Sponsored by S&D Coffee & Tea
The hot and thirsty days of summer are approaching. It’s a great time for operators to promote cold brew coffee, the smooth-tasting, on-trend, caffeinated refresher with a special appeal to young adults.
Cold brew, made by steeping ground coffee in cold or ambient-temperature water for 12 to 24 hours, is quite different from conventional iced coffee made by simply chilling hot brewed java. The former has a smoother, less acidic taste and more caffeine than the latter.
Although cold brew has been common in coffee shops for a while, it continues to be a niche product in restaurants. Nevertheless, it is growing dramatically from a small base. Last year 2.2 percent of restaurants offered cold brew, according to MenuTrends research from Chicago-based Datassential. That represents a 48.5 percent growth rate compared to 2015, and a 528.6 percent growth rate compared to 2012.
The customer base may be small, but it includes consumers who are prized by restaurant operators. “The push is being led by younger generations,” says Datassential custom research analyst Mark Angelini. In a Datassential Buzz survey of consumers who understand that cold brew is different from iced coffee, 58 percent of millennials had tried cold brew compared with just 33 percent of the general population.
“Our younger, up-and-coming, next-generation coffee consumers are consuming the most cold brew now,” says Jenifer Hagness, senior director of marketing and product innovation for Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee. Cold Press — the chain’s 12-hour-steeped, full-bodied, medium-roast cold brew — has been a signature item for many years.
Cold Press sales have been “taking off” for the last 24 months, Hagness says. For variety, there is also a line of Iced Crafted Press beverages which add a touch of milk and cane sugar to cold brew. Iced Crafted Press drinks are less sweet and indulgent than many of the blended coffees on the market today — a medium serving has 100 calories. “Some consumers come in for coffee every day, but most are probably not coming in for a highly indulgent coffee beverage every single day,” says Hagness.
Customization, with dairy, soy or almond milk, various sweeteners and flavored syrups, is common. Come summer Hagness sees patrons personalizing Iced Crafted Press coffees with caramel, chocolate and vanilla flavor shots, all clean label products now at Caribou.
Jeff Mahin, chef-partner of Summer House Santa Monica, a restaurant concept with three locations in the Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurant group, is a pioneer of cold brew on tap, offering black and iced latte flavors. Tap cold brew is a base for specialty beverages, such as black & tan, a mixture of the two tap flavors, and iced Havana latte, made with sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, cayenne and ginger.
The emergence of numerous brands of flavored, packaged cold brews at retail, in unique flavors like honey-lemon and citrus-ginger, may broaden the tastes of coffee drinkers, Mahin says. “It has grown to the point where [cold brews] have their own section of the supermarket now,” he notes.
Looking ahead to summer at Summer House Santa Monica, Mahin predicts a big following for cold brew ice cream floats and cold brew lattes made with ingredients like almond milk and coconut milk. “Coconut always makes me think of summer,” he says.
Like many foods and beverages, cold brew can be made from scratch or bought prepared from a vendor. The former approach works for some operators able to commit the time, kitchen space and labor to a process that involves steeping coffee for up to 24 hours, straining out the grounds and cleaning up afterwards. Others save time and labor and ensure consistency by purchasing it.
Mahin follows the latter path with the Summer House Santa Monica taps. “I can make cold brew from scratch in the restaurant with a lot of care,” says Mahin. “But most of the time, someone else would be making it, maybe with not as much care. I would rather rely on someone who I know is always going to give me a great product.”
“If I can make something better than I can buy it, I will make it,” adds Mahin. “If I can’t make it better, I will buy it from someone who makes a product that I will be really proud to serve.”
Collaborating with a coffee specialist offers the opportunity to select a desired cold brew flavor profile from a variety of coffee origins, blends and roasts. “It is far more beneficial, and far more artisan, to work directly with the maker of the coffee,” says Mahin.