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In just a few years cold brew coffee has evolved from a coffee bar novelty into a hot-selling retail product and a signature refreshment beverage in many restaurants.
Esteemed for its smoother taste, lower acidity and higher caffeine, the long-steeped elixir is energizing coffee sales after breakfast, attracting younger consumers with flavored variations and starring at the bar in signature cold brew cocktails.
Indeed, cold brew coffee ranked second among on-trend nonalcoholic beverages in the National Restaurant Association What’s Hot 2018 Culinary Forecast, with 55 percent of respondents judging it “hot.” In its trend roundup, the hospitality consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co. declares that cold brew is “here to stay,” with novel flavors like horchata, lavender honey and cardamom rose bursting forth.
Innovation springs forth
Innovation is dynamic in the cold brew spectrum. Operators are leveraging various syrups, toppings and infusions for flavoring effect and inventing cold foamy toppings akin to the steamed milk on hot coffee beverages. For example, Peet’s Coffee’s launched its Coconut Cold Brew Fog featuring cold brew blended with coconut, honey and lemonade. Starbucks introduced the Iced Cold Foam Cappuccino, sporting a frothy crown made by blending nonfat milk until smooth. And recently, the Seattle-based chain introduced Protein Blended Cold Brew in two flavors — almond and cacao — featuring alternative milks, plant-based protein, banana date fruit blend and ice.
The blog of Food and Drink Resources, a culinary consulting agency in Centennial, Colo., reports that coffee innovators are riffing on cold brew by infusing it with flavorings like hops, cocoa nibs and chicory and aging it in whiskey barrels.
Popular with customers
Given its growing acceptance and notoriety, cold brew scores points with restaurant customers, operators say. “When people see cold brew on the menu, they say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s awesome. It’s cool that you guys have this,’” says Johan Engman, founder and owner of the seven Breakfast Republic restaurants based in San Diego.
Engman’s eateries are riding the cold brew wave with organic nitro-infused cold brew, the Cocky 12, a highly caffeinated cold brew extracted for 12 hours and the Sweetie Cocky 12, the latter plus vanilla and half and half.
At Giant Coffee in Phoenix, cold brew coffee sales have increased by 25 percent over the past year, reports owner Matt Pool. Five-gallon batches steep there for 24 hours becoming a flavorful concentrate.
He sees cold brew as an option for patrons who seek a caffeine boost with a smoother flavor profile than hot coffee and an alternative to packaged energy drinks. “If you are looking for a pick-me-up with less sugar, cold brew is a way to go,” he says.
What’s more, the product is an afternoon sales booster. “That’s when we definitely sell a lot more iced beverages,” says Pool, particularly the Iced Honey Vanilla Latte, a house specialty featuring organic milk, organic vanilla syrup and locally gathered honey.
Starring at the bar
A trio of cold brew coffee cocktails is creating excitement and higher bar revenues for Another Broken Egg Café, a chain of breakfast, brunch and lunch restaurants based in Miramar Beach, Fla. French roast cold brew forms the base of all three. Spiked Vanilla Cold Brew sports vanilla-flavored vodka, espresso flavoring and a rum cream liqueur topping. Spiked Salted Caramel Cold Brew combines cold brew with Irish cream liqueur and coffee liqueur in a glass with a salted caramel rim. And the Spiked Spiced Rum Cold Brew features spiced rum, espresso flavoring and coconut cream topping. They are served in mason jars embossed with the Another Broken Egg Café logo.
“I’m seeing more and more of these cold brews going out, increasing our bar sales,” says beverage manager Sondra Wescoat.
The creamy toppings that sit atop the Spiked Vanilla and Spiked Spiced Rum Cold Brews “create a layered look, almost like a true Irish Coffee,” says Wescoat.
Looking ahead, Wescoat envisions further flavor exploration in cold brews, including a chocolate peanut butter version made with ingredients shared by the brand’s culinary side.
At Breakfast Republic, the Horchata Cold Brew was a popular summer specialty cocktail, combining local horchata-flavored vodka with the house nitro cold brew. Engman says that the eye-catching effect created when nitro coffee cascades into the glass stimulates impulse sales: “If you see the bartender making it, it almost makes you want to order it.”
Across the foodservice spectrum, cold brew coffee is emerging as a must-have menu item. Today’s cold brew enthusiasts are eager to explore new flavor variations and presentations of their favorite refresher.