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Consumers are looking for new ways to enjoy coffee, and operators are satisfying this demand by showcasing innovative beverages that feature a variety of syrups, milks and nontraditional flavors. Meanwhile, many restaurants are menuing cold brew and other chilled variations to boost coffee’s appeal — especially during the warm summer months.
According to the National Coffee Association’s 2018 National Coffee Drinking Trends report, the number of U.S. consumers who say they drank coffee within the past day has increased. Among the study results: Past day consumption of coffee was 64 percent, an increase from 62 percent in 2017 and 57 percent in 2016. Past-day consumption of non-espresso-based beverages, which includes frozen blended coffee drinks, nitro coffee and cold brew, was 7 percent. (Nitro coffee is coffee which has added nitrogen to give it a frothy top.)
“From the iced coffee made in-house to the popularization of nitro cold brew, coffee is taking on new forms and elevating the experience for customers,” says Colby Barr, co-founder and coffee buyer of Verve Coffee Roasters. “Operators are finding ways to create cold brew products that have a spin on them but remain fairly clean-label in their make-up.
“Also the use of alternative milks will be something we will see more and more of.” At Verve, with cafes in Santa Cruz, Calif., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Japan, the newest beverage is the Nitro Honey Lavender Latte, made with a choice of whole milk or almond milk, and fresh, local honey and lavender.
Another flavor trend is florals and acidic juices, says Todd Carmichael, CEO and founder of Philadelphia-based La Colombe. “For many, many years coffee and milks have gone together,” he says. “Now we are starting to see juices replace the milk, offering new flavors to cold brews.” In the spring La Colombe debuted a Honeysuckle Draft Latte, featuring the use of floral ingredients in coffee.
The real trend, Carmichael says, is texture. “People are looking to get the texture of a hot latte or cappuccino, in the form of a cold, mobile beverage,” he says.
Flavors have long been a trend with coffee, but now consumers are looking beyond the customary vanilla or caramel, says Noah Burgess, research and development scientist for the 80-plus location Juice It Up! “Consumers enjoy adding other flavors and ingredients to their cold brew to really bring out the amazing flavor of the rich coffee.”
One new menu item at Juice It Up! is the PB Cold Brew Mocha Smoothie, which features a blend of soy milk, non-fat yogurt, cold brew coffee, chocolate, creamy peanut butter, protein powder and banana. “We wanted to offer our guests cold-brew options that were unique in their flavor profile and presentation, while still remaining affordable,” Burgess says. “When cold brew first emerged, it was seen as a high-end beverage, so we wanted to bring it to our customers as an easy and inexpensive purchase option.”
Creamy flavor with or without cream
Coconut is another on-trend flavor. At Phoenix Coffee Company, with five locations in Cleveland, the Coconut Water Latte is made with cold brew. Christopher Feran, director of coffee, says the drink is especially popular with the fitness crowd because it contains caffeine and electrolytes. “It tastes like tiramisu,” he says.
Consumers also want a creamy beverage. “We've seen an increased interest in our Nitro Cold Brew on tap,” says Hannah Ulbrich, owner of Copper Door Coffee Roasters in Denver. “It adds a creamy mouthfeel without adding cream to the coffee.”
Another popular trend is making cocktails and mocktails with cold brew, Ulbrich says. “Since specialty coffee innately has so many layers of flavors, it's a wonderful base for building creative drinks.”
For some, the appeal of these new beverages is sweetness and creaminess. At Milktooth, a “fine diner” in Indianapolis, one of the most popular drinks is The Notorious F.I.G., a glass of cold brew with fig-amaro simple syrup served with a shot of milk on the side. “This creates a slightly sweet — and creamy, if you so choose — cold-brew-based drink that is incredibly smooth,” says coffee manager Kate Lockhart. “We also offer a house-made hazelnut cashew milk as a dairy alternative to those who desire it.”
Milktooth does not dilute the cold-brew concentrate with water when it is served. “We prefer to let the ice in the glass slightly melt as you drink it to balance it throughout the drinking experience,” Lockhart says.
To dilute or not dilute is the question in the cold-brew space. “Some cold-brew products are brewed at higher than normal strength and water is added to dilute after brewing,” says Chris Ayers, managing director at Barista Parlor in Nashville, Tenn. “We don't dilute ours at all, but we also do not utilize a really intense ratio as we wanted something that could be enjoyed black or with sugar and cream.”
While cold brew is getting much of the attention these days, iced coffee is still popular, especially in sparkling beverages. The newest addition at Barista Parlor is BP Coffee Soda, with house-made vanilla simple syrup, citric acid, garnished with an expressed orange peel.
Other cold coffees
Devoción in New York serves a sparkling cascara, which CEO Steven Sutton says is the top seller during the summer. Cascara is the skins of the coffee fruit, and Devoción adds water and CO2 for the carbonation. “It doesn’t taste like roasted coffee because it’s not roasted,” he says. “It’s sweet and refreshing.”
Global flavors are also hot now, and the latest example of that trend is Vietnamese Cold Brew Coffee, says Nurit Raich, senior director of product innovation at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which has 1,200 locations globally. “We use our dark roast cold-brew coffee and combine it with sweetened condensed milk to create our version of this wildly popular Vietnamese café drink.” In June The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf kicked off summer with a $2 cold-brew coffee and cold-brew tea special.
Whether it’s trendy cold brew or traditional iced coffee, coffee is evolving to meet the demands of consumers of all ages.