The Cold Brew Coffee Craze: What Is It? What’s the Driving Force Behind it?
There is no denying the fact that Starbucks has been a driving force behind a lot of coffee trends throughout the nation. So it’s not surprising to learn that before March 2015, few people had ever heard of Cold Brew coffee, and unless you knew of one of the few elite specialty food stores and coffee shops and could afford to patronize them, you probably hadn’t tasted this new concoction either. March 2015 is a significant milestone in the evolution of coffee trends because that’s when Starbucks introduced cold brew at many of its United States stores.
From Starbucks, cold brew found its way to Whole Foods, other specialty foods stores, and ultimately to Dunkin’ Donuts. Now it’s a “new thing” that’s making its way to grocery stores shelves all over the country. It’s gone from something that no one had ever heard of to a new drink that coffee lovers everywhere have to have.
The Historical Roots of Cold Brew Coffee
Starbucks may take the credit for introducing Americans to cold brew coffee in 2015, but the idea of pouring cold or cold water over ground coffee is a phenomenon that has existed since the 1600s in Japan in the form of a beverage that the Japanese referred to as Kyoto Coffee. It is possible that Dutch traders developed the process so they could bring a substantial stash of coffee concentrate with them on ships as they sailed to Japan. The concentrate allowed the traders to enjoy coffee without the risks associated with a fire on a wooden boat.
In 1837, the Treaty of Tafna gave French soldiers control of the Algerian fortress of Mazagran. While in Algeria, the soldiers invented a drink that was made by combining cold water with a sweetened coffee concentrate. They called the beverage Mazagran - after the fortress where they first drank it. They brought their newfound drink back to France, and it ultimately found its way into French cafes where owners developed their own versions of the original beverage.
A compilation of popular recipes that were found in 19th century women's’ magazines that were turned into a published book provides evidence that Civil War soldiers enjoyed a similar concoction on the battlefield, and the drink we affectionately refer to as Camp Coffee today is based on the old practice of steeping coffee grounds in cold water.
The 1922 publication of a coffee compendium describes the Cuban custom of placing finely ground coffee beans in a vessel, after which they poured cold water over the beans, repeating the process until the grounds were thoroughly saturated. They would then separate the grounds from the liquid so they could use the “concentrated extract.”
Why is Cold Brew So Popular?
April Masini, author of the Ask April column calls cold brew a “newish method of making coffee.” She told the Motley Fool that cold brew is a new phenomenon, and people are often drawn to the seductiveness in something that’s new, and the fact that its newness makes it different. And in the minds of many people, particularly millennials, new is often synonymous with cool. What makes cold brew even better, however, is the fact that it looks like regular coffee. As it becomes trendier all the time, the fact that is so trendy adds to its appeal, and that’s a factor that makes people want to try it.
When you add the availability of cold brew concentrate on grocery store shelves, people who are drawn to trendy stuff and are eager to keep up with popular culture will relish the idea of being able to enjoy cold brew without having to go through the time-consuming process of letting the beans steep. And they’ll buy it because the convenience justifies the expense.
What Is Cold Brew Coffee?
Cold brew is less about the brewing method than it is about the process. It’s also about planning for it in advance to ensure that you have the beans and supplies you need because of the time it takes for the cold brewing process to “do its thing.” Cold brew uses cold or room temperature water, which is where the method gets its name. The grind of the coffee beans also matters. Cold brew works best with medium to coarse ground beans. The beans have to steep in the water for at least 12 hours to extract their full flavor.
Cold brewing is a method that succeeds in maintaining the flavor level and aroma of traditionally brewed coffee, but it accomplishes these things while reducing the acid level. And if you’re someone who loves coffee but is reluctant to drink it because of the effect acid has on your GI system, cold brew is the answer to your dreams.
You need to use a bit more ground coffee when you’re making a cold brew concentrate. Adding more grounds minimizes dilution while allowing the coffee to taste as good as hot coffee - if not better.
What the Money Shows
The coffee market is a $5 billion industry. To understand the degree to which cold brew has transformed the coffee market and helped drive sales of coffee drinks up instead of down (since sales typically used to drop from late spring through the end of summer), let’s look at some data that Forbes published.
- In 2015, sales of cold brew coffee totaled $8.1 million.
- By 2017, cold brew coffee yielded a staggering $38.1 million in sales.
That means that there was a whopping 370% increase in sales of cold brew coffee in two years.
The availability of RTD (Ready to Drink) cold brew beverages on grocery stores shelves and in their refrigerators makes cold brew accessible to everyone. But there are always other factors, including the fascination that people have with technology, so the introduction of nitro infusion appeals to foodies and tech lovers. And if you’re one of those people who always have coffee on hand at home, a supply of cold brew concentrate in the refrigerator will make that possible.