Ready to drink (RTD) cold brew coffee may be on the verge of another boom. BKON, the company behind the commercial sized Storm Brewer, announced that an independent study has confirmed they’ve essentially cracked the code to RTD cold brew coffee freshness.
The study, conducted in partnership with a “leading coffee roaster” and the third-party lab EMSL Analytical Inc., concluded that BKON’s RAIN (Reverse Atmospheric Infusion) technology increased the lifespan of a cold brew coffee product’s apex freshness—the period where the natural flavors are crisp, clear, and nuanced—from 1-2 days to 120+ days.
“The strength of craft coffee is that it’s nuanced and complex when fresh. The problem is, it’s never been scalable in a packaged form,” Lou Vastardis, Co-Founder of BKON, told me yesterday. “We now enable coffee companies to deliver flavor experiences that are equally as compelling on the packaged cold side as they are on the in-house hot side.”
The twelve-month study involved periodic flavor and aroma testing to see when the first major drop-off in quality occurred compared to traditional methods of preserving freshness. The parties found that one SKU remained consistently fresh tasting for 120 days, with another SKU lasting 180 days before the tasty qualities of apex freshness were lost.
I was lucky enough to try cold brew coffee made with RAIN tech at the BKON booth of last month’s Specialty Coffee Expo. Despite being brewed weeks before the expo, it was surprisingly more complex and nuanced than many of the brews I tasted that had been made moments before on the show floor.
Additional tests were conducted simultaneously to check for microbial growth like lactic bacteria, a generally harmless organism that causes RTD cold brew coffee to begin souring 45 days after being made. EMSL’s tests, however, couldn’t detect any of the tested bacteria until 273 days.
Because of the quality limitations of existing shelf life tech for coffee, brands have historically had to choose either limiting their distribution to reduce shelf time or heat-treating their products, which tends to flatten the flavor experience for the customer. Neither solution helps brands effectively scale the experience of sipping fresh cold brew at a coffee shop.
The tech behind RAIN works by creating a vacuum that sucks out all the gasses from the ingredient structures. Water is then able to flow into those empty spaces, gaining uninhibited access to the ingredient’s natural flavors and aromas. The BKON team can then create complex recipes that manipulate temperature, strength, duration, and frequency of the vacuum cycles to extract precise flavors from the ingredients in a way that’s impossible with low-tech consumer gear. But the major benefit, confirmed by the study, is the flavor security of this method.
Customers will be able to replicate cafe-quality experiences on-the-go, and brands will be able to expand their reach without sacrificing flavor quality or operational inefficiency.
And yet, despite the historical limitations, the RTD cold brew market experienced a 2015-2017 boom, bringing products from innovators like RISE Brewing Co and La Colombe to the shelves of thousands of convenience and grocery stores around the country. Is BKON too late to the cold brew party?
“Nobody misses cafe-level quality when they’re looking at cold brew drinks in the convenience store, because it hasn’t ever been an option in the first place,” Vastardis joked. And he’s probably right: when consumers realize their packaged coffee drink doesn’t have to taste like it was made last month, we’ll likely be in for sweeping product line improvements impacting everything from existing RTD iced brews to up-and-coming CBD-infused coffee drinks.
But Vastardis has his eyes set on more than coffee. BKON plans to adapt its RAIN tech for all types of craft beverages, from teas to spirits to waters.
“When we create a citrus water, for example, we’re using actual parts of a lemon—maybe fermented or dried—and we’re able to create farm-to-bottle waters from natural ingredients (not lab-made flavor additives) that soften the operational burden caused by a short shelf life for beverage companies.”
Keep an eye on your local store’s refrigerated beverage section. If BKON’s tech works as promised, we’re about to enter a golden age of delicious RTD cold brew.