Millennials come in for the cold

iced coffee

From Café Bustelo.

Trending on menus, iced coffee is leading the pack of chilled beverages on foodservice menus. The growing popularity of options such as these is, in large part, driven by younger consumers such as millennials and Gen Z. As warm weather arrives, new takes on cold brew, nitro coffee and icy flavored coffees will pay off, as patrons continue to seek out novelty and premium experiences.

The millennial desire for cold coffee beverages is a major business opportunity for noncommercial operations as well as restaurants and coffee shops. In Technomic’s 2016 Beverage Consumer Trends Report, more than a third (34%) of millennials said they have consumed cold/iced or blended coffee that was either dispensed or made from scratch in the last month, compared to just 26% of all consumers. And 21% of millennials said they have consumed bottled or canned cold/iced coffee in the past month, compared to just 14% of all consumers.

Yet there is an important distinction between the trendy cold brew coffee that millennials favor and traditional iced coffee made by simply chilling hot brewed coffee. Purists say that brewing with hot water extracts components that taste bitter and acidic in iced coffee. In contrast, cold brew is smoother, less acidic and higher in caffeine. It is made by soaking ground coffee in water, usually at ambient temperature, for 12 to 24 hours, then straining off the grounds. As a painstaking, arguably artisanal, premium beverage with a story to tell, it is right in the millennial wheelhouse.

Fast, easy-to-serve cold brew on tap has become a core menu item for many specialty coffee bars and shops that serve young adults. Even trendier is nitro coffee—cold brew infused with nitrogen gas—on tap. The latter has a foamy head like beer and a smooth, naturally sweet taste that appeals to the millennial yen for premium beverages and novel experiences.

For a sense of what might be possible with cold brew in a C&U, corporate dining or sports/recreation setting, consider the new Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea in Chicago. It features eight taps for seasonal cold brew and nitro coffee from local and national roasters, along with other trendy beverages like matcha, sparkling tea and kombucha.

Another trend is the increasing number of flavored iced coffee offerings. Nekter Juice Bar, a California-based chain, touts Vanilla Latte made with cold brew coffee, cashew nut milk, agave and real vanilla and Mocha Latte with cold brew, cashew nut milk, cocoa, coconut palm sugar and a hint of salt. What’s more, its Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle offers alcohol-free versions of popular cocktails like the moscow mule, manhattan and whiskey sour, using cold brew and various syrups, bitters and fresh lemon.

The next step in the evolution of cold brew will be the adoption of taps by more noncommercial and restaurant operators. First, they must overcome the operational challenges of incorporating kegged coffee into already-complex food and beverage operations. But with the millennial fascination with iced coffee going strong, they are likely to crack the code soon.

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