Cold Brew & Nitro Draft: Retooled Coffee Service

Starbucks

Image Source: Starbucks

When two growing trends in the beverage world meet it’s worth watching to see how well things go. For some time, Stumptown has been distributing nitrogen-fueled draft pumps to coffee shops. And now mega-coffee leader Starbucks is rolling out cold brew coffee served in nitrogen draft systems to 6 US cities this summer, including Los Angeles. The chain had previously served the brew exclusively at its higher-end Reserve Roastery and Tasting Rooms.

Starbucks is also launching a cold brew topped with vanilla sweet cream in the hopes of continuing the sales jump it saw from the introduction of cold brew last year. Nitro cold brew is Starbucks' standard cold brew recipe infused with nitrogen. The coffee is poured from a tap like beer, is frothier and creamier, and tends to have much higher caffeine content than a standard iced coffee. Starbucks didn't say exactly when this summer the nitro coffee will become available, but the cities included in the rollout are Seattle, Portland, New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended in September, Starbucks said sales of its iced drinks rose 20% after the cold brew introduction. Research firm Euromonitor said late last year that although there has been “unrelenting innovation” in hot drinks, including a growing wave of premium roasts and new brewing methods, there is still room for growth, especially in iced coffee.

Starbucks expects the US cold coffee market to double in the next three years. US iced coffee consumption has grown 75% over the last two years according to Starbucks. Cold brew consumption grew more than threefold from 2010 to 2015, according to Starbucks and research firm Mintel.

As part of a new “cold bar” platform of cold coffee and espresso drinks, the chain is merging three trends: cold coffee, cold-brewed coffee, and draft innovation. Starbucks is also taking a giant step into controlling quality of beverage service as well as meeting current consumer drink preferences.

Other coffee operators have already been working with nitro serve. Caribou Coffee began testing it last year and Peet's Coffe & Tea recently introduced the Coconut Black Tie, featuring cold-brew coffee sweetened with coconut, condensed milk and cream. Even fast feeders are in on it: Chik-fil-A earlier this year rolled out a cold brewed coffee and ice cream like product frozen drink.

Mainstream chains can almost always upgrade their coffee service, generally considered below par by most observers, and perhaps cold brew alone has already been on many minds. But tied in with an expanded, trendy and profitable service style like nitro draft, it seems like it’s really time to try to wrestle some of that beverage profitability back from the proliferating coffee shops.