Keeping it cool: The growing market and options for cold coffee

Revenge isn’t the only thing best served cold. BeanScene looks at the growing market and options for cold coffee, and why Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world.

From the humble cappuccino to the hallowed flat white, Australians love the hot, milky, espresso-based coffees that their country is known for.

However, with such an emphasis placed on espresso-based coffee, Campos Coffee Founder Will Young says many cafés are underestimating the value of adding cold coffees to the menu.

“We just enjoy our milk coffees so much that it’s hard to not think about coffee in that way,” Will says.

Until recently, most Australians’ awareness of cold coffee beverages started and finished with iced coffee – either an espresso served over cold milk and ice with ice cream and whipped cream, or a sugary, ready-to-drink bottle from a shopping centre fridge.

But like the specialty coffee movement did for hot coffee, it has shone a light on the possibilities of brewing coffee cold.

cold coffee
Campos Coffee released Summer Haze, a blend made specifically for cold brew.

“We’ve learned more about cold coffee and how to make it more appealing. Now it tastes really good,” Will says. “We’re finding methods of production which produce a cleaner taste and are putting out coffees that are sweeter and more appealing to the general public.”

Two methods that caught on early were cold brew and cold drip. Cold brew involves steeping coarsely ground coffee in chilled water for an extended period, usually done overnight before serving. Cold brew can be charged with nitrogen before serving to give it a thick head and consistency similar to beer. 

Originating from Japan, cold drip uses a brew tower to drip chilled water at a rate of around one drop per second onto a bed of coffee. It slowly travels in contact with the coffee before passing through a final filter into a service jug. Will says the two methods produce very different coffees.

“With cold drip, it’ll taste quite liquor-like or alcoholic. It’s a great wake-up call. Cold brew is usually cleaner or crisper on the finish,” he says. “It’s like comparing an espresso to a filter. Cold drip and espresso make for a short, powerful coffee with big flavour, but some people prefer a lighter drink.

“Like with filter, with cold brew you can taste more intricate and delicate flavours. If you’re using a single origin, you’ll taste the citrus notes of your Kenyans, florals of your Geisha, or caramel notes of your Colombians.”

Campos’ Summer Haze cold brew blend, for instance, features tasting notes of peach nectar, citrus, and butterscotch. The roaster has also crafted a signature beverage, the Hazy Cold Brew, adding peach wedges, lemon juice, sugar syrup, tonic water, and mint leaves to Summer Haze to accentuate these notes.

While the Australian coffee industry has started to see the potential cold brew has to offer, Will says more can be done to communicate this to the consumer.

“Many customers don’t realise all of these options exist because not all cafés are serving them, and some of those that are selling cold brew don’t really promote it,” he says.

cold coffee
Bluestone Lane’s Aussie Iced Latte adds ice cream to the drink to offer its American customers an Australian coffee experience.

“It’s not on their menus and there are no signs up. For cold coffee to take off, the public needs to know that it’s an option and that it’s good.”

In comparison, Campos Coffee has seen strong demand for cold brew from its stores in the United States.

“It’s incredibly popular in the US. During summer, we sell kegs of cold brew. People are very attracted to it and are more used to it,” Will says.

“Places like Stumptown and Blue Bottle have been selling cold brew for years. Even Starbucks has embraced cold coffee, but it’s the specialty market that has really been pushing cold coffee to a new level. And it’s this level that Australia is well positioned to embrace and make our own.”

Another American specialty chain to highlight cold coffees is New York’s Bluestone Lane. Senior Director of Retail Standards Jai Lott says cold coffees become Bluestone Lane’s top sellers in the warmer months.

“Having such distinctive hot and cold seasons on the east coast of the US means you can almost set your clock to the day that cold coffee popularity takes off,” Jai says. “On the first day of warm weather, we see iced coffee drink sales spike. Whether it’s cold brew, iced lattes, or ready to drink, [cold coffee] takes the spotlight over all other beverage options.”

Founded by Melburnian Nicholas Stone, Bluestone Lane takes cues from Australian café culture, including its classic iced latte recipes.

“Ice cream is what differentiates our ‘Aussie Iced Latte’ from a standard iced latte. We wanted to offer an iced latte that is commonly found in Australian cafés,” Jai says.

“Adding ‘Aussie’ to the name often sparks a conversation and makes it easy to differentiate. It is quite a unique drink that’s rarely seen in the US, so it offers a certain ‘wow’ factor.”

Opening up this conversation allows Bluestone Lane to dispel misconceptions its customers may have about cold coffees.

Plug Nickel in Collingwood serves RTD cold brew and iced lattes as well as sparkling cold brew and cascara from taps built into the café wall.

“I think some consumers perhaps have the perception that cold brew is too heavily caffeinated, or they simply don’t want to change their habits,” Jai says.

“For the people that think it’s too high in caffeine, a great way to talk about cold coffee is to look at it like alcohol content, where cold coffee is a beer and espresso is whiskey. Proportionally they have the same content, but one is punchier than the other. Sampling is also a great way to change consumer behaviour.”

Jai says serving cold coffee brings benefits including high gross profit, low costs, and, in the case of cold brew or pre-prepared drinks, speed of service.

“It takes significantly more time to make an iced latte including espresso extraction than simply pouring ready-made coffee from a tap over ice,” he says.

“Depending on whether you are in the planning stages of opening, retro-fitting, or at scale, there are options for all [brewing] concepts. You can outsource and have kegs brewed for you to serve on tap, brew hot batch-brew and chill before serving, or purchase a five-gallon Toddy system and make cold brew yourself within 12 hours.”

While cold brew has caught on quicker in the US, Jai calls it a “huge movement globally” that will soon take off in Australia.

“Coffee culture in the US has always been focused on drip and filtered coffee. This means that once cafés worked out good brewing techniques, the rise of cold brew was the natural next big thing,” Jai says.

“Australians – generally speaking – still prefer an espresso-based, hot coffee, even in the warmer months. The Australian specialty scene has arguably existed for longer, and generations are locked into strong habits, but those are changing quickly with cold brew becoming more widely available.”

An Australian café that has embraced the possibilities of cold coffee is Plug Nickel in Collingwood, Victoria. Since opening in 2016, cold brew has been a fixture on its menu, which Co-owner Lucien Kolff says has more than paid off.

cold coffee
Many industry members believe cold brew offers huge potential to a market like Australia.

“You kind of have to offer cold coffee in Melbourne because it gets so hot during summer. Some people don’t want hot beverages on a 38°C day,” Lucien says.

“When the temperature gets above 24°C or 25°C, it’s probably about 50 or even 60 per cent of our orders. If you’re not offering cold coffee, you’re not really giving the customers what they want.”

One of two taps jutting from Plug Nickel’s wall pours a light, refreshing sparkling cold brew. “People started doing nitro brews around Melbourne, but in summer you don’t want something that thick and heavy,” he says.

“It’s like comparing a Guinness to an IPA. You don’t want to drink a Guinness in the middle of summer. It’s not refreshing.” 

The other tap serves Coffee Cherry Soda, a sparkling cold brew made using cascara, the dried skin of the coffee cherry left over from processing.

“The fruit of the coffee cherry is traditionally a waste product, but the industry has found a way to use it to make something delicious. A lot of people are serving it as tea, but it’s actually really nice as a cold brew,” Lucien says.

Plug Nickel also offers its iced lattes – espresso and milk blended for a consistency similar to hot coffee – in takeaway bottles labelled Cold Remedy.

“We have a metal tub on our counter filled with ice and 20 or 30 of those. People can just walk past, drop their money down, and grab one of those on the go. There’s no wait time, people know it’s there and that it’s going to be good,” Lucien says. 

“Cold coffee doesn’t have to just be drunk in a café environment. People can take it away and enjoy a really nice coffee while camping, at the beach, or wherever they want to go.”

Lucien adds that the small amount of prep time involved in making cold brew means that a large volume can be produced with minimal effort.

“If you’ve got a big enough vessel, you can make 150 coffees in one go overnight. Then all you have to do is pour it,” Lucien says.

Some cold coffees can be served with milk for customers who prefer a lighter taste.

“You’re missing out on a huge corner of the market if you don’t offer cold brew. In Collingwood and the northern suburbs of Melbourne, people expect quality, know what quality is, and expect it to carry over from hot to cold coffee. So, you can’t just put anything in there, add heaps of sugar, and expect people to like it. It still has to be delicious coffee.”

Campos’ Will Young says with sales tending to dip over summer in the café market, there are huge benefits to being able to offer a different dimension to coffee in warmer weather.

“We love the cafés we go to every day. Cold coffee gives us an amazing new opportunity to experience coffee when it’s warm outside,” Will says.

“Coffee is a wonderful product with a vibrant community surrounding it. Promoting cold brew is a key part of keeping café culture sustainable year round by giving coffee lovers new and original experiences.” 

This article appears in the February 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.