What the Cold Brew Craze Means for Tea

In recent months, Flavorman has seen a steady uptick in development requests for concepts utilizing cold brew tea in beverages of all kinds – hard seltzers, clean energy drinks, traditional RTD teas, etc. Pictured here: Flavorman’s lab. (Photo: Courtesy of Flavorman)

While not new to the beverage industry, “cold brew” seems to be getting more and more buzz lately. The coffee sector in particular has seen an explosion of cold brew offers that are changing the way consumers experience coffee. But as the coffee sector becomes increasingly saturated with products, there seems to be a growing opportunity for tea to capitalize on the craze, too.

As lab manager at Flavorman, I regularly oversee hundreds of custom beverage development projects, many of which utilize tea; so while tea-related projects are quite common for us, those utilizing cold brewed varieties specifically are not – but that seems to be changing.

In recent months, we’ve seen a steady uptick in development requests for concepts utilizing cold brew tea in beverages of all kinds – hard seltzers, clean energy drinks, traditional RTD teas, you name it. This gives us a unique perspective into the beverage trends looming on the horizon, and we are proud to be a part of shaping how consumers experience those trends through great-tasting products.

Cold brew tea seems to be the latest frontier, and although there is still much to be seen about how the category will develop, the success of cold brew coffee can provide some insights.

Here are some of the creative ways drink companies can make their tea products stand out in a sea of cold brew offers.

Flavor
Great flavors are the key to creating memorable beverage experiences for brands and their consumers. Like coffee, tea and tisanes get much of their flavor from how they are cultivated, processed and brewed; but thanks to advancements in flavor technology, beverage developers can create specific flavor experiences that enhance the tea’s natural qualities.

Of course, from a formulation perspective, tea in general is an attractive ingredient to work with – there aren’t a lot of off-notes to mask, it’s versatile across beverage types, and it’s also naturally packed with functional benefits. For example, we’ve found that green teas do well with citrus while black teas pair nicely with the stronger flavor profiles of berries and herbals. Cold brew shares these qualities, but with slight variations in flavor.

When formulating for commercial beverages, we often go for a tea concentrate. If you compare a cold brew tea concentrate side-by-side with a standard tea concentrate, you’ll notice that the cold brew tends to have a sweeter, smoother and milder flavor; that’s because cold brew processing extracts fewer bitter tannins from the plant than harsher, heat-based methods. This is great news for beverage developers, as it makes shaping the flavor experience even more effortless.

Flavors like lemon, peach and hibiscus have long been staples in many existing tea product lines, but as consumers seek out further diversification and choice, more sophisticated flavor pairings like strawberry basil, blueberry lavender and pomegranate mint are becoming less of a novelty. If we can learn anything from how the RTD cold brew coffee category has emerged, it’s that the familiarity of these staple flavors will eventually make way for more adventurous offerings as brands compete for space on the shelf.

Formulation & Function
Flavors may be the star ingredient of a beverage, but they aren’t the only way to “wow” consumers. Taking inspiration from what’s happening currently in the coffee sector and what we’ve seen come out of our lab, sugar-free, dairy-free, nitrogen-infused and alcoholic offers – among other cross-category adaptions – can help new cold brew teas differentiate themselves while highlighting the premium nature of cold brew overall.

Pursuing a “functional plus” approach to formulation has also proven beneficial as brands look to separate themselves from the competition. As consumers seek out the hydration and nutritional attributes of cold brew teas, they’re also looking for the bonus of other functional ingredients – think caffeine, antioxidants, protein, fiber or CBD. This makes cold brew tea a great base for naturally positioned beverages, both with and without alcohol.

As the category continues to evolve with new flavor and functional combinations, we’re sure to see further exploration in the form of textural elements. While there are still some challenges to be tackled, the possibilities for RTD boba-style formulations in particular continue to be an area of interest for beverage developers.

Thanks to the expansive variety of flavors, functional benefits and applications across beverage types, the tea industry has been successful in attracting a new generation of consumers. Niche products like kombucha, mate and now cold brew will continue to advance the tea sector, supported by trends prioritizing health and wellness, as well as increased demand for functionality and brand transparency in ingredient quality and sourcing.

Whatever the future holds for tea and what the world is drinking, it’s an exciting time overall for tea and beverage concepts.

Katie Clark is the lab manager and beverage architect at Flavorman. Drawing on her background in food science and quality assurance, her primary role involves managing a world-class team of scientists who are responsible for creating the next generation of great tasting drinks. Prior to her role as Flavorman lab manager, Clark served as a beverage architect herself, developing hundreds of unique formulations for starts-ups and established beverage brands, alike. Flavorman was founded in 1992 and is a custom beverage development company located in Louisville, Ky. To learn more, visit Flavorman.com.