If you think there are enough ready-to-drink cold brew coffees on the market, you’re not alone. So does Colby Barr. As the co-founder of Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Verve Coffee, he’s brewed enough of it to know.
Cold brew, served at its 12 retail cafes and on draft via keg service, was a “foundational element” of Verve, Barr told BevNET in a call last week. Alongside co-founder Ryan O’Donovan, he helped build the company, founded in 2007, from a single Santa Cruz cafe to a boutique chain with locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo, as well as launching wholesale, roasting, keg service and direct-to-consumer sales operations. Yet Verve has recently undergone a major change, shifting its cafe, wholesale and keg operations completely to “flash brew” coffee, a brewing process that also will fuel its long-planned plunge into RTD coffee.
“This is the HD (high definition) version of cold brew,” Barr said of Verve Nitro Flash Brew, which launched last week.
To be exact, there is no cold brewing going on here. Rather than steeping coffee in cold water, Verve begins with a blend of Colombian and Ethiopian coffee brewed hot in an oxygen-free environment before being flash-chilled and infused with nitrogen. According to Barr, the end result is more similar to an iced pour-over coffee, which is how Verve prepares iced coffee on-demand in its cafes, than a traditional cold brew steeped in a bucket for hours. Where cold brew is “flat,” this is “dynamic and vibrant”; where cold brew is “murky,” Verve is “hyper clean,” he explained.
“We are a brand and an industry that measures coffee to the 10th of a gram and water to 10th of a degree — why do we have a super loose approach to making cold coffee that doesn’t align with anything else we do?” Barr said. “Let’s clear our minds of all the legacy bad habits of how to make cold coffee. Let’s start by applying precision brewing mindset the same way we brew pour overs and espressos, thinking about pressure and temperature.”
Text on the side of the can — “This is not cold brew, this is flash brew” — shows the company has committed to this concept. The choice of terminology helped the company to avoid aligning itself with “lots of products that we don’t believe in or agree with or even like,” according to Barr.
As it moves onto retail shelves, Verve will be hoping consumers appreciate the difference between flash brew and cold brew, even as it seeks a place in a cold coffee set increasingly defined by the latter. Barr said the brand isn’t looking to move away from coolers, but is confident the proposition will be familiar enough that consumers will understand it within the context of the category. The product, which is shipped and stored cold and has a 16 week shelf life, is currently available in 9.5 oz cans (SRP $3.99) and in kegs at Verve’s cafes. Next month, it will launch direct-to-consumer on Verve’s website and with HiTouch Distribution in Southern California at retailers such as Whole Foods, Mother’s Market, and Lazy Acres Market.
“Hopefully what consumers are going to say is ‘What is flash brew?’” Barr said. “For me, that is the win. I want them to ask that question, because now we started a dialogue.”
Speaking just hours after Verve officially launched its first RTD product, Barr said the company is already planning for the future. New lines are set to debut over the next six months, including potentially non-dairy milk-added SKUs and function-forward coffee beverages.
“Being able to have a product that isn’t directly from one of our cafes that when we give it to someone, we know when they open that and drink it they are going to experience exactly what we intended, with no steps between us and them,” said Barr of the significance of Verve’s move into RTD. “As a producer, knowing that a consumer can experience exactly what you intended… We are really feeling excited about that.”