Blog Takeover by Danny Pang. Sales and Technical Manager Marco Beverage Systems APAC.
Why I Hated Cold Brew
I didn’t like cold brew coffee for the longest time. I travelled extensively pre-COVID – spending 3/4 of my time out of the country conducting training and consultancy to coffee chains and distributors in the whole of Asia Pacific. I also spent considerable time conducting competitions as a head judge or assisting other head judges for coffee origins in El Salvador, Honduras and in Brazil. I have to admit: every time I was served a cold brew on my travels, I was disappointed. I found they where brewed with too light a roast which is a trend in many indie cafes nowadays. I got coffee grassy notes that indicate the presence of chlorogenic acids from an under-developed light roast that made my stomach feel sickly afterwards, or a woody taste that indicates a stale coffee. In short: I grew to hate cold brew.
That changed recently.
Cold Brew Concentrate
I found a cold brew coffee that finally worked for me. It was a concentrate coffee brewed cold (or rather brewed with ambient temperature water,) and dispensed from a tap/font over ice. The taste was pleasantly mildly citric, not the type of overly acidic coffees that make your mouth cringe and pucker. What surprised me was the smooth, rich body. Halfway through, I decided to let the ice melt and see what happens to the body. To my pleasant surprise, the coffee’s body remained syrupy enough without tasting watery. The roaster or manufacturer had found the right concentration and recipe of concentrate to ice! It allowed the coffee to taste great from start to finish!
I must qualify, this coffee is a blend and does not boast of super floral or fruity notes from those exotic single origins coffee from the likes of Ethiopians or Panama where specific varietals like Gesha or Yellow Bourbon or Red Catuai are touted. Nor do you hear or read about special processing methods like anaerobic maceration techniques or dry or washed or double, triple picked coffee that tries to let you know that lots of effort were put into the coffee by the farmers and producers. I am sure they did, and I know that for a fact, having worked with them at the origins. But what is going to make the end consumer appreciate all their wonderful efforts upstream of the coffee supply chain, is simply the end product! This coffee, as a beverage, tastes great, pure, and simple! As they say, the proof is in the pudding (or drink, in this case.)
So this got me wondering: how could this coffee get served in less than 2 minutes from the time I completed my order at the cashier? Walking to the bar to pick up and see how it was done revealed the answer. It was dispensed from a font at the press of a button with a pre-programmed dose. The system is called POUR’D. It just worked. There is no brewing process on site. The coffee was pre-brewed. Yet, it tasted fresh and pleasant, and consistently so. There was minimal onsite human interference. Could this be the future of coffee service? Let me elaborate.
Imagine roasters incorporating brewing facilities within their plants. They essentially become the wine makers of coffee. The roasters are the best people to lead this initiative as they are responsible for ensuring the raw green coffee is roasted to the degree most suitable for an espresso, or milk-based coffee, or simply for filter, served hot or cold. They would be able to ensure that the coffee is brewed right, at the plant with all the parameters under strict control, along with all the necessary hygiene processes in place for packaging and distribution. Last but not least, they remove the risk of inconsistencies of onsite brewing due to differences in skill levels of the barista. These include varying dosages of coffee used, different water temperature or quality, different performance of brewing machines, etc.
Basically, all the problems that plague the many cafes or restaurant chains when they are trying to establish a consistent product and experience across all their stores, especially when their food and ambiance or theme and customer service is the main star and NOT coffee. How inconsistent coffee-making can be is further highlighted by all the Barista competitions, which clearly demonstrate that one day a competitor can rank top, and the next day, due to their nerves or preparatory work, can drop to second or third place. If anything, the competitions serve to highlight the challenges and problems of making coffee on site consistently well. Even world champions can falter from one day to the next, not to mention an average daily wage casual barista.
Now, liquid coffee is not new. It’s been available since the 1970s. What is different now, is that the coffee does not get deconstructed at the brewing process with the extraction of flavours and re-introduced later to the liquid. The cold brew or brewing process in this case is just direct extraction of coffee solubles from the grounds into the water and then packed fresh for use. The shelf life might be not as long as those of those big commercials whose products can stay frozen for up to 1 year before use. The artisanal brewing of cold coffee in current times uses specialty grade coffees that bring out the subtle sweet and fruity or floral notes from the coffee fruit. Yes, coffee is a fruit first, and we are using its seed (for the benefit of the non-initiated). It is this particular aspect of using specialty quality coffee that sets it apart from the mass commercial liquid coffee product. I can’t stress enough that the proof is in its taste.
I am fortunate to see the evolution of coffee preparations and methods, both domestic and commercially in my lifetime. It’s an exciting journey. I believe the POUR’D system from Marco Beverage is a disruptor to the coffee industry. How? It provides the artisanal roasters an ability to manufacture and serve their product straight to the end-consumer, tasting as it was intended by the roasters. Essentially, the roasters become a step closer to becoming like the winemakers.
How Baristas can work with Cold Brew
What will happen to the Barista profession? Possibly, move upstream to work in the Roastery to assist and use their know-how in sensory and brewing parameters to achieve what the product should taste for their target customers. The Baristas also focus more on being creative, creating new coffee-based beverages to help the cafes refresh their menus. It would also free up the Barista to spend more time interacting with the consumer, educating, selling, and developing better relationships with the customers.
With this, roasters become more like wine makers, while baristas become more like wine sommeliers, where the communication of knowledge of the product, its origin, sensory and pairing or blending is more important than making coffee on site. Definitely, something to think about in the coming future as labour shortages and high wages, and running costs encumber the high-risk Food and Beverage restaurant retail businesses.