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Food & Drink

Here’s How Peet’s Perfected Their True Cold Brew

Long before you started thinking about the morning’s first coffee (or started drinking coffee at all, for that matter) Peet’s Coffee roastmasters were hard at work perfecting the ideal cup. When they started cold brewing in 2015, they put over 50 years of coffee-brewing experience into making a cold brew good enough to lure you out of bed. Their process is a meticulous one -- honestly, it's shocking how much effort and expertise goes into a really good chilled coffee. Here’s how it works:

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The beans were selected specifically for cold coffee

A good cup of coffee, hot or iced, starts with the beans. To make the perfect cup of cold brew, Peet’s dug deep to craft a blend with flavors that taste especially delicious iced. After exhaustive taste testing, they created their East African Baridi Blend with coffee beans from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

"The aroma of coffee is more than half the fun. But while the olfactory appeal of hot brew is evident from a block away, cold brew has to work harder,"  Doug Welsh, VP of Coffee and Roastmaster for Peet's says. "This is how we arrived at our East African solution. In Peet's Baridi Blend the floral and potently fruity coffees of Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda triumph over ice, and their natural juiciness is unmatched for refreshment."

Even after that selection process, Peet’s coffee experts taste their shipments of fresh coffee beans three times before they ever end up at the Peet's roastery, to make sure they’re the right flavor blend for their coffee. The first happens at the initial selection, the second just before they are shipped, and a last time when the shipment arrives at their California roastery.

Then, they’re roasted and ground for optimal flavor

Besides all the work that went into choosing the perfect beans for cold brew, Peet’s took it a step further: how to optimize the roast. Peet’s is known for having a dark roast coffee, but they chose a medium roast for their cold brew's blend of East African beans. Gretchen Koch, Director of Marketing, Cold Brew, said they found this medium roast best delivered a bold, smooth and slightly sweet flavor – in line with coffee taste expected from Peet’s, but still refreshing and crisp for a cold coffee.

Peet's believes that fresh beans are what make a flavorful cup of coffee. For cold brew, the beans are freshly roasted for each batch, even when they’re making the ready to drink bottles. After roasting, the beans are coarsely ground for cold brew, as a coarser ground will take longer to extract the most flavor from. Finely ground beans, because they have a smaller surface area, will extract too quickly, and lead to a bitter coffee.

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It’s a low and slow process

To the novice coffee drinker, cold brew may seem like it’s just fancy slang for iced coffee, but there’s much more to it. Iced coffee is brewed just like a regular pot of joe you make at home, then cooled down and served over ice. Cold brew, however, is made by steeping the beans in room temperature water, slowly. Like a tender barbecue brisket or a flavor-packed pho, that slow steeping period gives the cold coffee plenty of time to extract all those tasty nuances. 

Because heat can cause coffee beans to release certain oils, iced coffee is more acidic than cold brew, and it can leave you with a not-so-pleasant drying sensation on your tongue. “It removes that astringency, that drying on the tongue,” Koch says of the cold brew process. “So, when you drink it, it is super refreshing and you taste flavors that you might have missed before.”

To brew it right, you need A LOT more coffee

Compared to iced coffee or hot drip coffee, cold brewing uses far more coffee to make just one batch. In fact, they need nearly double the grounds they would use to make a regular iced coffee when cold brewing. But, Koch stresses that it isn’t just the extra coffee that’s packing in that flavor -- it’s that slow extraction process. The extra coffee does have an added benefit: a higher caffeine boost. There's 250mg of caffeine in a 10.5oz bottle of pure Baridi Black -- meaning you won’t have to spend half your day at the office coffee pot in order to stay awake during your daily status report meeting.

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From the bottler to the cooler, they keep it cold the entire time

Because cold brew is best when it’s, you know, cold, Peet’s chose a bottling method that ensures food safety, but matches the taste of the cold brew beverages brewed in Peet's coffee bars. Most packaged cold brews are processed so they are shelf stable, but Koch says that this can alter the flavor of the coffee. After taking so many steps to ensure their cold brew tasted fresh and full of flavor, it seemed counterintuitive to lose those nuances. Peet's bottled cold brew is kept chilled from bottling to your first sip. To do so, they created Coldcraft, their own chilled distribution system -- and it’s the only company-owned chilled distribution network in the coffee industry. “We call the products that fall in this segment a ‘true cold brew’ because it’s cold brewed and kept cold from the bottler to the store cooler,” she says.

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They make sure to put the coffee first

Even when crafting the coffee au lait, dark chocolate, and almond milk flavors of their ready-to-drink cold brew, Peet’s paid close attention to the flavor ratios to make sure that the bottled brews were still “coffee forward.” That meant not only tasting tons of iterations of their own coffees to find that perfect middle ground between coffee/dairy/sugar, but tasting tons of competitors brands as well.

“In a bottled beverage, it’s harder to find that right balance, because everyone has their own preference,” Koch says. “You can easily mask coffee with a ton of dairy and sugar, and at that point you don’t even know what you’re drinking. [In Peet’s cold brew] you’ll be able to taste the coffee." Peet’s also chose the best ingredients, like milk free from rBST hormones and pure cane sugar. That way, from the first sip to the last drop, you’ll be able to savor the entire process that went into making your cold cup of joe... um, Peet’s.