Iced coffee continues to ascend to gourmet status through a focus on texture: nitro, carbonated, sparkling.

The coffee industry has been quickly evolving over recent years. Step into a local cafe, and menu boards now boast beverages touting buzzwords such as “tonic,” “nitro,” and “coffee soda” alongside signature pour overs and lattes. As consumers’ tastes have grown more adventurous, brands and businesses involved in today’s transforming coffee landscape have taken note regarding consumers’ desire for innovative discovery. Staying up to date on trends across coffee shops and grocery stores is more crucial for a business than ever before.

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Associated with taste change is the topic of texture, which plays a prominent role in shaping the beverage industry of today. In order to thoroughly match the needs and desires of consumers, market players in major beverage industries -- from coffee to carbonated soft drinks -- must closely consider the effects that specific textures, such as nitrogen (nitro) infusion and carbonation, have successfully had on today’s mainstream beverage market.

NITRO INFUSED COFFEE: BOTH A FLAVOR AND PROFIT BOOST

No longer are nitro taps strictly seen at craft breweries. Coffee companies have caught on to the frothy, satisfyingly smooth and creamy texture achieved through infusing their brews with nitrogen. What once was viewed as a specialty item available only on tap at independent microbreweries is now a phenomenon stretching multiple industries, and can be purchased from chains like Starbucks, as well as in cans and bottles from major grocers and retailers across the country.

The method of infusing coffee with nitrogen helps to cut the bitterness of regularly brewed coffee, giving it a creamy, slightly sweetened taste without losing the rich flavor of the coffee itself. It provides a whole new coffee drinking experience, and specialty roasters as well as major corporations are throwing their hats in the nitro ring. Popular roasters such as Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters and New York’s RISE Brewing Co. have made waves with their ready-to-drink, canned nitro cold brews -- available in cafes and retailers across the United States.

Infusing a drink with nitro alone will only go so far on a grocery store shelf amongst an expanding sea of coffee competitors. Because of this, companies are cranking up the creativity on their nitro products. RISE now offers an “oat milk latte” flavored nitro coffee, a smart way to further draw in dairy-free consumers. Aside from adding milk, adding unique and unexpected flavors to brews has helped brands create more of a buzz, boosting their appeal within the industry. Philadelphia-originated La Colombe, known for their signature, canned draft lattes, has created a ready-to-drink nitro cold brew utilizing refreshing flavors perfect for summertime such as grapefruit, cherry, and lemonade. In order to stand out in a market nearing saturation, brands should consider exploring specialty flavors for their nitro brews, incorporating floral, fruity, spicy, and herbal notes.

COFFEE SODA POPULARITY BUBBLING UP

It’s no surprise that the popularity of carbonated coffee has soared in recent years, with carbonated water in general having seen a generous popularity spike. As noted in a 2018 study from Nielsen, sales within the sparkling water industry reached $2.2 billion last year, with the category seeing a 54% growth over the past four years. In addition to plain sparkling water, ready-to-drink fizzy beverages of all categories -- hard seltzer, tea, kombucha -- have enjoyed massive boosts in 2018 as well (Nielsen).

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The carbonation craze has no intention of slowing down, and industries like specialty coffee and carbonated soft drinks (CSD) are quickly jumping aboard the bubbly bandwagon with their individual takes on “coffee soda,” a drink that combines coffee, sparkling or soda water, and usually an element of citrus. Although today’s latest coffee trend actually dates back to the 1800s with a beverage called Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda, the drink has only truly taken off in the last several years. Fizzy, sparkling coffee has popped up on cafe menus and grocery store shelves across the country, from major chains like Starbucks and Stumptown to independent roasters, with each brand providing their own take on the carbonated treat. Consumers have welcomed the refreshing effervescence of bubbles with their coffee as a unique and healthy alternative to sugary sodas. While the idea of citrus and seltzer coupled with espresso might sound like an unusual choice, the result is actually crisp and refreshing flavors that satisfy in a way unlike other sugary, iced coffee drinks on the market.

Across the US, brands are putting their unique spin on coffee soda. In North Carolina, Raleigh-based Slingshot Coffee Co. sells cans of classically inspired flavors like Black Cherry Cola and Citrus Vanilla Cream Soda. Brooklyn’s Upruit offers sparkling fruit and mineral infused cold brews with flavors like Tangerine Pink Salt and Montmorency Cherry. Stumptown in Portland has released a summer special called the Citrus Cold Brew Shrub, made with apple cider vinegar, lemon and their signature cold brew.

While numerous brands are infusing their ready-made cold brews with seltzer and citrus, Nashville’s Matchless Coffee Soda takes their production method to a new level through the use of flash chilling. Flash chilling, the popular Japanese method for making iced coffee, involves brewing concentrated coffee at a hot temperature and immediately cooling it over ice. The result is a cold coffee that’s not only undiluted, but also brings about a much fresher taste and maintains a robust flavor profile of the coffee beans -- something that is nearly impossible to achieve through typical cold brewing methods. Matchless’ rich base is then lightly sweetened with all-natural demerara sugar and carbonated for effervescent enjoyment. Noted on Matchless’ website, the drink -- which is available for retail purchase as well as on draft in cafes across Nashville -- is typically served over ice with an expressed citrus peel.

With the heightened desire for health-conscious soda options that don’t sacrifice the refreshing taste and texture of carbonation, coffee soda has established a strong presence among brands of all sizes and levels of maturity. For businesses interested in upping their relevance within the CSD and burgeoning coffee industries, consider giving coffee soda a try.

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