier by just drinking it straight!

Which is better: a cold brew or an espresso?

Deciding which of these delicious drinks is better depends on determining what is most important for your coffee-related adventure. If you want to keep things simple, an espresso is fast to make and drink. If you want to take more of an artisan approach, you’ll love the drawn-out and customizable approach that a cold brew offers! There’s also no rule that says you can’t avidly enjoy both…

This guide helps you to see the most important differences in taste, brewing, and overall aesthetic of a cold brew and espresso. The majority of the difference will be in the brewing process.

A cold brew steeps its grounds in tap water for 12-24 hours. Then the strained coffee is poured over ice and served straight or mixed with creamer. An espresso is made by extracting its contents with hot water and served straight, in most cases. Interestingly, a cold brew has a lower acid profile and a higher caffeine content than an espresso. Flavor-wise, a cold brew is rich and full, whereas express is vibrant and bitter. 

Know someone who will be a hardcore fan of one of these options? If so, consider sharing this with them and getting their thoughts on which is better!

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Robert Knowlton is an expert barista with more than 15 years of experience. Robert's main goal is to make sure everyone can enjoy the perfect cup of coffee regardless of their skill level.