Updated: August 15, 2023
Convenient. Tasty. Healthy.
Now, pick two.
As a general rule, that’s how it goes when we choose our beverages. And it’s why we love the convenience and flavors of drive-thru cold coffee. But when we find out some cold brew coffee drinks have 86 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of nearly three Snickers bars, we can throw “healthy” out the window.
Cold brew coffee is unique. It doesn’t need to pair with a quart of ice cream to taste good. When you know what you’re looking for—and what makes a good cold brew coffee—you can do something rare. You can nail all three points.
IS COLD BREW HEALTHY?
On its own, sure. Here’s what makes cold brew work so well: coffee is already healthy. Consider:
One study found an 8% boost in heart health for every cup of coffee consumed daily
A cohort of over 200,000 subjects found a slight decrease in mortality with moderate coffee consumption
- Scientists found an inverse association between Type 2 diabetes and coffee consumption
By itself, coffee is a healthy beverage with all sorts of positive effects. It’s when you add the other stuff—sugar and cream, caramel syrup, sprinkles that have their own sprinkles—that these effects lose their nutritional punch.
If you want to find a healthy cold brew, you need to find one that sticks to the basics.
And when you do that? Your cold brew could actually be even healthier than a traditional, hot cup of joe. According to a Harvard nutrition expert, cold brew coffee is less acidic than regular coffee, which means you don’t need as much (or any) cream, milk, or sugar to make it palatable. And as an added bonus, lower acidity also means cold brew is easier on your stomach.
FINDING THE HEALTHIEST COLD BREW: HOW TO READ THE IMPORTANT COLD BREW NUTRITION FACTS
Not sure what cold brew to choose? All you need to know is how to read the cold brew nutritional information included on the label. Here are a few key spots to check out:
Calories: Cold brew calorie info is a dead giveaway for its health profile. Some perfectly healthy food (like salmon) is packed with energy density. But coffee isn’t one of them, so keep your eye on the overall calorie content. What counts as a low calorie cold brew? Anything with 50 calories or more per serving is an immediate red flag—that kind of energy density probably comes from calorie-rich, nutrition-scarce food like sugar. Our Cold Brew on Tap packs plenty of flavor with just 10 calories per serving.
Sodium: Too much salt is a problem: high blood pressure, kidney problems, you name it. Cold brew coffee doesn’t need a lot of salt. In our Cold Brew on Tap, there’s only 3mg of sodium per serving, not enough to even hit 1% of the daily recommended value. In contrast, you’ll get 15 mg of sodium in a grande cold brew from Starbucks.
Ingredients: The fewer, the better. Ingredients make all sorts of new opportunities for trouble. Sugar. Cream. Enough preservatives to keep the coffee in permanent hibernation. One tip for reading ingredients: The FDA requires that the ingredients start with the highest totals first. Keep in mind that some companies get around this by using different kinds of sugars, like corn syrup, to decrease the amount of each individual ingredient.
Ideally, the ingredients list should short and simple look like what you’ll see on our Cold Brew on Tap:
SWEET WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES: WHAT TO ADD TO A HEALTHY COLD BREW
Find a smooth and tasty cold brew, and you don’t need to add anything to it—it’s delicious on its own, straight out of the box. But if you’re somebody who likes to play the role of barista in your own kitchen, you certainly can pour and mix to your heart’s desire.
Remember, this is the area to tread carefully if you’re trying to stick with a healthy cold brew. Things like packaged and flavored creamers and syrups are often dripping with sugar and other additives. The good news is there are plenty of other healthy alternatives you can add to your cup of cold caffeine:
Sprinkle in some cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom for some extra flavor.
Use a plant-based milk like oat milk or almond milk rather than a heavy creamer. These non-dairy milks are lower in both fat and calories.
Add pure maple syrup for some added sweetness. It’s all natural, but bear in mind that it’s still naturally high in sugar and calories.
- Mix your favorite protein powder with your cold brew to get some added power with your morning kick.
Cold brew is coffee in its most convenient form. But we think that it’s best if you go straight to the source. That way, you get to choose what you add to it. Or, perhaps more importantly: what you don’t.