Cold-brew coffee and tea aren't a fad, they're here to stay, so make sure you have a varied offering this summer, says Ian Boughton
Some trends in foodservice are fast, some are slow, and some supposed trends are blatant attempts at product promotion... but one which has surprised everybody is here to stay.
The trend for cold-brew coffee arrived in the UK without fanfare about 15 years ago, and for some time it did not catch the public's imagination. And then, in the past couple of years, it took off like a rocket.
Even the major coffee-house chains, not noted for being quick off the mark with new ideas, have taken it up. And when they get round to working on something, you know it has public acceptance.
At an industry symposium in America, a topic for discussion was: ‘Is cold-brew coffee a category or a craze?' The majority conclusion was that it is now seen as a ‘product category', but "is misunderstood by consumers, and in very real danger of being diminished as a value proposition as quick adopters of cold-brew rush questionable products to the marketplace."
Cold-brew is a perfectly literal description: it is coffee or tea left in cold water to give out its flavour naturally. It can take a very long time, and some coffee enthusiasts will leave it for 24 hours, but is said to give a fuller, deeper and more satisfying brew. The hip and cool coffee houses started brewing their own this way, but for mainstream hospitality businesses, suppliers have now started producing ready-to-use cold-brew coffee to serve as the base for new drinks.
"We have seen quite a few home-user mail orders for this," says Jeremy Torz of Union Hand-Roasted. "Cold coffees and coffee cocktails seem to be on everyone's list, and our pack lends itself really well to sitting in the fridge, ready to use for either.
"We use speciality single-origin Liberacion coffee, grown by smallholders in Guatemala. The coffee is cold-brewed at double strength for 24 hours to produce a naturally sweet, smooth and consistent coffee base for iced coffees, nitro coffee, cocktails and more. This is a seriously refreshing coffee drink with a hint of citrus, a complex finish and plenty of natural caffeine."
"Cold brewing is a real craft," says Andy Deeley of the Fitch Brew Company. "We have developed this since we started two years ago. We don't hide behind flavourings and additives; we take single-origin Rainforest Alliance Colombian beans, ground to specific coarseness, we purify our water and ensure the water minerals and temperature is correct, brew for 18 hours, and triple-filter."
There are two immediate advantages in a canned ready-to-drink brew, he notes – not only has someone done all the hard work, but the result has a shelf life of 18 months, whereas a café's do-it-yourself cold brew will be off in a couple of days.
"The coffee is smooth and less acidic than traditional hot coffee; our bean gives chocolate and caramel notes and a clean and refreshing finish. For the caterer, it can be served on its own or over ice, sold as a takeaway drink, be the base for coffee cocktails and mocktails, or the base for a very quick serve of iced coffees and frappés in the summer."
A variation comes from Bottleshot, with its ‘New Orleans-style' cold-brew. This combines Rainforest Alliance beans with roasted chicory, which the brand says is an authentic Louisiana process that offsets the bitterness of traditional roasted coffee, giving "an impossibly smooth cold brew that is high in caffeine and low in acidity". It is supplied in cans in two formats – black and non-dairy white.
"Bottleshot is stocked at hotel groups like Soho House, the Balmoral and the Lanesborough, where it is served in the restaurants and in-room mini-bars," says company founder Annie Mitchell. "It is appealing because it saves them the time and labour of making cold brew, and can be stored in ambient temperatures."
Is it really less acidic than hot coffee? There has been scientific research into this – an American university has reported that while antioxidant benefits are retained in cold-brew, hot and cold-brewed coffees have similar levels of acidity, and hot brews contain more antioxidants than cold.
For ease of cocktail-making, there are now several new options: the Conker cold-brew coffee liqueur is ‘real' coffee, not a flavouring, says founder Rupert Holloway, because he simply could not find one good enough to replicate espresso.
"It was essential for Conker cold-brew to be the antidote to the mass-produced coffee-flavoured liqueurs, in taste, quality and sustainability; we couldn't rely on the flavourings typical of coffee liqueurs, so we needed to use some of the best coffees in the world.
"Our Ethiopian coffee is from the southern highlands; our Brazilian coffee comes from farms who are pioneering a shift change away from destructive commodity coffee farming in that country. We don't profess to be roasters, so it comes to us roasted and ground, and we take it from there, cold-brewing, distilling and blending. To create a crystal-clear and fiercely dark cold-brew liqueur that retains the complex flavours of its coffee origins is not easy!
"For the caterer, the real coffee makes it incredibly versatile in drinks and food. Add steamed milk for our boozy ‘Irish White', or serve with tonic and a wedge of fresh orange for a refreshing and caffeinated Café Spritz. We've been served Conker crème brûlée, tiramisù and affogato, and we have an easy Irish coffee recipe where cream is floated on top of a Conker-and-water blend, heated on the steam arm of the coffee machine. It is a great substitute for vermouth in some classic cocktails, like the Café Manhattan.
"Our ‘vodka-free espresso martini' is a revelation for a bars and restaurants where the espresso martini can be a very challenging serve, especially where a coffee machine isn't readily available."
One of the most surprising things that many caterers have discovered is that the cold-brew principle applies equally well to tea.
"One of the key new growth trends for tea is in new sensory tea experiences," says Allan Pirret, sales director at Novus Tea. "Adult-focused soft drinks are one of the fastest growing sectors of the soft drinks market, and cold-brew tea is definitely the new ‘cool' drink for adults. It is sugar-free but has a gentle, natural sweetness, it has no calories, is excellent for quenching thirst and hydrating the body, and so is perceived as an ideal drink for ‘grown-ups'."
In Edinburgh, Erica Moore operates Eteaket as both a café and a national trade wholesaler and tea trainer. "We train many fast-paced foodservice establishments on cold brews. We're all about keeping things simple and we understand the demands of cafés with little spare space. It's a good idea to test with just one or two cold brews in one-litre jugs – pop the tea in the cold water during close-down, two teaspoons of leaf tea (or two tea bags) to 500ml of fresh cold water, leave to steep for a minimum of three hours, then remove the leaves in the morning. Most of our trade customers think it's worth the space of a jug in their fridge, because it means less glass bottles, which take up a lot of room and cost to dispose of.
"For a cold-brew, most teas work well; our absolute favourites are sea buckthorn, which is found abundantly along the Scottish coastline, and our ‘Blooming Marvellous', which is sencha green leaf blended with mallow and sunflower petals, rosebuds, sweet vanilla and fresh fruit."
At Teapigs, founder Louise Cheadle has created a small range of cold-brew teabags. "We have been encouraging cafés for years to make jugs of iced teas by boiling the water to make a concentrate before chilling it down; this works well for some sites, but where you have unpredictable footfall, a bagged range is preferable. Our infusions are designed to brew quickly in cold water, and can either be made in bulk for a foodservice offering or popped singly in a glass.
"If you have a large jug of fresh cold brew on the counter, that will immediately attract interest. A simple tea menu or blackboard describing each tea will engage customers. Teapigs has added a peach and mango blend to its cold-brew range, to join lychee and rose, and cucumber with apple.
Also working on simplicity, the Monin syrups brand offers a cold-brew tea concentrate. "Baristas can batch-brew, making service quick and easy," says innovation manager Lee Hyde. "Add personalisation with syrups, and cold brew is a profit opportunity not to be missed. Most outlets already have popular flavours in their arsenal and will find that these taste just as good in iced and cold-brew drinks."
Jägermeister UK has launched its own cold-brew coffee drink. This uses the standard brand recipe of 56 herbs and spices, fused with cold-brewed Arabica coffee and a hint of cacao. The brand says that it is best served as an ice-cold shot, shaken.
Bottleshot www.bottleshotbrew.com 07397086808
Conker www.conkerspirit.co.uk 01202430384
Eteaket www.eteaket.co.uk 01312261292
Fitch www.fitchbrewco.com 07916148878
Jagermeister www.jagermeister.com 02031899500
Novus Tea www.novustea.co.uk 01621776179
Teapigs www.teapigs.co.uk 02031418495
Union www.unionroasted.com 02074748990
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