Part 1: Why?
by Nic Tracy
Alright, summer has been over for about a week now; make way for autumn! It's time to pack up those bulky cold brew buckets until Spring and focus on cozy, warm espresso/milk-based drinks... right?
Not necessarily! While I love a good capuccino on a brisk fall day, allow me to advocate for continuing your cold brew production during the chillier months in this two-part series; I think you'll find a rising trend being embraced by big-name roasters and ample opportunity for creativity in your menu this Fall (and increased profits)!
You don't need me to tell you that Starbucks is known for their seasonal drinks, particularly around the holidays (controversial cups and all). Love them or hate them, their Pumpkin Spice Lattes (or PSLs for the fanatics) are a sugary staple of the fall season for a large segment of the American population. In an effort to further capitalize on the craze, they have even pushed the re-integration of these beverages into their menus to about a month before fall begins. They could have just stayed comfy and continued to capitalize on what they knew was a hit, but this year they branched out...
The brand-new Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew from Starbucks.
On August 27th, Starbucks introduced the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, a less syrupy cousin to the PSL that utilizes cold brew (as the name would suggest). Many media outlets were quick to cover the fact that this is Starbucks' first new pumpkin-based drink since the PSL's creation back in 2003, but I believe this signifies something even greater in the specialty coffee industry at large; cold brew is being embraced outside of the summer months. It is at least indicative that Starbucks thinks consumers are ready for it, and even if they aren't, I would wager that Starbucks' actions will make it so. A self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. But what do we do with this information?
I think that in this instance we are best served by letting Starbucks do the heavy lifting and piggyback off of their influence; not by being copycats, but having the attitude of "those guys did X, so I'm going to do X but better." So, what does "doing cold brew in autumn better than Starbucks" look like?
First of all, let's talk about what likely drove Starbucks to make this decision. Cold brew is a surprisingly profitable method of coffee preparation; while this is a topic we've covered before and will elaborate on in the future, we'll give you a quick rundown right now. Cold brew is financially lucrative in that the cost of production and time spent producing is much lower than the more immediate hot brew methods. This is largely a result of the time it takes to brew a batch of cold brew vs. the same volume in espresso shots, pour overs, or even drip brews. Any batch takes just a little bit longer to prepare than a pour over would, and you've got gallons at a time vs. a few hundred milliliters. Make it a concentrate and then you've doubled the volume of end product you can serve, and you brewed it all at once vs. one beverage at a time. It makes sense that Starbucks would prefer to maximize the amount of time they can capitalize on this, and that craft coffee shops would too!
Interestingly, smaller craft coffee shops have a leg up in that they are not limited to one specific roast or origin/blend, one specific brewing recipe, and/or one specific serving recipe; this is a freedom that the big guys can't afford. You have the opportunity to do stuff they simply can't (lighter roasts, single origins, different brew ratios and methods, hot blooms, etc.), and if you find that something doesn't totally work out, you can shift much faster to something that works better!
However, as much as I like a good light-roasted, natural process Ethiopian heirloom cold brewed as a ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage (no dilution required), I would say that the autumn cold brew trend will have to loosely follow the trajectory of the first wave of cold brew; darker roasts and stronger brews (this will lend itself to our purposes in Part 2 though). Eventually, it may be viable to have several origins, blends, roasts, and brewing recipes on hand at all times of the year, but at the moment less is more and this is still the most widely accepted concept of what cold brew is in the public eye. Exceptions can and will be made, but I think this applies for the most part.
Our recommended concentrate recipes - feel free to tweak these as you find recipes that work better for you!
Concentrates make sense in the colder months beyond a public readiness standpoint. Concentrates will last you longer between batches than RTD brews since you use less liquid per cup served, which will be useful in the inevitably slower season (although we don't recommend letting it sit for too long - no one likes stale/funky cold brew!). It's also a great opportunity to downscale the volume you brew with - sometimes you don't need 6 gallons of cold brew on hand! This also means you can experiment with smaller batches until you have something you're completely happy with and keep your craft honed/evolving for the increased volume next summer.
From a practical/seasonal standpoint, the concentrate also lends itself to dilution with hot liquids for those people who still want cold brew but like a warm beverage to ward off the chill, while the RTD would be limited in this regard. It can be cut with hot water for a cold brew Americano of sorts or even with steamed milk for a hot cold brew latte (however, in the absence of crema it would be incredibly difficult to achieve latte art without an added ingredient, such as cocoa powder). Give your customers a few of these options and see how they respond!
While cold brew is certainly most popular in the summer months, its profitability from a preparation perspective makes it beneficial to continue having on the menu this fall. The big guys are starting to realize this and are finding unique ways to present it to consumers that keeps it relevant; tune in next week for Part 2 to get some great autumn cold brew mixing recipes that go above and beyond pumpkin cream!
(Here's a tease for you! Doesn't that look delicious?)