Trendy cold brew and nitro iced coffees, signature flavored iced teas and tea-based kombucha drinks are opening up new sales and profit opportunities for restaurant operators.
For example, Sweet Tea Ice Blended® Beverages in blood orange, passion fruit and pineapple flavors are spring headliners for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, a Los Angeles-based chain with more than 1,000 locations worldwide, including 320 in the United States.
The new creations, which are brewed from loose-leaf Assam black tea and flavored with fruit sauces, are “beautiful to look at as well as to drink,” says Adam Tabachnikoff, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s senior vice president of global brand strategy. “Products with fresh flavors are on point with what our customers in Southern California are seeking.”
The newcomers join a menu containing a notable breadth of chilled options. Those include Original Ice Blended® Drinks and Iced Coffee and Espresso Drinks, offered in flavors such as mocha, vanilla, white chocolate caramel, and Thai Tea, a promotional item which is making a return appearance. It is made with robust black tea and sweet, creamy condensed milk.
An iced product conjures a different experience than a steaming morning cup of java. “A hot beverage sets a warm, mellow feeling, while an iced beverage cools you off, picks you up and gives a pivot to your mood,” Tabachnikoff says.
The varied choices on the Coffee Bean menu often inspire customers to create their own customized beverage expressions by requesting additional flavors, sauces or even chocolate covered coffee beans — one of Tabachnikoff’s favorite flourishes. “The menu is a starting point, and from there, each guest can launch into what they like,” says Tabachnikoff.
In Minneapolis, kombucha drinks, nitro coffee and smoothies blended with kale, broccoli, spinach and fruits set apart the beverage program of Mill Valley Kitchen from the typical fine-dining restaurant. “They are one of our main points of difference,” says Bijan Berenjian, a front of the house manager. “They are all very healthy and very natural.”
In fact, Mill Valley was one of the first restaurants in the Twin Cities to offer kombucha, the tangy, fizzy, probiotic fermented tea beverage, on tap, when it opened five years ago. Made from green tea by a local vendor, it is poured straight as well as mixed into specialty drinks. An example of the latter is the Whey Cooler, a medley of kombucha, whey protein strained from the ricotta cheese made in the kitchen, orange and lime. “People love the idea of the health benefits of fermented products,” says Berenjian. “We have people coming in for kombucha to go all the time.”
Three months ago Mill Valley was among the first eateries in the area to feature nitro cold brew coffee on tap, prepared by a local coffee roaster. “We put it on our tap system so we can serve it fresh all the time” says Berenjian. “Some restaurants around here have it in cans, but not many have it on tap, with the freshness and quality we have.”
The nitro brew’s bold flavor and silky mouth feel — the latter created by infusing the brew with nitrogen gas in the tap system — are winning a growing following. “A lot of the younger generation of customers know about it,” says Berenjian. “Another year from now, it will be one of the biggest things around.”
Looking ahead, Berenjian envisions using the nitro as a springboard for new flavored seasonal beverages. “We will definitely mix the coffee, especially when it gets warm here,” says Berenjian. “Summer is only three months long in Minneapolis and people want to stay awake for it.”
One of the most significant selling points for iced coffee and tea drinks is their all-day appeal. “You can enjoy them in the morning or the mid-morning, at lunch, in the afternoon or in the evening,” says Robert Cole, senior vice president of marketing for Royal Cup Coffee & Tea. “They complement a lot of different options and dayparts.”
Gaining particular notoriety is cold brew coffee, which has a smoother and less acidic flavor profile than hot coffee, because it is steeped in room temperature water for 12 to 24 hours. “It seems that every week there is a new cold brew entry into the marketplace, whether at retail or on restaurant menus,” Cole says.
Nitro iced coffee also continues to grow. “The cascading head provides a unique, delightful and refreshing drinking experience,” says Cole. “It creates a new beverage category that expands the occasion, the experience and the revenue for operators.”