Why You Should Ditch Your Cold Brew for Japanese Iced Coffee

I remember a few years ago when a small coffee shop near my house started carrying cold brew coffee. I heard about it from a friend who told me that, as a coffee lover, I absolutely had to try it.

Soon enough, people everywhere were swapping out their boring iced coffee for this artisanal beverage. Cold brewed coffee was special because it took hours to make and it removed a lot of the undesirable characteristics of the usual iced coffee. It was a fresh take on the stale taste of traditional iced coffee.

But if you’re one of the many people, like me, who just don’t think cold brew coffee is all it’s cracked up to be, fear not. Japanese iced coffee might be just what you’re looking for.

The Downside of Cold Brew

A common knock on cold brew is that, for many of us, the taste falls a bit flat. Some people taste a more “bold” iced coffee, while the rest of us taste an uninspiring drink at best and a stale or sour one at worst. This is all a result of the cold brewing process.

Cold brew is made by brewing coarse ground coffee in cold or room temperature water for about 12-24 hours. The brew time takes so long because, unlike conventionally brewed coffee, heat is never introduced and extraction happens at a much slower rate.

This brewing method is loved by so many people because it gives cold brew its trademark “bold” flavor and lower acidity. However, this method is also the reason that many cold brews lack complexity or may even taste sour. A sour taste in coffee is almost always a result of an under-extracted coffee, in this case usually due to the low water temperature along with either too large of a grind size or not enough brew time. 

Despite cold brew’s explosion in popularity over the last few years, it’s these downsides that led me to swap out my cold brew for Japanese iced coffee. They’re also the reason why, if you want a sweeter, fresher tasting iced coffee, you should do the same.

What is Japanese Iced Coffee?

Another innovation of Japanese coffee culture is their approach to iced coffee. To put it simply, Japanese iced coffee is a flash chilled iced coffee. You brew it almost exactly the same way you would a hot coffee. The difference with Japanese iced coffee is that you brew a concentrated coffee directly over ice. This produces a clean, aromatic, fresh-tasting cup of coffee.

Japanese Iced Coffee Hario V60 Recipe

You can use your choice of pour over dripper for this, but we’re going with the classic Hario v60.

For the Japanese method, you want to swap out half of your water for ice, making a concentrated brew. So if you would normally brew with 14 oz of water, only brew using 7 oz of water and brew directly over 7 oz of ice. The ice will melt and dilute the coffee to the ideal strength.

Tip: Measuring your water and coffee weight is the most efficient way to do this, but a helpful rule of thumb is that most ice cube trays make 1 oz ice cubes.

Make sure to use a slightly finer grind for iced coffee than you normally would for pour over.

Looking to get started on the Japanese Iced Coffee Method?

The SCA’s Peter Giuliano is largely credited with helping to bring Japanese iced coffee to the states. He also made a really great, short introduction and how to video when he was with Counter Culture:

Also see our guide to Japanese-style coffee makers.

You will also find alternative recipes with varying water/ice ratios to produce a different flavor.

The Benefit of the Japanese Iced Coffee Method

There are a few reasons why this method is beneficial. For one, brewing over ice flash chills the coffee in less than a second, locking in the flavor and aromatics and reducing oxidation. (Oxidation is what turns coffee, and other foods, stale and eventually rancid.)

The other benefit is a cleaner, more complex cup of coffee that brings out the floral or fruity notes of your coffee instead of muting them. The reason why these flavors are present in the Japanese method and not cold brew is due to the water temperatures used. To put it simply, some of the compounds that give coffee certain flavors or aromatic characteristics aren’t soluble in cold water.

So think of it like this: when you have an iced tea and add sugar, it either takes a lot of time and stirring to dissolve, or you end up drinking an iced tea with grains of sugar at the bottom. On the flip side, when you have hot tea and add sugar, it dissolves with a few stirs. The sugar breaks down and dissolves a lot easier in hot water than in cold water, and has a much richer sugary taste. 

Oh, So You’re Too Good for Cold Brew Now?

Nope! As with all things food and drink, it’s just a matter of preference. We all like what we like and personal taste matters. A lot of people enjoy cold brew and there are cafes who take great care to make a quality one, so if you’d like to treat me to a cold brew and prove me wrong, I won’t say no.

But for me, Japanese iced coffee is my go-to. Roasters work very hard to select and offer coffees based on tasting notes and aromas and I want a chance to experience them. I believe Japanese Iced Coffee lets us do that in ways that cold brew simply can’t.