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For restaurant operators, promoting seasonal beverages involves walking a fine line between flavor innovations and customer favorites. That high-wire act is playing in midscale, fast casual and quick service eateries in drinks both hot and iced. These signature sippers sport diverse impressions born of tart green apples, piquant spices, sweet-salty nuances and fragrant coconut.
This fall Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is offering the tart green apple and rich caramel sauce of the limited time Caramel Apple Chiller. At Rossopomodoro, an Italian restaurant in New York City, chef-owner Simone Falco crafts a seasonal caffè corretto, or spiked coffee, with nocillo, a traditional dark, sweet walnut liqueur of Naples available only briefly in the fall. Methodical Coffee in Greenville, South Carolina, features the Madame Alfred, a signature latte made with cold brew coffee and half and half shaken with Earl Grey simple syrup and orange oil. Cocoa Cinnamon in Durham, North Carolina, presents the Harvest Latte, a medley of housemade pumpkin seed and cinnamon syrup, ginger, allspice and cayenne, finished with a sprinkle of aromatic mace.
In general, operators are using more traditionally savory/spicy flavors in coffee and nonalcoholic beverages, reports Datassential, a research company.
Examples from Datassential MenuTrends Insider include Caribou Coffee’s Crème Brulee Boudino, which adds espresso, vanilla and caramel to steamed milk along with whipped cream, caramel sauce and a signature salt/sugar blend. Caribou also offers the Crème Brulee Boudino Cooler, a version blended with ice. Jamba Juice, a restaurant retailer based in Emeryville, California, with 800 locations, is touting health and flavor with its Green King Matcha smoothie, an antioxidant-rich blend of green matcha tea, almond milk, kale, bananas and dates. IHOP presents the Frosted Mint Hot Chocolate, featuring signature frosted mint syrup and whipped topping. Dunkin’ Donuts’ fall LTOs include the trio of Salted Caramel Coffee, Salted Caramel Latte and Salted Caramel Macchiato, all of which showcase sweet-salty palate contrasts.
Research suggests that there is a market opportunity for new fall flavor sensations such as those mentioned above. The research company Nielsen sees consumer tastes shifting to more complex combinations of spicy and sweet flavors in products ranging from snack chips to yogurt to chile mocha coffees. “Sweet and spicy” products have increased in dollar sales by 26 percent, and “spicy sweet chili products” have increased in dollar sales by 18 percent, Nielsen says.
Tingling tongues this fall are Starbucks’ Chile Mocha and Hot Chocolate Chile Mocha, which are flavored with cocoa, cinnamon and vanilla plus ancho and cayenne chile for a kick. Marie Callender’s Restaurant & Bakery menus Mexican Hot Chocolate with housemade cocoa spiced with cayenne and cinnamon.
At Au Bon Pain, the Boston-based bakery-café chain, corporate executive chef Katherine See is anticipating the flavors of the future. “We are excited to think about sweet potato and apple and cranberry, those wonderful flavors that are here in the fall,” says See.
In the future See expects savory flavors to increase in seasonal beverages, including ingredients borrowed from the bar world, minus the alcohol, of course. “A few years ago you saw jalapeño-infused drinks and basil-infused drinks,” says See. “I think that will trickle down into nonalcoholic beverages.”
When it comes to seasonal beverages, Peet’s Coffee “is passionate about exploring new and exciting flavor profiles and leveraging special ingredients that provide customers with a one-of-a-kind beverage experience,” says Patrick Main, senior R&D manager of the Emeryville,California-based specialty coffee chain. Peet’s reintroduced coconut as a limited time menu offering during the summer in drinks like the Coconut Crème Latte, Coconut Crème Javiva and Coconut Black Tie.
In some cases a Peet’s limited time offering becomes so popular it transcends the seasons and becomes a permanent menu item. Such is the status of the Coconut Crème Javiva, a blended beverage made with the company’s new dairy-free Whipped Coconut Cream.
In addition, Peet’s has actively explored cold brew coffee since converting its cafés to cold brew in 2015. An example is the Black Tie, a signature beverage made with layers of sweetened condensed milk, cold brew Baridi Blend coffee, chicory-infused simple syrup and a float of half and half.
“When our team considers introducing or reincorporating any new ingredient or product, we are entirely committed to making sure the ingredient impacts and enhances the flavors of our coffee beverages, rather than simply replacing an existing ingredient for the sake of replacing it,” says Main. “This was certainly the case with our coconut line and array of other limited time offerings.”
In the fall the flavor focus at Peet’s is traditionally on the familiar and comfortable, Main notes, including “warm, cozy flavors like natural maple.”