Hot, iced, Americano, lattes, cappuccinos…The possibilities are endless for a java junkie.
Recently on the market, a new coffee king has emerged, cold brew coffee. A trend driven by millennials, cold brew coffee sales have jumped drastically by over 100% in just over a one-year time frame.
But what exactly is this cold brew coffee that we are seeing appear in local coffee shops and chains nationwide? Cold brew coffee (AKA cold water extract) should not be confused with iced coffees.
Cold brew coffee is brewed with room temperature water and slowly, steeping for 10-20 hours, while on the other hand, iced coffee is hot brewed coffee poured over ice. With cold brew, there is absolutely no heat involved in the brewing process.
So What is The Big Deal?
There is an abundance of conversation that cold brew coffee has the nutritional advantage due to its decrease* in acidity directly related to its brewing process.
Because cold brew coffee is not brewed at a high temperature, the oxidation of coffee oils and degradation of acid components in the coffee occur at a much slower rate compared to the traditional hot brew, thus having bitterness and acidity pretty much eliminated in the end product.
The lower temperature of the cold brewed coffee also contributes to a decreased* solubility (the capability of coffee grounds to absorb into the water) of the coffee products, attributing to its smoother taste, decrease* in aromatics, and don’t forget longer brew time. Some have described cold brew coffee as smooth and sweeter due to this while others have characterized it as dull and flat.
Nonetheless, we cannot yet make generalizations about the brew of the coffee due to a great amount of different variables that can ultimately affect the nutrient and flavor profile from cup to cup.
Some will attest that because the coffee to water ratio of a cold brew is much higher than the traditional hot brew, the caffeine content of the coffee is increased; perfect for those looking for that java jolt they need throughout the day.
However, there are several factors that can contribute to this including bean type, temperature, time, and grind size. Ultimately, the higher coffee to water ratio does increase* the caffeine but the longer steep time inadvertently causes a decrease* to the caffeine content.
Therefore, is there really a difference? Most likely not.
One of the main nutritional components that is under major discussion as a health benefit for cold brew coffee is its decrease* in acidity and benefit for individual’s with GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease), reflux, pain, and heartburn.
According to the American Gastroenterological Association, “more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month and 15 million suffer from it daily”.
GERD, a condition causing heartburn, food regurgitation, sore throats, nausea and a plethora of other symptoms, can be treated with some medications. However, the use of any long term medication will almost always cause more problems that what they were intended to achieve.
One of the best ways to combat the symptoms of GERD is with the use of diet and monitoring of food items that exacerbate symptoms. It is a known fact that coffee is most often associated with GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease), reflux, pain, and heartburn.
That being said, a cold brew coffee, with less* acidity, is ideal for those combating such conditions. Unfortunately, there has not been a sufficient amount of research with regard to this topic.
Some studies show a decrease* of acidity by as much as 1/3 the amount of a normal 8 oz. cup of coffee while others are showing no significant difference in gastric symptoms when drinking hot vs. cold brew coffee.
Conditions such as acid reflux and GERD also are dependent on many other factors than just acidity of a drink such as carbonation, caffeine amount, alcohol, and diet/lifestyle factors.
Some also argue that hot coffee is slightly better* with regard to acidity due to the types of acids that hot brewed coffee contains. When decreasing* the acidity using a cold brew method, we also decrease* the amount of chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant in traditionally hot brewed coffee.
In the end, there is not enough research to make a sound decision as to whether cold brew coffee has more health benefits than hot. There is still a lot of ground that needs to be covered in the cold brew nutrition realms, and until then we cannot make any conclusions.
What can be said though is that there has been plenty of research on regularly, hot, brewed coffee? Coffee has been shown to have a significant amount of antioxidants as well as a positive contribution to the health of our gastrointestinal tracts.
As a registered dietitian, I believe that the decision to drink cold brew over hot brew should be individually based. No body is the same and what may work for some may not for others.
If you are an individual who has struggled with GERD, reflux, pain, or heartburn for years and have found cold brew coffee to work magnificently for you, then go for it! Or if you are a consumer and just like the taste and flavor profile of cold brew over hot, more power to you! The nutrition benefits are trivial, and the general purpose of the drink – i.e. the caffeine – is almost equivalent.
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