Cold brew with its deeper, less acidic and more subtle taste, and concentrated flavours is increasingly preferred for a refreshing caffeine fix on a hot day. 

The long-time image of a steaming hot cup of fragrant coffee is moving aside to make room for a very different beverage albeit using the same basic ingredients – coffee and water. The newcomer is cold brewed (not iced) coffee and its popularity is growing fast, especially among drinkers in the age bracket 14-40. Many of them do not drink regular coffee so for the moment, at least, it seems the traditional side of the industry is content to co-exist with the trendy upstart.

Cold brew coffee will always be expensive as it is labour intensive, takes at least 12 hours to brew and requires approximately double the quantity of coffee beans as the same volume of regular coffee. Perhaps surprisingly, cold brew contains more caffeine but is less acidic than conventional hot coffee. Once made, the cold-brew concentrate will keep refrigerated for about two weeks. It can be canned or bottled, which boosts its trendy image and brings it into head-to-head competition with sodas rather than impinging on hot-brew sales.

Cold brew coffee is not exactly new in Asia as the Japanese learned it from the Dutch in the early1600s. While coffee shops across Asia are looking for new and creative ways to present the drink, home brewing has never been easier thanks to a plethora of accessories guaranteed to produce a perfect result.

Dunkin Donuts were among the first big chain to latch onto the new trend in the US and Starbucks were not far behind, introducing cold brew coffee throughout the US in the summer of 2015, since when sales have increased by 25% annually.

Out In The Cold

Cold brew is gaining popularity across Asia and the younger generation is interested in this new method of extraction, says Jennifer Liu, Hong Kong-based founder of The Coffee Academics.

“The traditional coffee industry needs to think about whether their beans can represent well in the cold brew process and does it have a unique character and taste profile. Cold brew is the refinement of a regular iced coffee but more sophisticated in the process and extraction and it does not dilute as it stands. It is a beverage that highlights the authentic flavours of high quality beans, ie speciality grade coffee. The traditional coffee industry in mass production mode may not benefit from the cold brew wave as it is treasured as small batch, artisanal and hand crafted. If one takes cold brew and starts producing it in large commercial factories it would lose the authenticity and novelty.

“Regular iced coffee and cold brew are two ways to make a cold coffee. But the process, time, extraction, precision and texture of the coffee (smoothness, evenness and mouthfeel) is not the same. All this makes the cold brew pricier and it’s almost a new category of beverage. If you ask me it’s almost like a regular ice cream versus an artisan gelato.”

“We believe in the traditional hot method,” says Simone Rizzolo Export Area Manager La San Marco S.P.A. “And this is why we have introduced our newly-launched Leva Luxury coffee machine. We want to give the barista the possibility to adapt the extraction to the different blends of coffee and to extract all compounds of the coffee with the most advanced technology available starting from the centesimal ring of our coffee grinders for perfect grinding performance and granulometry of the powder.”

Extracting Goodness

Rizzolo does not see cold brew drinkers affecting the sales of hot coffee, as the latter will always appeal on account of the speed with which it can be prepared. “There’s a short window to extract the desired flavours,” she says. “Some  compounds (acids in particular) are only soluble at high temperatures, and lead to some of the familiar more unique, sharper and acidic flavors. Cold brewing takes time, but it results in a much more rounded, smooth and chocolatey flavour profile, with much less acidity. In the end it is a matter of taste and it is up to coffee lovers to try different experiences because every person and palate is different. Anyhow, drink coffee because coffee is a language in itself!”

Thanks to the popularity of cold brew, traditional coffee roasters and producers are living at an exciting moment in the history of coffee, says Dr Massimo Hakim, who founded Milan-based MIKAH Premium Coffee in 1984. Far from seeing cold brewed coffee as a threat, he sees it as a way to interest new coffee drinkers especially among the younger generation. “One day, they will become real coffee drinkers,” he says. And in the meantime, they are becoming more familiar with the coffee shop lifestyle. “The increasing popularity of cold brew is boosting sales during summer months, forming a ‘new revenue spiral’ for all operators. MIKAH’s annual sales in Asia are rising with the cold brewed coffee boom to the point where this sector accounts for almost 40% of the business.”

Innovative Brews

Cold brew coffee lends itself to innovative presentation, in cocktails and with tasting notes to guide drinkers in the special qualities of single origin coffees. The biggest drawback is the space required for cold brewing, a major consideration in most Asian cities where every square centimetre must be productive.

The traditional coffee industry promotes cold brewed coffee as an alternative to iced coffee (which is brewed hot and then combined with ice cubes), says Tammy Chua, Marketing Manager Boncafe International Pte Ltd.

“For the traditional coffee industry to compete in this market, we have to understand young and trendy consumers. They are getting more adventurous and willing to explore and experience a new coffee culture,” says Chua. The traditional coffee industry has extended the cold brewed coffee offering by infusing food grade nitrogen into cold brewed coffee to make it look like ‘coffee beer’.

“Understanding that the majority of consumers prefer their coffee sweetened, creative offerings like fresh milk, condensed milk, flavoured syrup (vanilla, hazelnut, Irish cream and so on) are being added to the cold brew for a different experience.”

Reza Kurniawan, Executive Chef at Shinta Mani Siem Reap finds the whole concept of cold brew coffee intriguing. He says he explored the town’s coffee shops, but found only one big one that did cold brewed coffee with any sense of style. “They prepare their own brew and say it sells well in a bottle with ice, simple syrup and cold milk. I did my own experiment and got the same taste from an 18-hour brew at room temperature. I’m thinking about introducing it here at the hotel.”