The craft coffee world has long been championing cold-brew coffee — a smoother and more potent drink than iced coffee — as the optimal warm weather beverage. But now, the drink is going mainstream: Coffee giant Starbucks is putting cold-brew coffee on its menus at thousands of locations.
While iced coffee is simply coffee or espresso that is brewed hot and poured over ice to chill, cold brew is, well, true to its name: Coffee grounds are steeped in cold-to-room temperature water for up to 24 hours. The result is a beverage that is less acidic and more caffeinated compared to iced coffee, which leads many baristas to dilute the down the drink with water and ice.
Starbucks is putting cold-brew coffee on its menus at thousands of locations.
Over the past few years, cold brew has become a menu standard at notable third wave coffee shops like Blue Bottle and Stumptown. Diane Aylsworth — Stumptown's marketing manager — tells Eater that cold brew has proven to be so popular for the company that it now serves cold brew on tap at all of its cafes. Stumptown even bottles the coffee for the home consumer and, most recently, the company launched a chocolate cold brew with milk.
Blue Bottle's director of communications Byard Duncan notes that the brand's New Orleans Iced Coffee — which is cold brewed with roasted chicory — is one of the company's top sellers in the summer months: "We produce an astronomical amount of it. It's likely the bulk of what our retail cafes sell ... between June and August."
Starbucks first started quietly testing "small batch" cold-brewed coffee at a handful of stores in the Boston area last August. According to a Starbucks spokesperson, the version that will be sold at 2,800 Starbucks stores will be steeped for 20 hours in cool water, then eventually diluted down.
Cold-brew coffee will be limited in quantity.
Unlike the chain's seemingly endless supply of sugared-up Frappuccinos, the cold brew is going be limited in quantity: Due to the brew time, stores will only be making one batch — or enough for 40 grande-sized cups — per day. While most cold brews are dramatically higher in caffeine content than iced coffees, Michelle Sundquist — a member of Starbucks Research Development team — reveals to Eater that the company's cold brew only has about 5 milligrams more. No decaf version will be available.
While Starbucks's test cold brew was made from a single origin Ethiopian-bean, the permanent version is crafted from the chain's mysterious "cold brew blend" of Latin American and African coffees. Sundquist tells Eater that her team tasted "hundreds of cups of coffee" that were steeped anywhere from "seven hours to 26 hours" before they settled on what is now the chain's cold brew-specific blend.
The drink will be available year-round in stores across the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, New York metro area, and Midwest, which are the regions that apparently drink the most iced coffee. And, in typical Starbucks fashion, customers will still be able to customize their cold brew with all kinds of flavored syrups and possibly even coconut milk — or, rather, "Sumatra coconut milk beverage with coconut water from concentrate."
So what do popular craft coffee brands think of Starbucks making a play at the cold brew market? Stumptown's Diane Aylsworth is "thrilled" that cold brew "has proven itself in the market" and is hitting such a big stage. She adds, "We see a ton of products launching from small entrepreneurs too. It doesn't surprise me that Starbucks would consider getting into the cold brew game." As for Blue Bottle, a spokesperson for the company had no comment on the matter "at this time." Starbucks's cold brew will be available in stores March 31.