In part three of our series on cold brew coffee, we explore prepackaged offerings from some of the most respected roasters in specialty coffee
By Jeremy Martin
For many coffee drinkers, one of the primary draws to the beverage has always been the process of creation—the daily ritual before the reward.
Whether you spend the time to dose and grind your beans, carefully pouring your selection into a Chemex filter, AeroPress, or even a drip machine, or whether you go to a local café, stand in line and order your favorite coffee or espresso drink, the time and energy spent in acquiring the cup plays a major role in its enjoyment.
But let’s be honest: We don’t always have time for a freshly-brewed cup of coffee, and we don’t always want the coffee we’re drinking to be hot (or made to order by a barista facing a long line). Enter the pre-packaged cold brew: a coffee drinking experience that has been gaining moment in café’s and grocery stores around the country.
At its core, the idea isn’t brand new per se. Starbucks has been selling a verity of cold, bottled coffees at retail stores for years, and other companies of the specialty ilk have been getting in on the action for a while now. Portland’s Stumptown was one of the first of the best, and has been selling its 10.5-ounce stubby bottle for more than five years. Even boutique purveyors such a Brooklyn’s Kickstand have been in the market for nearly half a decade now.
“Bottled iced coffee drinks were a mythical quest for most several years ago. In the specialty coffee industry we pride ourselves on freshness and associate quality with making drinks to order. I think that other beverage industries like kombucha, juice, and tea raised the gauntlet for coffee—they had found a way to bottle without overly sweetening or preserving. When Stumptown released their cold brew it was like an open invitation for the industry,” Jen Apodeca of Oakland, California’s Blue Bottle Coffee said.
Apodeca is right. Stumptown and other early adapters acted like some mythical Johnny Coffee Seed, planting the idea of bottled cold brew into the ears of anyone who would listen—and many did.
Blue Bottle recently jumped in the ring, offering its ‘Nola’ iced coffee in paper containers, much the same as the ones you drank your chocolate milk from in school.
Which is a similar delivery method to Stumptown’s most recent offering: a lightly sweetened, milk infused version of its original cold brew formula packaged in 16oz single serving or larger half gallon paper containers
“The idea for selling our New Orleans iced coffee (Nola) started several years ago… It is not widely publicized, but the Nola cartons are certified organic. Until recently, the Nola cartons were only available in Northern California. We are now distributing them to Southern California and the first batch of cartons should arrive in New York this week,” Apodeca said. “Nola cartons are adorable, but the real success of this product is how delicious it is and easy to drink.”
Blue Bottle is betting that consumers from coast to coast will seek out its chicory infused, ready-to-drink cold brew when searching for a thirst quenching alternative to hot coffee, but other producers like Secret Squirrel in Los Angeles are sticking to the idea that consumers would like to retain some of their drink making power.
The three-year-old company began by offering a bottled cold brew concentrate that customers could then cut with water, milk or a non dairy alternative.
“Our concentrate is stronger than most other competitors, one part concentrate to two parts water or milk. It’s so strong that people can use it for baking,” Trevor Smith co-founder of Secret Squirrel said.
The standard ratio for cold brewed coffee is one part concentrate to one part cutter, but Smith sees using a stronger concentrate as a way to put the power of choice in the hands of his customers as well as to bottle a more cost-effective product.
“We can attract the hard-core coffee drinker; people who want to experiment and try new things. With the contrite you can be your own barista, you can take it home and make it as mild or as strong as you like,” Smith said.
Secret Squirrel is also working on installing a roaster so the company can control every step of the process; from green buying and roasting all the way to brewing and bottling.
Whether it’s in concentrate form, ready-to-drink, sweetened, unsweetened or some herbal infusion, the future of bottled cold brew is still up in the air and will be decided by the legions of companies and their supporters either currently or soon to be in the market.