What's the Difference Between Cold Brew, Pour-Over, and More Types of Coffee?

Hear it from a coffee pro!

<p>Svetlana_nsk/Getty Images</p>

Svetlana_nsk/Getty Images

Not all coffees are the same. In fact, there are several different types of coffee. And if you’ve been inundated with coffee jargon, just ordering a cup of java can feel overwhelming. Coffee isn’t just coffee—it’s pour-over, drip, cold brew, and several more terms that refer to the way coffee goes from grounds to a beverage. And while they’re all coffee, your preferences may differ based on how strong, caffeinated, and at which temperature you like to sip your cup of joe. Let this be your guide to the main brewing styles to help you find, order, or make your ideal cup of coffee.

Cold Brew

Cold brew is coffee that’s served cold and steeped cold. “When producing cold brew, coffee grounds are steeped for 8-24 hours, and then filtered or strained to create a cold brew concentrate,” says Jordan Karcher, founder of Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co. “This concentrate can be very strong, so the addition of water or milk is recommended prior to serving. Somewhat surprisingly, there is not a meaningful difference in caffeine between iced coffee and cold brew. However, depending on how much or how little you dilute your cold brew, the strength can vary widely.”

Nitro Cold Brew

Nitro cold brew is popular at cafes because it’s efficient to serve, but it can’t be made at home unless you have a keg or tap system. “Nitro brew is basically cold brew that is infused with nitrogen gas right before it's poured,” Karcher explains. “The addition of nitrogen gas creates a thick, creamy texture similar to a stout beer, like Guinness.” Typically, nitro cold brew isn’t served on ice since it’s already cold.

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Iced Coffee

Also served cold, iced coffee is distinct from cold brew in both brewing method and flavor. “Iced coffee is simply hot coffee brewed over ice and served over ice,” says Karcher. “Two significant factors impact the taste of the coffee when brewing hot coffee and serving over ice. First, the process of brewing hot coffee results in more acidity, as well as more antioxidants, than cold brew. Second, by brewing hot coffee and then serving over ice, the dilution occurs from the melting ice, which results in a more watered-down final product.” 

To make iced coffee or at home, Karsh recommends using a rich and full-bodied dark roast blend, coarsely ground. “For iced coffee, be sure to brew the coffee stronger than a standard cup due to the ice diluting the coffee,” Karcher advises. “I recommend one tablespoon of coffee for every three ounces of water, around twice the strength of a standard cup of coffee.”

Drip Brew

Drip is the most common style of brewed coffee in America, and the style most automatic coffee makers brew. “At its base level, all brewed coffee is simply hot water and fine particles of coffee,” Karcher notes. “When comparing the differences between drip coffee and coffee brewed pour-over style, the most significant difference is time and control. Drip coffee is made using an automated coffee maker that is quick, easy to use, and consistently produces a quality cup of coffee. As long as you're putting in the same ratio of coffee grounds to water, you are almost always guaranteed a smooth, flavorful cup of coffee every time.”

Pour-Over Coffee

Pour-over is a specific type of brewed coffee often used at specialty coffee shops, or at home using pour-over equipment. It’s a manual process that offers the brewer more control over the brewing process—including temperature, water to bean ratios, and extraction time—to create the ideal cup for the coffee drinker. “This method allows you to change up the ratio of grounds to water, so you can decide if you want a fuller or lighter flavor,” Karcher says. “Because the pour-over process takes longer than drip coffee, it means that the water has more time to extract the coffee's oils, which often produces a more robust flavor, regardless of how much water and grounds you use.”


Espresso requires specialized equipment to make—either an automatic or manual espresso machine—and is a concentrated brew served in a much smaller cup than your standard coffee mug. “Espresso is much more intense than regular drip coffee due to the finer grind, pressurized brewing method, and lower grounds to water ratio,” Karcher shares. “Drip coffee uses a coarser grind, more water, and gravity to create the final brew, which results in less sediment [coffee particles] making it into the brewed cup.”

And while some beans are marked espresso beans, they can also be used in drip, pour-over, or cold brew coffee making. ”A great espresso blend should be as delicious as an espresso, as well as a drip coffee,” Karcher adds. “The common misconception is that espresso beans should be extremely dark, such as Italian roast, and often a mix of robusta and Arabica coffee. However, most premium coffee shops will use a medium or medium-dark roast blend with a wide range of tasting notes, acidity, and body.”

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The only difference between a ristretto and an espresso is the brewing method, as both use espresso beans. “Ristretto is basically a stronger form of espresso that uses less water and less pressure when brewing,”  Karcher says. “Most cafes will typically only serve a double shot due to how small the amount is when a single shot is brewed.”

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