Why does cold brew coffee have such a specific taste?

Antonio Salles
October 17, 2023
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Over the last decade, cold brew coffee has seen an exhilarating ascent. Notably, projections point to an annual growth rate of over 22% in the US alone over the next five years. By 2027, experts anticipate the industry will reach a value of $1.35 billion

What is behind this skyrocketing success? Millennials and Gen Z, driven by their quest for a refreshing alternative to traditional brews, are at the forefront. Research shows younger consumers are propelling cold brew coffee to capture around 10% of total coffee sales in the US. 

But is it the unique taste of cold brew coffee triggering this craze, or is there a deeper, richer story to tell? To learn more, I spoke with three specialty coffee roasters working in the cold brew industry.

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The history of cold brew coffee: A timeline

Before the 17th century, ancient Japan was already perfecting the art of cold brewing with tea. During the 1600s, Kyoto Japan birthed the first recorded instance of cold-brewed coffee. This ‘Kyoto-style’ coffee caught on quickly – so much so that it earned its name from the city. 

Some say the Japanese borrowed this unique cold brewing technique from Dutch traders and sailors. Dutch coffee was a concentrated concoction that required no open flame, making it an ideal brew for nautical journeys and trade at ports.

During the 1800s, the first attempt at instant coffee was created. ‘Camp Coffee’ as it was known, was a bottled brew akin to Dutch coffee and became the go-to pick-me-up for 

European troops during times of war. 

By the 1930s, Cuba had created its own version of cold-brewed coffee, which helped birth the love affair with iced coffee in the US. In the 60s, the ‘Toddy’ made its debut, thanks to the keen observations of Todd Simpson during his adventures in Peru.

The 1990s ushered in the trend of creating concentrated coffee for blended drinks in coffee shops across the US. Then, in the 2000s, innovation soared with two coffee pioneers introducing inventive cold brew variations: Blue Bottle’s New Orleans-style iced coffee and Stumptown Coffee Roaster’s nitro cold brew.

During the 2010s, cold brew coffee became widely accessible across the US, gracing the menus of third-wave coffee shops and corner stores. However, the cold brew revolution really hit its stride in 2015, when Starbucks rolled it out in a whopping 2,800 stores, cementing its popularity in the US.

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Exploring the distinctive characteristics: Iced coffee vs. cold brew 

“Iced coffee has always been popular,” explains Mike Roy, the co-founder of Station Cold Brew. “Usually it is made with hot coffee chilled over ice. Then, it’s often  loaded with sugar and milk or a non-dairy alternative.” 

In contrast to conventional coffee brewing methods where flavour is extracted from the beans using hot water, cold brew relies entirely on cold water. More so, cold brew requires significantly more brewing time compared to hot coffee. Therefore, in cold brew, coffee grounds are left to steep in cold water for extended periods, typically up to 24 hours.

What makes cold brew coffee coffee so appealing?

“What coffee drinkers are realising is that hot coffee is good brewed hot, and cold coffee is good brewed cold,” Mike explains. “The flavours and nuances we are able to pull out with cold brewing really accentuate the varietal and region of the bean when consuming the coffee cold.”

Samson Kibunja is an authorised SCA trainer (AST) and product manager at Traum Kaffee in Dubai. He explains that cold brew coffee is renowned for its unique taste, which is smoother and less acidic compared to regular coffee. “This appeals to folks who don’t enjoy the high acidity of regular coffee. Cold brew is a hit with Millennials and Gen Z, who enjoy trying new food and drinks and care about sustainability and convenience.”

Research shows that 9 out of 10 customers say they are likely to choose a retailer or brand based on convenience alone. Jack Farmer from Foundation Coffee Roasters believes that as people become more “time-poor, the time spent at your local coffee shop waiting for barista-made coffee can be seen as time waste. So, RTD and cold brew coffee [have become] more popular.” 

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Does packaging affect the taste of cold brew coffee? 

A significant driver of cold brew’s popularity is its convenience. Ready-to-drink (RTD) cold brew products are available in recyclable aluminium cans, glass or BPA-free plastic bottles, or flexible coffee pouches. Each caters to today’s consumers’ fast-paced, quality-conscious demands, particularly during the summer when hot coffee often loses its appeal. 

Convenience is not just about savouring the flavour. It extends to preserving the quality and taste of cold brew coffee while keeping it safe and hygienic. This is where packaging choices are crucial. 

Cans for cold brew are popular because they are convenient, sustainable, and aesthetic. Additionally, they offer superior protection against light and oxygen and are infinitely recyclable. This means they can be recycled several times without the materials degrading. 

Bottles are a classic form of cold brew coffee packaging. They are specifically designed for on-the-go consumers while offering specialty coffee brands a wide body panel that is ideal for customisation and branding. However, it is wise to consider investing in BPA-free plastic bottles made from recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as opposed to glass bottles to avoid any breakages. 

It’s important to note that flexible coffee pouches for cold brew are fast outpacing rigid formats such as glass and cans. In shipping, their efficiency shines: the space of one glass bottle can accommodate ten cold brew pouches.

Plus, the easy-open feature, paired with a built-in handle, ensures portability. Designed to be fridge-friendly, flexible coffee pouches chill swiftly, and have a reduced carbon footprint of up to 80% compared to glass.

At MTPak Coffee, we have an abundance of packaging solutions for your cold brew coffee, as well as cold brew filling machines to ensure perfect accuracy each time. Beyond this, we use eco-friendly digital printing methods and sustainable inks to reduce energy emissions, providing you with a low-carbon footprint product perfect for appeasing the younger generations’ sustainability concerns.

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

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