Cool Ideas in Specialty Coffee
Article by Stephen Hosey, blending application manager, Vitamix®
On most restaurant menus, you would expect to find hot, brewed coffee. But what about specialty coffees, not just hot coffee made with premium beans, but the assortment of dressed-up, delectable cold or iced beverages that combine coffee or espresso with other enticing ingredients and toppings?
If specialty coffee drinks are not already on your menu, then perhaps they should be. The specialty coffee segment is ripe with opportunity, growing at a clip of about 20% a year, according to a recent Forbes article. Beverages in this category can be served any time of day, not just in the morning or after dinner. In most cases, they are high-margin – and not so difficult to make.
Once limited to a narrow class of beverages characterized by the origin and quality of their beans, specialty coffee is now an open and growing category that includes iced, cold brew, and nitro coffees; espresso and espresso-based drinks (such as lattes, macchiatos, and cappuccinos); and blended frozen options like coffee frappes made with brewed coffee, espresso, or instant coffee powder, and flavored with add-ins like caramel sauce or mocha syrup.
Among these options, cold coffee drinks hold particular appeal, especially with younger generations, who are driving much of the sector’s growth. In fact, coffee shops say that cold coffee drinks now account for more than half the beverages they sell. The drinks are so in demand that they remain popular even during the winter months and at any time of day – not just during the morning hours.
It’s pretty easy to see why cold coffee drinks have developed the following they have: They’re very easy to customize for flavor and strength, easy to drink on the go, and, when done correctly, make for picture-perfect social posts.
With their premium price tag and anytime appeal, restaurants may find this offering to be a profitable venture because the barriers to entry aren’t all that high. Establishments can prepare many of the most popular cold coffee options with equipment they likely already have.
For example, kitchens equipped with a high-performance commercial beverage blender, such as The Quiet One® by Vitamix® Commercial, are already set up to make many of the essential components of today’s cold coffee drinks, if not entire beverages.
Although you may need a commercial espresso machine to prepare some options, others are far less complicated.
- Iced Coffee: Simply chill and store strongly brewed coffee and serve over ice.
- Cold Brewed Coffee: Grind the roasted coffee beans coarsely and combine with water, allowing it to steep for at least 24 hours, and up to three days, before straining. A one-to-four ratio between ground beans and water is a good place to start. Additionally, longer steeping times between 48 to 72 hours can produce excellent results when it comes to flavor extraction and caffeine strength. Cold brews are often smoother, less acidic, and less bitterness than both hot brewed and iced coffee.
- Milk-Based Espresso Drinks: Start with one or two shots of espresso and mix or shake with ice and the customer’s choice of plant or dairy milks and flavored syrups, such as mocha, vanilla, or chocolate.
Brewing specialty coffee is just the beginning. For many customers, flavoring and garnishing these beverages is where the real excitement lies. That’s because the drinks are highly versatile and can harmonize with the customer’s choice of milk, flavorings, and toppings, which is part of their appeal.
Flavoring the drinks can be as simple as portioning out the cold coffee into a cup and adding a few pumps of the customer’s desired creamers and flavored syrup(s), plus ice. The flavor options are limited only by the ready-to-use syrups you’ve prepared or decided to keep on hand, and you can switch these offerings throughout the year. During the winter months and holidays, for example, hazelnut-, mocha-, and peppermint-flavored syrups will likely be a hit with customers.
Finally, cap off beverages with a freshly made cold foam topping. A delightful counterpoint to bold coffee, cold foam adds richness, sweetness, and flavor and is visually appealing as a decadent-looking garnish that gently seeps into the coffee. It’s easy to prepare in under a minute using The Quiet One fitted with the Aerating Container. Simply aerate a small amount of cold skim or 2% milk in the container using the machine’s built-in, optimized program designed for this purpose. The container’s flat, circular blade will quickly incorporate air into the milk, expanding the volume by up to three times.
You can flavor your cold foam before or after blending with a few pumps of the desired flavored syrup, such as vanilla, cinnamon, or brown sugar. Customers love to customize their cold foams, which will make them loyal to your restaurant.
Your commercial blending equipment also makes frozen coffee beverages, such as frappés. Simply load the standard blender container with cold coffee, cold brew, instant coffee, or powdered espresso, along with ice, a few pumps of flavored syrup, and the desired cream or milk. Then, blend using one of the blender’s optimized settings designed especially for frozen coffee beverages. The Quiet One comes with five factory-installed programs created with frozen coffee in mind, as well as additional blend programs that may also yield great results with frozen coffee drinks. For an added treat, you can optionally top frozen beverages with a flavored whipped cream, made in the Aerating Container.
Explorations in Specialty Coffee
There’s no shortage of pioneering professionals who continue to push beyond these options. A prime example is Shawn Lickliter, director of bar operations for République based in Los Angeles, California, and a 2022 Vitamix Commercial StarChefs partner.
One of Shawn’s recent creations is the TCMT Frappé, an Asian-inspired frozen blend that’s a twist on the classic Hong Kong Yuanyang coffee milk tea, a popular Southeast Asian beverage with black coffee, black tea, milk, and sugar.
Shawn swaps in a coconut cream for the milk and Thai tea instead of black tea, blending it all in The Quiet One. He calls this a “coffee colada.” The coconut flavor goes well with the coffee, as does the Thai tea, with its hints of vanilla, he explains. The coconut cream also serves to sweeten the drink and ties the elements together.
Cultural inspirations like these regularly show up on République’s menu, Shawn says, and customers order their cold coffee drinks all day long. He suggests that restaurants experiment with the Hong Kong coffee-milk-tea combination by swapping in other types of teas, such as Sakura blossom tea or a green tea.
Cold coffee options are also present at the bar, Shawn says. He recently created a frozen tropical coffee cocktail inspired by a house staple at the legendary Bali Hai Restaurant in San Diego, California. The recipe is rum plus coffee and coffee liqueur blended with ice, sugar, pineapple, and lime.
As yet another flavor option, Shawn has been experimenting with the use of fresh fruit juices in cold brew coffee. His recommendation: Try adding a splash or two of fresh pineapple or grapefruit juice to sweeten the coffee instead of sugar or simple syrup.
TCMT Frappé by Shawn Lickliter
Yield: 1 frappé
- Coconut cream (a combination of ¾ cup cream of coconut and ¼ cup coconut milk)
- 2 ounces cold brew coffee
- 2 ounces brewed Thai tea
- Whipped cream
- Grated nutmeg to garnish
- Make the coconut cream: In a bowl, stir to combine the cream of coconut and coconut milk. Transfer to a nonreactive container and refrigerate.
- When it’s time to serve the beverage, combine 2 ounces of coconut cream, coffee, tea, and 1 cup of small ice cubes. Then, blend in The Quiet One until smooth.
- Pour into a Collins glass. Top with whipped cream and nutmeg to garnish.
Stephen Hosey is blending application manager and culinary team member at Vitamix, where he assists commercial customers with kitchen and bar efficiency, recipe creation and menu development. For more information, email the Vitamix Commercial team at [email protected].
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