What is cold brew concentrate?

Esther Gibbs
September 15, 2023
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Modern coffee enthusiasts have a variety of brewing methods available at their fingertips. Part of this has seen an explosion in the cold coffee segment; over the past few years, cold brew, nitro, and iced coffees have become more prevalent on coffee shop menus.

Notably, the value of the global cold brew market is expected to increase by almost US $440 million by 2027.

As well as being able to use freshly brewed coffee or espresso for these beverages, cafés can also use a cold brew concentrate. This is usually prepared as concentrated filter or full immersion brewed coffee, which is then diluted to make other beverages – such as cold brew or iced lattes.

While the concept of cold brew concentrate is relatively simple, there are a number of factors to consider when making it. To understand more, I spoke with Tom Hamlyn, Head of Wholesale for Union Hand-Roasted Coffee in the UK.

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Understanding the popularity of cold brew

The first-ever record of cold brew dates back to the 16th century. During this time, Japanese sailors brewed coffee using cold water on ships, rather than hot water. Since then, cold brew has become one of the most-ordered beverages in coffee shops around the world – particularly in North America and Europe.

“Cold brew has been around for years, however, it is still very much a niche category here in the UK,” explains Tom, who heads up the out-of-home channel, alongside the sales and training team at Union.

“Obviously, cold brew coffee tends to get more press in the summer, but I’ve noticed a lot more marketing on the product this year to gain wider consumer awareness,” he says. “There’s so much anticipation around the future growth of this category.”

According to the World Coffee Portal, the global cold brew coffee market is projected to reach $2.8bn by 2026, up from $510.5m in 2020. More so, the UK is expected to be a part of this trend.

Cold brew coffee is especially popular among younger generations – including Millennials and Gen Z. In fact, in 2018, Gen Z’s most frequently purchased drinks were cold brew and ready-to-drink (RTD) coffee products.

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What is cold brew concentrate?

Essentially, cold brew is a method of brewing coffee that involves steeping coarsely ground coffee beans in cold water for an extended period of time, typically around 12 to 24 hours. This slow and cold extraction process produces a coffee concentrate that is less acidic and smoother in flavour compared to traditional hot-brewed coffee.

Once the coffee is strained, roasters and coffee shops can serve the cold brew right away, or package it accordingly. Some brands may choose to add sweeteners, milk, or other ingredients.

But what is the difference between cold brew coffee and a cold brew concentrate?

“Cold brew can come in many formats, ready to drink being one as the name suggests,” Tom explains. “This is often at a strength that can be consumed straight out of the pack. Concentrate, on the other hand, needs to be diluted to an appropriate drinking strength. This is useful in high-volume locations, such as cafés that get through a lot of cold brew.”

“Plus, concentrates are more practical from a shipping point of view, as you are moving around less weight. It also means concentrate can be a more versatile product, mixing it with various ingredients to make different drinks on a menu,” he adds.

Cold brew concentrate is made in much the same way as cold brew: immersing coarse ground coffee beans in cold water. However, for cold brew concentrate, the ratio of coffee to water is much higher. More coffee is used than compared to a standard cold brew to increase the strength. 

“Imagine making a giant cafetiere with cold water. This process extracts different flavours out of the coffee compared to using hot water, and can result in higher sweetness, as well as higher caffeine content,” Tom says. 

Tom explains that Union Coffee provides a cold brew concentrate in a 3-litre bag-in-box.

“Union’s cold brew concentrate needs to be diluted 1:1 with water to make cold brew, or 1:1 with milk or alternative for an iced latte. You can even use the concentrate in cocktails. To be honest, it tastes great with gin,” he laughs.

Despite being a new concept, the feedback from customers has been extremely positive. “It’s still early days with cold brew as operators and consumers embrace this new coffee format. Those who have enjoy the unique flavours it delivers. Plus, the operational simplicity of not having to use an espresso machine to make cold coffee drinks makes it a highly efficient offering.”

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The diversification of the cold coffee sector

The ease of a cold brew concentrate means iced coffees can be made quickly during hot sunny days. Rather than waiting for espresso shots, baristas can simply fill a cup with ice, dispense the required amount of cold brew from the tap and dilute it with milk or water, as per the consumer’s specifications.

Cold brew concentrate can be an effective way to reduce queues quickly and minimise stress on the staff while increasing profitability. Beyond this, it would be the best option for those catering to pop-up events in the summer, where timing is crucial.

For instance, the bag or box containing the concentrate can be placed on the back bar for ease of workflow, and can be kept cool in the fridge. Cold brew concentrate is great for not only cafés but also busy offices and workspaces.

For example, a single 3-litre box can offer up to 40 servings, provided it is stored in a cool place, and consumed within 4 weeks after opening.

Union Coffee’s bespoke-printed recyclable cardboard box provides consumers with all the information needed about dilutions and the coffee’s origins. More so, the box is thick enough to withstand being in the fridge without deteriorating, while being able to support the loose flexible coffee bag inside.

As a B-Corp company, Union acknowledges the impact global warming has on coffee producers and has included the importance of sustainable packaging into their impact strategy.

“We examined every stage of the coffee life-cycle and identified areas where we could reduce our environmental impact. One area where we had direct control was our coffee packaging, which was not recyclable and was disposed of through incineration.

The brand has since been working to ensure its packaging is fully kerb-side recyclable, both directly from the roastery and from retail and trade partners.

The coffee used is a single origin coffee sourced from the brands’ producer partners in Colombia. Colombian coffee is a perfect option for cold brew concentrate as it typically offers chocolate and fruity flavours, which can be enhanced through cold brew processing.

Union’s Cold Brew Concentrate has flavours of caramel and cola. “Union use the same speciality grade arabica coffee in our cold brew as we do for all our other coffees. That, combined with sustainable sourcing from a trusted B-Corp, really sets our cold brew concentrate apart from the rest.”

At MTPak Coffee, we understand the need to make your cold brew concentrate products stand out. That’s why we offer bag-in-a-box coffee packaging solutions, much like the one used by Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. Additionally, we offer a variety of cold brew coffee packaging options, including BPA-free fully recyclable bottles, cartons made from certified and recyclable paper, infinitely recyclable aluminium cans, as well as a range of shaped and flexible coffee pouches.

Images by Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

For more information on packaging for cold brew coffee and cold brew concentrates, contact our team.

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