Out of Cup Experience

By Rachel Zemser, MS, CFS, CCS

Whether it’s the flavor of coffee or a caffeine buzz, more consumers are turning to foods rather than beverages to get their coffee or tea flavors and caffeine fix. Creating an infused or flavored food product provides an opportunity to combine flavorful treats with coffee or tea, giving the consumer an exotic culinary experience.

In some cases, there can be enough coffee in the product to deliver a worthwhile caffeine buzz. For those who prefer tea, matcha green tea-infused foods products are now more common in the gourmet food space. Matcha is a naturally sweet, uniquely bright green shade-grown tea made from finely ground or powdered leaves. The tea leaf flavor is smooth, not bitter, making it a perfect ingredient for incorporating into food products.

In Japan, matcha has been used as an ingredient in confections, frozen treats (such as ice cream and mochi — ice cream-filled rice dumplings), baked goods, crackers, and other items for years. But now, matcha is showing up in many sweet and savory Western-style applications, such as cheesecake, potato chips, and cookies. Matcha can be added directly to any food product and does not have to be pre-brewed.

Like most teas, matcha has less caffeine than regular coffee and so can be used at high enough levels to deliver a strong flavor impact without overloading the consumer with caffeine. However, also being a tea, it still has a delicate flavor that would easily be covered up by strong-flavored formulations, so it would disappear in sauces such as barbecue sauce or ketchup, or even a chocolate cake mix.

Matcha works best when combined with lighter foods that allow it to be the star of the show, flaunting its bright green color and singular flavor. It blends well with coconut, vanilla, and neutral creams, and has been found to match especially well with white chocolate.

Product manufacturers prefer using real coffee or tea because it adds authenticity to the label. Consumers want to see the word “coffee” listed in the ingredient statement of a coffee-flavored product and “tea” in tea-flavored products. A developer might choose to use the actual brewed beverage in liquid form, powdered form, or the leaves or beans themselves.

Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa, LLC developed a unique “coffee chocolate” for Dunkin Brands, Inc., that combines finely ground coffee with cocoa butterfat in a shelf-stable coffee bar that seamlessly melds coffee flavor with chocolate texture.

Brewla Inc. makes its “adult” coffee and tea ice cream bars from “premium teas and organic fair-trade coffee with hormone-free milk and cream, and organic cane sugar.” The caffeine buzz is not highlighted as a selling point; the focus is on the flavor and experience.

Coffee and matcha tea both have distinct and attractive flavors that blend well with a variety of food products. Both can be incorporated into recipes as a dry ingredient to help keep moisture low. Coffee is a bold, strong force that — if used as a complementary flavor, rather than for the specific “coffee” flavor — can be included in equally strong-flavored formulations. In savory items, it pairs very well with meats and in dark, rich sauces such as barbecue sauces or demi-glaçe or other meat-based sauces.

Coffee-infused food products designed to include a caffeine buzz come with the challenge of getting enough coffee into the product to achieve the desired caffeine levels per serving, but without a bitter taste. A typical cup of coffee delivers 95 mg of caffeine but is consumed in a water-diluted 6- to 8-oz cup of coffee. A food serving size that delivers 95 mg of caffeine must be big enough to mask the caffeine’s bitter notes and still deliver a great coffee flavor.

The flavor of the coffee-infused food has to be bold enough to stand up to the caffeine for a seamless pairing. A great pairing example is chocolate-covered coffee beans, which, according to the USDA, can deliver 227 mg/oz. of caffeine. The beans are bitter, but they pair perfectly with the sweet chocolate that enrobes each piece.

Most coffee-infused foods do not typically list how much caffeine is being delivered. While added caffeine must be included in the listing of ingredients on food product labels, that does not apply to caffeine from coffee or tea.

Clio, LLC’s espresso Greek yogurt bars use real coffee in the product, but caffeine levels do not appear on the label. Many companies opt to use coffee flavorings and extracts to deliver a clean taste with minimal bitter notes. Not all such flavorings and extracts are caffeine-free, however.

Sometimes, a company will choose to use coffee extract or flavoring for convenience or more nuanced control of the flavor profile. For example, Danone SA was after a strong coffee taste for its Dannon coffee-flavored yogurt, but didn’t want to overpower the fermented tang of the product. When coffee flavoring is the only coffee component, then the product must be labeled as “coffee flavored” so the consumer is clear that the ingredient is a coffee flavor and not actual coffee.

For shelf-stable coffee-infused products that can’t have moisture affecting their water activity levels, nibs, coffee grinds, or freeze-dried coffee help avoid moisture and prevent high water activity and microbial growth. 

Using these ingredients can make it difficult to avoid imparting a bitter aftertaste. The supplier can help the developer prevent this by working together on the formulation to strike just the right balance of coffee ingredients used. 

Rachel Zemser, MS, CCS, is a San Francisco-based food scientist, chef, and certified culinary scientist consultant with more than 20 years of industry experience in shelf-stable, acidified sauces, dressings, and dairy products, as well as food microbiology, fermentation, and quality/safety plant operations. She can be reached at www.theintrepidculinologist.com.


Bev-Tech for a New Generation

By Jeff Grogg

Beverage systems present unique challenges in processing and formulation, especially when designing complex systems that include proteins, fats, or other high-solids components. Striving for great taste and that “just right” texture in these systems involves both a thoughtful approach and systematic design thinking.

For protein shakes, “keto” beverages, or other systems of that type, it’s best to design the base system first to build the right texture and processing characteristics while delivering the necessary product stability. However, when designing other beverages, other characteristics might need to take precedence.

In the design of Apres Beverages, LLC’s Cask & Kettle Hot Cocktails line, a significant challenge was encountered in concentrating the cocktail to fit into a 40ml serving that meets Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulations. This is the first beverage line designed to deliver the full alcohol content of the beverage from within the K-Cup-style system, and breaking new ground in this space required overcoming a number of hurdles.

Designing a concentrated system that would equal exactly the required 40ml led us to create a selling unit of 200ml to meet TTB volume requirements. It also is close to the maximum amount of product a K-Cup can contain.

When diluted with 8 oz of hot water, the beverage needed to deliver a bar-quality, bar-strength Irish coffee. This meant that the alcohol content created a design constraint. In addition to meeting TTB regulations, labeling regulations required the drink to contain real Irish whisky, which had to be sourced and utilized as a fixed formula component to deliver the desired outcome. 

Next, coffee concentrates needed to be sourced, and constituted one of the most significantly difficult aspects of the formulation process. The range of flavor, color, and solids in every preparation of coffee varies substantially, as do concentration levels. For most of the process, trial and error must play a major role.

As with any design, there is significant interplay between the phases, so once the two main foundational components of Irish whisky and the coffee concentrate blend were in place, the sweetener, flavor, and texture systems all needed to be incorporated to comprise the remainder of the 40ml size limit. This created substantial tension that the team tackled by using a circular design phase to enable more trade-off between the coffee concentrates and the flavor system.

The R&D team then engaged a rapid iteration process to work through the dependencies and dial in a flavor system that delivered an accurate Irish coffee flavor profile, along with the typical alcoholic punch in aroma, flavor, and proof.

“Given the concentration in this system, we carefully designed the ingredients, order of addition, temperatures, and equipment into a scalable solution for reliable results at the plant,” explains Jon Biron, a lead product designer for the development partner, JPG Resources.

RTD protein beverages can only succeed on texture and physical stability of the system first, and flavors can largely be layered on. In a beverage such as the Cask & Kettle design, the texture is a finishing touch. To keep this from becoming a handicap in the development process, a placeholder texture system was used throughout much of the development.

The product design team worked tightly with the manufacturing team throughout the process, so that the process and product were designed in parallel in order to make a smooth transition to scale-up. “We knew we were breaking new ground, so we needed a partner experienced in delivering innovation that works in real life,” notes Kevin Ripley, COO of Cask & Kettle. “To the greatest extent possible, the product was designed to fit the existing process, but additional resources were needed to ensure perfect dispersion, dissolution, and consistency.”

These process requirements were identified early in development, and were installed and tested well before launch. The entire process needed extra time, both to get a novel platform approved by TTB and to install equipment at the plant and create a system that could deliver tight operational performance. This was in addition to the extra time and effort needed to scale down an 8oz handcrafted beverage into a 40ml cup.

Many of these kinds of innovative, high-risk projects can fail in timelines, budgets, or commercial viability. Having experienced teams and partners kept everything focused, allowing for delivery of an on-time, on-budget solution that worked as both a technology and a business endeavor.

The Cask & Kettle Hot Cocktails line is now available across Michigan, Missouri, and northern California, and is expanding into Illinois and other states. 

Jeff Grogg is managing director of JPG Resources and a co-founder of Cask & Kettle. JPG just celebrated 10 years of building businesses for companies of all sizes, with an innovation success rate of over 80%. He can be reached at Jeff@jpgresources.com.


Coffee and Tea Trends

By Joe Farinella and Imbibe Inc. Innovation Center

Natural sourcing and respective health benefits of coffee and tea — along with the versatility products can offer by incorporating functional ingredients, exciting flavors, and novel brewing methods — are contributing to category success. Entrepreneurs and established brands alike are entering the RTD coffee and tea markets which, although saturated, are less dominated by major players than carbonated soft drinks.

In fact, many coffee and tea trends are introduced to the market by “third-wave” brands before they become mainstream. Another upward trend is for large brands to acquire smaller ones after a product experiences a certain level of success.

Once a beverage trend has “legs,” brands large and small jump on the bandwagon. For example, cold-brew coffees started appearing in cafés around 2014 and were a hit with consumers because they were smoother to drink due to less acid and bitterness than hot-brewed coffee.

The majority of RTD coffee beverages developed in the US in the last few years have been cold brew, with hundreds of products entering the market. Brands are differentiating their cold-brew coffees by incorporating dairy or dairy-alternative milks or functional ingredients. Still, taste is always prime for a product’s success.

Plant-based and functional ingredients are especially popular in coffee and tea categories, bringing their fair share of technical challenges. Given that, and the fact that in today’s industry, clean label is becoming a standard, it’s especially important to have a clear plan of the coffee or tea beverage being developed.

Important questions to ask before diving into product development include: What is the desired flavor profile? How sweet will it be? Will it include dairy or dairy-alternative milk? Will it have functional ingredients? Are there ingredient restrictions? Are specific product claims desired? Is there a calorie limit? How will the final product be processed and stored?

The answers will dictate the production method and thermal processing conditions for the product, which are key to know up front, considering the significant impact these parameters have on product taste, texture, and stability. The answers also will lead to a clear agreement and understanding of the product being created and guide development from the onset, helping to prevent a need for later reformulations.


Establishing the production method and thermal processing conditions is a critical first step in the development of any food or beverage, but it is especially important in the coffee and tea arena. The taste profile of coffee and tea sources will change with exposure to the elevated temperatures needed to ensure shelf stability. When adding dairy, alternative dairy, protein, or other functional ingredients, the impact of processing conditions becomes even more important in terms of taste and product stability.

Determining the processing conditions for your product can be a challenge. The first question to consider is whether the product must be shelf stable or refrigerated. If the latter, exposure to elevated temperatures (especially in a cold-brew formulation) will be minimal and will have little impact on taste and product stability. Product development also will be a little easier, but product shelf life will be shorter and distribution costs higher.

For shelf-stable products, the production method and thermal processing conditions will usually be dictated by the product pH and desired packaging. Most straight, brewed coffee and tea products naturally have a higher pH (above 4.6) and must be processed under low-acid canned food regulations. The specific pH and incoming micro load of added ingredients (such as dairy or alternative-dairy components) will dictate the time-temperature profile to which your product will be exposed. In general, the higher the pH and incoming micro load, the harsher the processing conditions will need to be.

The two most common production methods for shelf-stable RTD coffee products are retort and UHT/aseptic. Packaging is usually the key factor in deciding between these options. Canned or glass-bottled products with a pH above 4.6 will typically require a retort process. For plastic bottles or cartons, low-acid products can be processed under UHT (Ultra High Temperature) conditions and filled aseptically.

While both methods involve exposing the product to high temperatures, retort is more abusive, adding challenges to formulation. Most retort processes will expose the product to temperatures of 220°-260°F for 5-15 minutes. Holding the product at these elevated temperatures changes the flavor of coffee or tea, increasing bitterness and other off-notes and posing challenges to product stability.

While most UHT processes involve even higher temperatures (275°-290°F), the hold time is typically only a few seconds, lessening the impact of the elevated temperature.

Hot fill is another process to consider, but it is much more common in tea products, since tea flavors generally perform better in lower pH environments than coffee. A typical hot-fill process involves processing under HTST (High Temperature Short Time) conditions, usually 175°-205°F for 10-30 seconds, then filling the bottle hot (165°-175°F) to sterilize the package. If your product has a pH below 4.6 (or below 4.3 for increased safety) and will be packaged in a plastic or glass bottle, hot fill is the better production method.

Coffee and tea products can also be made shelf-stable through the addition of chemical preservatives, such as sorbates and benzoates. However, the clean label movement is making this sterilization method less attractive.


The next step in developing the coffee or tea product is creating the base formulation, the formula percentage of all ingredients critical to delivering the desired nutritionals, texture, and stability. In coffee and tea products, the key ingredients in the base formulation are the coffee and tea source, dairy or alternative-dairy source, sugar/sweetener levels, buffers (to establish and maintain product pH) and stabilizers/thickeners.

The most important nutritional elements to consider when designing the base formulation for RTD coffee and tea products are calories, carbohydrates, sugar, protein, fat, and caffeine content. Taste will be a big consideration in selecting the specific source of various ingredients, but the desired nutritionals will determine the level of these components needed in the formulation.

Straight coffee and tea products generally do not require complex buffering or stabilization systems. However, if dairy or alternative dairy components are designed to deliver creaminess, a specific mouthfeel, reduce bitterness, and/or increased protein content, the development process can become more difficult.

Most of these latte-type formulas will require buffers (citrates, carbonates, and/or phosphates) to maintain pH, plus other stabilizers (such as pectin, gellan gum, carrageenan) to keep proteins and fats suspended in the beverage throughout the shelf life. Determining the specific ingredients and levels of these buffers and stabilizers is perhaps the biggest challenge when developing and commercializing such products.

While consulting with suppliers and leveraging experience will get you started on the right path, given the complexity of these formulas and harshness of the production process, a significant amount of trial and error is often needed to nail down the optimal solution. It also is critically important to test these complex formulations at production scale, since the levels of shear and temperature abuse at the plant will be higher than those experienced at smaller scale.

Identifying the right coffee or tea source is also critical to successful development. A multitude of sourcing options exist, all with varying impact on taste, pH, cost, and product stability.  

A brewed, single-strength source can be used, but most co-packers in this space do not have brewing capability. The use of extracts and spray dried coffees and teas is much more common. These concentrated options are also more cost-efficient and supply chain-friendly. Of course, taste is the biggest driver of the coffee or tea source in a beverage, but it is important to screen out flavoring options that negatively alter pH or carry too much unwanted sediment. For a project that calls for a proprietary in-house brewed coffee or tea, a number of suppliers can manufacture customized extracts or spray dried versions that use specified coffee beans or tea leaves.


Once the coffee or tea source and level are established, flavors, sweeteners, buffers, stabilizers, and other texture modifiers can be incorporated. A growing trend in tea beverages is to include juices such as pomegranate or black currant to add flavor and sweetness. Tea and juice are compatible from a technical standpoint because both have a low pH, which makes them easier to combine and process.

Coffee and tea products on their own don’t need a complex stabilizing system. However, if a dairy or non-dairy component is included, stabilizers usually must be added.

Dairy or dairy-alternative milks add creaminess and reduce bitterness of coffee and tea. They also add significant technical complexity. Most formulas will require buffers to protect acid-sensitive proteins from curdling, as well as other stabilizers to keep the protein and fat suspended in the beverage throughout the duration of the shelf life.

Coffee and tea lattes made with dairy or dairy-alternative ingredients are most stable at higher pH ranges (6.5 – 7.2) and thus require low-acid processing conditions. Most products in cans or glass bottles will be produced using a retort process, while products in plastic bottles are typically processed via UHT and filled aseptically.

These elevated processing temperatures pose further challenges to formulators because they reduce flavor intensity and quality and damage proteins, which poses product stability risks. Formulators often need to add higher levels of flavors and spend considerable time conducting trials with many variables of different stabilizer types, levels, and combinations.

Dairy-alternative milks such as from nuts, seeds, or grains) are increasingly popular in RTD coffee and tea beverages. These offer further challenges in respect to flavor, mouthfeel, and stability. These milk alternatives often carry undesired taste elements and their composition makes identifying a stabilization system more difficult.

Dairy-alternative milks can contain particles that separate out of the beverage, negatively impacting appearance and creating an undesirable “sediment” layer at the bottom of the container. Emulsifying ingredients such as acacia gum and sunflower lecithin can be added to thicken and improve suspension and prevent separation.

Mineral carbonates, phosphates, and citrates can be used as buffers to protect proteins in the dairy-alternative milk, maintain the pH, and help prevent the finished beverage from separating.

The clean-label movement has created enormous opportunity for brands to enter the RTD coffee and tea beverages market. Other mega-trends, such as sugar reduction and added functionality, further raise the complexity level of beverage development. There are plenty of tools in ingredient technologists’ and product developers’ kits for creating the ideal flavor, sweetener, and stabilizer systems.

With so many tea and coffee products entering the market, brands are challenged with finding a flavor profile that appeals to the masses for widespread success. With new advances in ingredients and brew-crafting technology, an increasing number of brand owners, coffee aficionados, and tea connoisseurs are up for the challenge.

Imbibe Goes Trendspotting: Austin

Austin, Texas, is considered one of the nation’s main pulses for trends. Imbibe’s experts recently went on “trend walk” and tasted their way through Austin to discover some of the most innovative coffee and tea items. Here’s what they found.

☕  Little City Coffee Roasters adds a flavorful twist to its nitro cold brew by aging it in a rye whiskey barrel. The finished product carries notes of oak, smoke, vanilla, leather, and spice.

☕  Flash-brewed iced coffee is hot on the third-wave coffee scene. Mañana makes flash-brew by pouring coffee directly onto the ice in your cup, which results in a bright, full-flavored coffee.

☕  There were several nostalgic flavors incorporated into coffee drinks, such as the Strawberry Shortcake Cortado at Fleet Coffee Co. and a Marshmallow Latte at The Coffeehouse at Caroline.

☕  Picnik is known for its RTD butter coffee, but the trendy café has a much larger selection of enhanced beverages. Of these, The Mayan Mocha stood out for its veritable laundry list of functional ingredients including butter, MCT oil, raw cacao, mesquite, lucuma, maca, ashwagandha, cordyceps mushroom, and whey protein.

☕  “Superfood” lattes with beets and turmeric were offered at several coffee shops, including Squeezery, Picnik, and Coffeehouse at Caroline.


Joe Farinella is the Vice President of R&D for Imbibe, Inc., an industry-leading beverage development company focused on formulating and commercializing cutting-edge products across all beverage categories. The former leader of Gatorade’s Domestic Product Development Team, he has nearly 20 years of experience in developing and launching new food and beverage products. He can be reached at jfarinella@imbibeinc.com.