Exploring the increasing popularity of cold brew coffee

Aidan Gant
August 28, 2023
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If a coffee business owner wants to cater to a wide range of consumers, serving a variety of cold coffee drinks is essential. Notably, cold brew coffee has become one of the most popular beverages in cafes around the world.

According to Technavio, the value of the global cold brew market will increase by almost US $440 million by 2027. Part of this growth in popularity stems from the increased focus on preparing cold brew with higher-quality coffee, as well as using single origin coffees to create new sensory experiences.

That said, as the popularity of cold brew continues to grow, businesses must ensure their offerings are in demand and profitable. To learn more about how they can do this, I spoke with Jack Farmer from Foundation Coffee Roasters.

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The appeal behind cold brew coffee

Despite the recent eruption of cold brew coffee into the modern specialty coffee era, it has deep roots in the history of global trade and coffee culture. The first true cold brew coffee is believed to have been developed in Japan in the 17th century. Essentially, cold brew coffee refers to beverage prepared with ground, roasted coffee that is extracted with cold water.

The expansion of maritime global trade, alongside the popularisation and increased accessibility of coffee for the working masses, collided in the 1600s. As a result, solutions were required to safely prepare drinkable coffee on ships for the sailors.

Hot-brewed coffee was off the menu for early modern merchant navies. This was mainly because of the risk of fire on traditional timber vessels that featured canvas and rope in abundance.

The Dutch were among the first to come up with a solution. They began to brew a coffee concentrate on land and store it cold in kegs for later consumption. This idea caught on with Japanese traders, who combined the practice with traditional cold brewing methods used to steep tea leaves in cold river water, and cold brew coffee was born.

Traditional cold brew requires steeping grounds in cold water for up to 24 hours. That said, this can cause complications for stock management and storage space. This challenge has been met with several innovations, such as the Spin and Fredda machines from RapiBrew. These are capable of exploiting centrifugal and vacuum technology respectively to produce quality cold brew in just a few minutes.

While there are several different preparation methods for cold brew, its popularity lies in its convenience. This is particularly true for younger generations, often referred to as ‘Generation Z’ by sociologists and marketers.

Ready-to-drink (RTD) cans of nitro-extracted coffee are the favourite of younger drinkers, but what is driving the cold brew boom?

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What is driving the popularity of cold brew coffee?

The cold brew and RTD market has exploded over the last half a decade. From 2017 to 2023, the global value of the cold brew coffee market has risen by over a billion dollars, from $0.32bn to $1.37bn. Similarly, the RTD market is up 8.2% since 2015.

Data suggests that most cold brew drinkers fall into the 18-34 age bracket. However, recent surveys suggest that this early adoption is levelling out as cold coffee beverages become more familiar and convenient.

“As people are becoming more time-poor, unfortunately, the time spent in the queue at your local coffee shop waiting for a barista-made coffee can be seen as time wasted,” Jack explains. “So RTD and cold brew coffee are becoming more popular.”

He adds that novelty may have played into their rise as well. “Both are relatively new concepts that are now becoming more and more mainstream.”

The possibility for coffee shops to increase average order values through extra sales is another advantage of stocking RTD or cold brew coffee. Jack says, in his experience “customers often purchase a barista-made coffee in the morning and, at the same time, purchase a cold brew to enjoy at their desk later on.”

Another benefit to offering cold brew coffee, Jack argues, is the fact that it can be made in bulk. “The shelf life of bottled brew can be up to a couple of weeks, making it a great option for coffee shops.”

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Packaging for cold brew coffee: Which is the best option?

When it comes to packaging cold brew coffee for retail multi-serving sales, the bag-in-the-box approach seems to be the most popular. Pioneered by Starbucks, amongst others, these spouted pouches can sit in a branded cardboard box, helping to preserve the coffee from oxidisation.

They are a popular option from Origin Coffee and other larger specialty roasters that are making inroads into the sector. The major concern with this approach, however, is sustainability.

Roasters and coffee shops that intend to package cold brew in this manner should invest in pouches and spouts made from polylactic acid (PLA). As PLA is toxin-free and biodegradable, it is a more sustainable solution compared to its thermoplastic counterparts.

Equally, serving individual take-away cold brew coffees can be challenging. Jack raised concerns about plastic straws, which could easily be extended to single-use cups. These concerns about packaging were reflected in conversations with Tony Konecny from Yes Plz. “For good roasters, the whole category feels a bit like watching artisan bakers pivot into selling cellophane-wrapped Twinkies,” he says.

Clearly, caution surrounding over-packaging, particularly with regard to RTD, is not unjustified. Therefore, mindfulness of material choice is key to sustainability here.

While it is important to remember that less should always be more in terms of sustainable packaging, it is just important to consider the choice of materials you make. At MTPak Coffee, we offer specialty coffee roasters and coffee shops a variety of eco-friendly ways to package cold brew coffee.

Our line of cold brew coffee packaging includes shaped pouches for RTD, sustainable cartons, infinitely recyclable aluminium cans, recyclable BPA-free bottles, and custom-shaped spout boxes.

All are made with the environment at front of mind, which means all materials are sustainably sourced and eco-friendly. Plus, each cold brew packaging option offers unique customisation techniques to ensure your brand stands out.

Contact our team for more on sustainable cold brew packaging solutions.

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Aidan Gant
Aidan Gant

Aidan spent his early career working in cafes alongside coffee roasters and in other hospitality positions. He owned a vegan tapas restaurant, specialty coffee bar, and live jazz venue, which he operated with his partner before closing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since 2020, he has made his living writing about coffee and the environment, and is currently a researcher and doctoral student in Creative Writing.

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