Summertime used to be a bust for coffee — then the world met cold brew.
Believe it or not, “cold brew” refers to the process of creating the coffee drink, not its temperature. Technically, it can be served hot or iced, though cold seems to be the preference. To make the drink, coarsely ground coffee is steeped in water for 12 to 24 hours. This heat-free process mutes the drink’s perceived acidity and results in a profile that is smoother and sweeter than a traditional coffee. It also extracts more caffeine, creating a comparably stronger drink.
It’s not that cold brew is overly complicated to make; it just takes time. It also isn’t new. Before Starbucks added the drink to its US menu in March 2015, the craft sector had already paved the way for the drink with a variety of artisanal, RTD products. But since then, cold brew has seen rapid, widespread adoption. Naturally, increased competition in the category has fueled innovation, much to the delight of coffee lovers everywhere.
From flavor to formulation to branding, here’s some of the ways drink companies are making their products stand out in a sea of cold brew offers.
It’s no secret that coffee gets much of its flavor from how it is grown, processed, roasted, ground, and brewed; but thanks to advancements in flavor technology, beverage developers can also create specific flavor experiences that enhance coffee’s natural qualities.
Flavors like maple, mocha, vanilla, cappuccino, and dark chocolate are now staples in many cold brew product lines — but beverage developers haven’t stopped there. Consumers can now choose from novelties like toasted coconut, bourbon vanilla, and even lemonade varietals.
To top off their signature cold brew, Starbucks recently launched a new line of cold foam flavors to its permanent menu nationwide. They now offer cinnamon and dark cocoa cold foam — both made with almondmilk. These join the brand’s existing cinnamon oatmilk, salted honey, and salted caramel cream cold foam flavors. Another chain, Peet’s Coffee, is also upping their cold brew game. Peet’s now offers 11 different drink variations, the latest being summer flavors like strawberry vanilla, horchata, and citrus cremesicle.
Cross-category adaptions utilizing juices and teas are becoming more common, while sugar-free, dairy-free, organic, nitrogen-infused, and even alcoholic offers continue steady growth. RTD brands offer on-the-go convenience while concentrates allow consumers to more readily customize their cold brew fix with add-ins like milk, water, and more.
Pursuing a “functional plus” approach to formulation has also proven beneficial as brands look to separate themselves from the competition. As consumers seek out their next caffeine fix, they’re also looking for the bonus of other functional ingredients like protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, and even CBD.
Of course, marketing in alignment with a product’s flavors and formulation continues to be important. For cold brew, successful branding seems to follow existing trends that favor responsibly and sustainably sourced ingredients, as well as the inclusion of premium and specialty ingredients.
A great example is Omni Bev, which uses a blend of these approaches to brand itself as the “world’s first authentically Vietnamese cold brew coffee.” Its signature Coconut Matcha Cold Brew is made in small batches from coffee harvested directly from Da Lat, Vietnam, which is then brewed and bottled in California. Marketed toward health-conscious consumers, the brand emphasizes the health properties of its star ingredients, matcha and coconut milk.
The Future of Cold Brew
Growth opportunities for cold brew span beyond the specialty and premium RTD sectors — and not just in the US. According to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global cold brew market size is on track to reach $1.63 billion by 2025, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.1%. Health and wellness will remain primary drivers for this growth, as will increased demand for functionality and brand transparency in ingredient quality and sourcing.
As the category continues to evolve with new flavor combinations, we’re sure to see more textural elements appear in the form of carbonated and layered drink creations. Formulations that utilize plant-based milks to enhance the smooth taste and velvety texture of cold brew will also provide new pathways of opportunity.
Mirroring other coffee offers, traditional seasonal flavors (think pumpkin spice and peppermint) will be a natural next step for existing brands as we near the fall and winter months. It remains to be seen if colder weather will prompt consumers to try hot versions of this summer staple, so we won’t rule that out just yet.
Whatever the future holds for cold brew, it’s sure to change what the world is drinking.
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