Cold-Brew Coffee Isn’t Just for Hipsters Anymore

Adding this purer, less bitter brew to your menu could be a smooth move.
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As consumer awareness of cold-brew coffee grows, the expectation for your business to provide it builds as well. (Photo: P-fotography/Shutterstock)

Lattes, macchiatos and iced coffees are old news. Cold-brewed coffee is taking its turn in the spotlight among coffee lovers — and not just hipsters. According to research by market intelligence agency Mintel, cold-brew coffee sales increased by 580 percent between 2011 and 2016, showing an upsurge in demand from the mainstream market as well.

You’ve heard of the slow food movement. Think of cold-brewed coffee as a slow beverage movement.

If you’re a coffee shop or cafe owner and you aren’t yet capitalizing on the trend, it may be worth considering. Here’s what you need to know about this new “craft coffee.”

Related: 5 Coffeehouse Trends that Could Perk Up Your Business

The cold-brew method

What’s so different? Technique, said Peter Femino, owner of Boston Common Coffee Co. With iced coffee, you refrigerate traditional drip coffee. But cold-brew systems keep the product chilled throughout the brewing process.

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Cold-brew coffee is a form of brewing that extracts the pure qualities of the coffee bean, according to Peter Femino, owner of Boston Common Coffee Co. (Photo: Peter Femino)

Of course, as with making sun tea instead of pouring boiled water over a tea bag, making cold-brewed coffee takes longer. Maximum extraction can take anywhere from 15 to 18 hours. Once brewed, you’re left with a very strong coffee concentrate to be diluted with water at whatever ratio you choose. Once diluted, cold-brew coffee can be served black, in various specialty beverages or even as nitro coffee, which is served from a tap, creating a unique taste and texture.

A purer tasting, more palatable beverage

Because cold-brew takes so much longer to produce and requires more refrigerator space, many cafes take a pass and use chilled regular coffee in their iced beverages instead. But a true coffee connoisseur can taste the difference.

“For one, [cold brew’s] acidity is significantly lower, leading to a much smoother and more palatable beverage, even without additional sweeteners or creamers,” said Patrick Egan, manager of research and insights at Technomic, a research and consulting firm focusing on food and related products and services.

What’s more, cold-brew coffee can really highlight and accentuate the subtle flavors of the beans, whereas with hot-brew methods, “a lot of that flavor gets masked by the bitterness that comes from brewing it and then chilling it,” said Femino. According to him, cold brewing is “really just extracting the pure qualities of that coffee bean.”

Related: How and Where to Sell Your Coffee Outside Your Coffee Shop

A potentially bigger caffeine buzz

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“[Cold brew’s] acidity is significantly lower, leading to a much smoother and more palatable beverage, even without additional sweeteners or creamers.” -Patrick Egan (Photo: Patrick Egan)

The highly concentrated nature of the cold-brewed product means potentially more caffeine content than regular coffee, depending of course on how much it’s diluted. It could be an easy source of a quick buzz for for energy-seeking consumers.

“Before,” said Egan, “the best way to get a large influx of caffeine from coffee was to take a bitter espresso shot or mix multiple shots into a sweetened latte. Cold brew offers an in-between that appeals to a large proportion of coffee drinkers.”

A higher profit margin

Producing cold-brew coffee involves some increased costs, but they’re mostly startup costs, such as investing in a brewer, ensuring sufficient refrigerated storage space and purchasing high-quality beans (since cold-brew highlights the beans’ flavor profiles, you’ll want to use the best beans you can find). Once you’re up and running, the added costs are minimal, and you can sell the product for more, said Egan.

“Cold brew is just easy to produce for the margin it can garner at the register. Given that cold-brew coffee is less diluted and contains a more clear and clean coffee taste, operators can feasibly offer several different varieties at escalating price points, with the higher-end versions having particularly strong profit margins.” Egan said he’s seen cold brew margins ranging from $0.30 to as much as $2 per drink.

Related: Cafes Are Perking Up to the Membership Model

Increasing demand

Now that big brands like Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee & Tea have started producing cold-brew en masse, awareness of the product has increased among the general public.

Micro-roasters and smaller, independent cafes have been serving cold-brew for years — which may explain the early adoption by young “hipster” types. But a passion for cold-brew is spreading to consumers of all ages and backgrounds, said Femino. “I get 80-year-old grandmothers coming in now asking for a cold brew.”

Raise an icy-cold glass to that.

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