Cold Brew Finds Footing In Citrus Flavors

Coffee and oranges may be fixtures together on the breakfast table, but most people don’t go about squeezing fruit juices into their morning java.

But with cold brew driving innovation in the RTD coffee category, some brands have turned to citrus flavors in new line extensions. Often described as less acidic and smoother to the palate than traditionally brewed coffee, cold brew has become a top area for experimentation; high-profile coffee producers like Stumptown and, most recently, Chameleon have introduced sparkling varieties with citrus and ginger flavors. Meanwhile, startups such as Upruit and Matchless Coffee Soda have built their respective brands around the combination of citrus and coffee while the fast-growing Rise Brewing Co. just added its first major line extension with canned blood orange and lemonade nitro coffees.

Rise co-founder Jarrett McGovern told BevNET that the company’s citrus-flavored products complement the natural sweetness and creaminess derived from nitro cold brew, allowing for a beverage with very little added sugar. The company focused on making a coffee version of an Arnold Palmer, internally nicknaming the lemonade flavor a “Nitro Palmer.”

While citrus juice in coffee might seem odd to some, the flavor profile has a history in some coffee cultures. McGovern referred to Italian espresso served with lemon peels, where the citric acid “opens up” the coffee flavors to brighten the brew.

Rise’s citrus-infused products will launch in Whole Foods this fall and are available in Fairway, Westside Market, and Brooklyn Fair stores in New York and Connecticut as well as

Chameleon Cold-Brew, which announced its sparkling line last week at Natural Products Expo East 2017, the brand sought to develop new flavors to make coffee more refreshing for hot summer afternoons. In addition to citrus and ginger flavors, the line also includes black and spiced vanilla varieties. The addition of carbonation is designed to allow the spiciness of ginger or brightness of citrus to blend more naturally with coffee.

“There’s an effervescence to sparkling that highlights the flavors and brings them to life in a way a still beverage couldn’t,” said Francey Grund, director of marketing at Chameleon.

Brian Lovejoy, general manager of coffee at Califia Farms, cites Scandinavia as another region where citrus and espresso have been combined. Previously the head of RTD at third-wave coffee roaster Verve, Lovejoy said he’s observed many cafes experimenting with citrus combinations for years with varying degrees of success. In RTD, citrus can be a means for brands to differentiate on the shelf, but it’s not an easy task to pull off.

Califia Farms currently does not offer citrus flavors for its coffee line.

“I’ve seen the citrus added, or ginger added, flavors, but I don’t think the execution has always been first rate,” Lovejoy said. “I think there’s definitely potential for citrus or herb or ginger, if it’s done well.”

Lovejoy said that successful citrus and coffee combos utilize citrus juice rather than oils, and brewers need to ensure that the coffee tastes natural, adding that he has tried several iterations that tasted as though they were made with added flavoring.

For startup Matchless Coffee Soda, getting the balance of citrus flavor right proved a challenge. According to co-founder and formulator Nathaneal Mehrens, early attempts to add orange flavor to the company’s sparkling iced coffee proved difficult as the citrus flavors were too overpowering. To compensate, Mehrens corrected the recipe by adding only citric acid as a way to increase the drink’s refreshing qualities. When sold on draft, the coffee is also served with an orange peel, which adds citrus aromatics without impairing the coffee flavor, he said.

Mache Barwinski, founder of Upruit, has likewise found issues with some fruit flavors. He said the company, which offers sparkling lemonade and tart cherry cold brew coffees, found that the cherry flavor did not work as well as hoped flavorwise and subsequently dropped the variety from its line, while keeping the door open for potential retool and relaunch in the future.

But the company has been experimenting in the kitchen, trying different flavor combinations. While Barwinski said that blueberry “fell far” from being a workable coffee flavor, others such as mint grapefruit and ginger hibiscus have been officially added to the line.

“What I’ve learned testing different recipes, the fruit ingredient has to have some sort of punch,” Barwinski said, noting that Upruit is focused on creating functional fruity beverages with a caffeine boost. “Whether it’s the heat from the ginger, or mint which has a nice finish. So it was always about what is going to be the complement to the fruity citrus coffee from ethiopia or the more chocolatey coffee from Peru. We’re beginning to match up coffee origins with what the fruit is.”

While the citrus cold brew movement is still in its early stages, some companies, such as Rise, are already finding early success with it. According to McGovern, a trial run for the lemonade and blood orange flavors at the company’s pop-up cafe in New York saw immense consumer demand within the first weeks.

“We wanted the market to make this decision for us,” McGovern said. “And the market has spoken.”