What are the risks around cold brew coffee?

Holly Szakal
October 3, 2023
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Despite its origins dating back to the 17th century, cold brew coffee has soared in popularity over the last decade. Research predicts the value of the global cold brew market will increase by almost $440 million in 2027. 

The method was originally created by Japanese sailors in order to brew and consume coffee safely on wooden ships. It ruled out all the fire risks involved with the traditional preparation methods of hot coffee. 

Fast forward to 1840 Algeria, and the combination of cold brew coffee concentrate and water became a popular coping mechanism for the dry desert heat. As the century turned, more diverse methods of cold brew coffee spanned from Latin America to the shores of the UK and Europe.

Versatile cold brew preparations have been around for generations. However, in line with innovation across the coffee industry, the ways in which cold brew coffee is brewed are evolving. 

This may also have something to do with the health risks that may be involved in the brewing process.  

To learn more about the risks around cold brew coffee, I spoke with Samson Kibunja, an authorised SCA trainer (AST), and Krzysztof Barabosz, head of coffee at Hard Beans Coffee Roasters

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What is driving the popularity of cold brew coffee?

Research indicates Millennials are more likely to drink iced or frozen coffee than their older counterparts. “Cold brew coffee has become exceptionally popular, especially among younger people,” says Samson, who is also the product manager at Traum Kaffee in Dubai. 

He explains that cold brew 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.”

The convenience of picking up a pre-made, RTD coffee may also be a driving factor behind the popularity of cold brew among younger generations. Notably, research shows that 9 out of 10 customers are likely to choose a retailer or brand based on convenience alone. Sustainability is also a major influencer, as studies indicate that both Millennial and Gen Z buyers prioritise eco-friendly purchasing.

A single shot of espresso can produce an average carbon footprint of about 0.28kg. Cold brew coffee, on the other hand, could be a more sustainable option as it completely eliminates the need for heat.

Many specialty coffee brands have quickly adapted to this shift towards the younger market, with Origin Coffee Roasters in the UK now offering a monthly cold brew concentrate subscription. Additionally, Minor Figures serves cold brew coffee in an easy, convenient can that is readily available on grocery store shelves. 

With all the buzz around cold brew, it’s important to understand how to cater to this demand safely. Understanding the risks associated with making and offering cold brew can help you mitigate any dangerous bacteria that may result throughout the creation process.

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What are the risks around cold brew coffee?

The food safety risks between cold brew and hot coffee differ greatly because of the brewing temperature and extraction period. 

With hot coffee, high temperatures are used throughout the brewing process, which helps to eliminate most contaminants. However, the extended brewing time and lower temperatures of cold brew coffee can create unique hazards that require careful management to avoid unwanted microbial growth.

Essentially, the mildly acidic environment of a resting batch of cold brew coffee is conducive to the growth of different microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, and mould. Moreover, if you do not sanitise the brewing equipment properly, including containers and filters, the risk of growth increases drastically.

In the absence of adequate safety controls, harmful microorganisms can multiply and create an environment for bacteria known as mycotoxins: toxic compounds produced by fungi.

“Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced by certain types of moulds or fungi that can grow on various crops, including grains, nuts, and coffee beans,” explains Krzysztof Barabosz, who was previously the event coordinator at The Speciality Coffee Association (SCA).

The main concern is the growth of the following bacteria:

“These toxins pose a significant health risk to humans and animals when ingested, inhaled, or otherwise exposed to them. It’s worth noting that mycotoxin contamination in coffee is relatively rare and is typically addressed through quality control measures in coffee production and processing,” he adds. 

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How can you avoid the risks involved with cold brew coffee?

To decipher the best practices for brewing cold-brew coffee, Krzysztof and the team at Hard Beans Coffee partnered with the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Opole

The study recommends that specialty coffee roasters develop thorough cleaning and sanitation procedures for disinfection relating to specific production cycles.

It is recommended cold brew coffee be stored at a refrigerated temperature below 5°C (41°F). However, refrigerating at the right temperature means nothing without sound sanitisation in the lead-up. While refrigeration will slow microbial growth, it doesn’t completely mitigate it altogether.

“While the mildly acidic environment of cold brew does inhibit the growth of many microorganisms, it’s not foolproof,” Krzysztof says. “Some acid-tolerant pathogens and spoilage microorganisms can still survive and multiply.”

He stresses that sanitisation is the most important part of avoiding any microbial risk in cold brew creation. He adds that a sustainable stainless steel keg is a great option for storing cold brew safely, but notes to conduct proper sanitation before transferring the beverage inside for safekeeping.

At MTPak Coffee, we have an abundance of packaging solutions for your cold brew coffee. From cold brew filling machines that ensure perfect accuracy each time, to infinitely recyclable aluminium cans, paper cartons, flexible coffee pouches, and BPA-free bottles.

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 cold brew coffee packaging, contact our team

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