Starbucks is ready to win over coffee snobs with two new cold beverages this summer.
On Tuesday, the chain begins its roll out of Nitro Cold Brew, a beverage that infuses Starbucks cold brew with nitrogen to create a cold, creamy coffee with a texture similar to a dark beer, like Guinness.
“What makes nitrogen so different than CO2 is that the bubbles are so small,” Starbucks’ coffee education specialist Mackenzie Karr told Business Insider. “It’s kind of this foamy, creamy flavour without adding anything to it — it’s super textural.”
The beverage is served cold straight from the nitrogen-infusing tap, without ice. It is unsweetened, intended to highlight the natural sweetness of the drink. Karr recommends trying the beverage sans straw, to better appreciate the crema foam that tops the beverage as the micro bubbles rise.
“We wanted it to be an experiential beverage,” says Karr. “We wanted to highlight that our baristas are hand crafting this beverage in our stores every day.”
Nitro Cold Brew will be available at more than 500 Starbucks locations in major cities including Seattle, Portland, New York, Chicago, and Boston this summer. The drink is already available at Starbucks’ Seattle Roastery, where it has become the second highest selling drink on the menu.
With the roll out, Starbucks will become the largest retailer of Nitro Cold Brew in the US. The beverage is still a foreign concept to many outside of coffee-snob circles, as the beverage was invented just four years ago — though it started becoming a menu go-to at trendy, independent coffee shops in major cities last summer.
“We’re really reaching customers that have never experienced this before,” says Karr.
The launch of Nitro Cold Brew is part of Starbucks’ new “Cold Bar” menu of what the company calls “craft-and-coffee forward” beverages, which the chain is launching on May 31.
“For over forty years we have perfected the craft of roasting and brewing the finest hot coffee and while we have always offered our customers new options in cold coffee, nothing will compare to the pace of flavour, craft and brewing innovation we will see in the next few years,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in the statement on the new cold menu.
Another new item on the menu is Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, which will be available at every Starbucks location across the US starting on Tuesday. To create the sweet beverage, baristas pour vanilla sweet cream (a mix of milk, cream, and vanilla syrup) on top of cold brew.
The result is an Instagram-worthy concoction, as the cream floats to the top, then cascades through the beverage. In terms of flavour, it serves as a sort of gateway beverage for customers interested in cold brew, but not willing to ditch the creamy sweetness of iced lattes.
Other items on the Cold Bar menu include summer favourites like traditional iced coffee and doubleshot on ice, as well as cold brew, which the chain launched nationally last summer. According to Starbucks, the two new beverages are just the beginning of the chain’s innovation in cold beverages, as iced coffee increasingly becomes a year-round drink.
The launch of Nitro Cold Brew, and the Cold Bar more broadly, represent a continuation of Starbucks’ campaign to double down on coffee-snob approved offerings all year round. Beverages such as the Flat White and the Latte Macchiato similarly draw from what Starbucks calls “coffee-forward” beverages with roots in craft coffee shop culture.
The launch of cold brew in 2015 signalled that Starbucks would be expanding its appeal to coffee snobs to cold beverages. It’s a move that makes sense, with sales of cold brew in the US growing 339% from 2010 to 2015, according to Mintel data.
Starbucks is perfecting the balancing act of marketing itself as an authentic, high-quality coffee chain, while simultaneously selling endless super-sweet treats, like the Frappuccino.
“Some of our customers want a coffee-forward beverage,” says Karr. “Some of our customers want a coffee-forward beverage, but add cream and sugar. Some of our customers want sweet, summery iced beverage.”
The roll out of Nitro Cold Brew is a new way for Starbucks to offer all of these options — and boost the chain’s coffee credibility this summer.
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