Recent, preliminary research has linked coffee to the human body’s endocannabinoid system, part of the body’s central nervous system. Studies have shown that this endocannabinoid network may have a role in a wide range of biological processes, including those related to cognition, pain sensation, stress, mood, sleep and appetite. The endocannabinoid system is also the focal point for ongoing investigations into the pharmacological impact of the cannabis plant on human health. So it’s quite possible that coffee and cannabis are a natural pairing.
Certainly a wide range of product developers have seen a logical connection between cannabis and beverages like coffee and tea. “Cannabis-infused tea and coffee products are continually emerging,” says Lindsay Wisener, founder and lead consultant, WiseBev, LLC, Fountain City, IN. “The growth potential for this market is rather large. Consumers that already consume caffeine for its effects might be more likely to try other botanical compounds, as well.”
“As cannabis products become more available across the country, it’s only natural to incorporate them into foods and beverages that already serve a functional purpose,” says Devin Jamroz, CEO, SteepFuze LLC, Boulder, CO.
SteepFuze offers multiple CBD-infused coffee and tea products, including medium-light, medium and dark roast coffee. Two sizes are available: 12-oz. bags infused with 360 mg CBD, and 3-oz. bags infused with 90 mg CBD. Three loose-leaf tea products, with 3 oz. of tea infused with 180 mg CBD in each tin, feature black, green and herbal tea, with the latter offering a hibiscus-berry flavor.
A wide range of cannabis-infused coffee and tea products have hit the market.
Kreider Farms has launched Chiques Creek Hemp Tea, a new line of hemp iced tea beverages, made with hemp seed oil. They’re available in three flavors:
- Original Recipe, with the earthy flavor of hemp
- Passionfruit + Mint, a tropical blend
- Peach + Lemon + Dandelion, a complex blend of earthy, fruity and bitter notes
Kannaway, a subsidiary of Medical Marijuana, Inc., has released single-serving coffee and tea pods infused with 10 mg of hemp-derived CBD per pod. Options include French roast, made with premium Arabica coffee beans, as well as rooibos and citrus tea cups, floral blends of antioxidant-rich, caffeine-free tea. The pods are compatible with most single-serve brewing systems.
courtesy of Cannabiniers coffee
Cold brew is also factoring into the cannabis beverage game. Evo Hemp has partnered with Forest Coffee Trading Co., a direct trade coffee roaster, to offer a new cold brew coffee with a functional twist. The Forest Coffee Trading Co. CBD Cold Brew uses coffee beans sourced from a micro-lot producer in Northern Thailand, combined with 15 mg of Evo Hemp CBD extract in each 12-ounce bottle. The coffee expresses nuances of cocoa and dark berries.
Evo Hemp is gown by Native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The company uses proprietary technology to produce water-soluble, full-spectrum hemp extracts in a liquid or powder form.
Diamond CBD Inc., a subsidiary of PotNetwork Holdings, Inc., is making single-serve coffee and tea pods compatible with K-cup machines. The Chill capsules each feature 25 mg CBD. They come in original and decaf, as well a black or green tea.
Some product developers are also infusing single-serve beverage pods with THC. Cannabiniers has launched a line of cannabis-infused coffee, tea and cocoa delivered through a patented, 100 percent compostable, flower-based, single-brew pod, BrewBudz. The pods are available in dosages of 10 or 25 mg THC. The pods are made from bio-based mesh, skins of roasted coffee beans and other organic materials. When disposed of correctly, the pod breaks down in as little as five weeks. Options include Indica Infused West Coast Roast decaffeinated coffee, Sativa Infused Garden of Eden black tea and Sativa Infused West Coast Roast coffee.
Selection of the right cannabis ingredient format is integral to coffee and tea product formulation success. “In the K-cup format, a powdered cannabis ingredient will be the best option,” says Wisener. “The encapsulation process used to create the powdered oil will help protect the compounds from oxidation. In addition, the raw materials used for encapsulation will be more hydrophilic and will help with wetting and dispersion of the cannabis compounds when water is introduced.”
Stability over shelf life is also a concern when developing single-serve coffee and tea products. “As is the case for many powdered beverage products, control of moisture and oxygen will be key to the shelf life of a cannabis infused K-cup,” says Wisener. “The compounds in cannabis ingredients will be prone to oxidation. Nitrogen-flushing the packages will aid in keeping oxygen to a minimum. Of course moisture should be kept out to prevent microbial growth. Even at intermediate moisture, chemical reactions will accelerate. For the best shelf life, the product needs to maintain a low water activity.”
Formulating cannabis beverages always introduces challenges—but ingredient suppliers are developing solutions to make the development process easier. “Cannabis ingredients are not inherently water soluble,” says Wisener. “Grabbing a traditional hemp extract or liquid and trying to use it in a beverage will result in separation. In order to overcome these issues, manufacturers and suppliers are utilizing nanotechnology to create nanoemulsions. These emulsions allow for improved dispersibility within a liquid. These emulsions create particle sizes much smaller than typical emulsions formed during beverage processing.”
Nanoemulsions offer two key benefits. “With such small particle sizes, the end product can be clear or nearly clear, as opposed to cloudy, which we would expect with hydrophobic ingredients,” says Wisener. “Secondly, there is evidence that these nanosized particles are absorbed more rapidly and more efficiently, resulting in a faster, stronger physiological effect.”
These ingredients can be found in liquid and powder formats. “Developers may want to investigate both options,” says Wisener. “The end choice may come down to ease of use in manufacturing. Manufacturers often have an easier time adding these types of ingredients in powder form.”
courtesy of Chill
In order to provide the best product experience for the consumer, and to validate cannabis ingredient stability, product developers need to perform shelf life testing. This is particularly true in RTD beverages. “With high water activity, many reactions can occur within the beverage,” says Wisener. “With these ingredients being new to the market, we don’t have a clear understanding of how the components will interact with other actives or ingredients. In addition, the compounds may be capable of interacting with the packaging, as well. Due diligence and proper shelf life testing will be imperative in the RTD beverage development process. If data starts to show loss or degradation of cannabis compounds, reformulation to spike the formula with additional cannabis ingredients may be needed to overcome processing losses or loss during shelf life. When first going to market, it would be wise for brands to limit shelf life and extend the shelf life as stability data comes back and confirms the shelf life can be extended.”
If other active ingredients go into the beverage, testing must analyze any potential interactions with cannabinoids. “From a food science perspective, interactions among active ingredients need to be looked at on a product-by-product basis,” says Wisener. “There is always the potential for interaction among active ingredients, but what those interaction are is greatly determined by the form of the active ingredient, the dosage and the other components of the product matrix. Proper testing of actives post processing and during shelf life is imperative.”
Terpenes and Flavor Balance
Flavor is always foremost for any new product, notes Jamroz. And from a flavor perspective—particularly considering the terpenes present in coffee and tea, as well as in cannabis—along with the desirable mood-enhancement effects, coffee and tea seem like natural partners with CBD, he says. “But the process of crafting a CBD-infused coffee or tea product is more complicated than one might think.”
SteepFuze takes a strategic approach toward product development when it comes to flavor profiles. “When dialing in the flavor of our products, we place an emphasis on controlling the flavor through production techniques rather than product additives,” says Jamroz. “One of the keys for making our coffee as flavorful as it is was to find a CBD extract with a flavor profile that didn’t just need to be buried, but rather blended into the coffee, allowing subtle accent flavors to penetrate without spoiling the balance or structure of the brewed cup.”
This sounds easier than it was. “Early on, the team at SteepFuze spent an incredible amount of time and resources looking at ways to mask the flavor of the hemp extract in the new line of coffee products,” says Jamroz. “Yet the results were never quite superior enough to satisfy. Then, when we reframed the problem and shifted focus from masking the flavor of the extract to sourcing an extract with a terpene flavor profile that didn’t need to be completely hidden, a whole new universe of options opened up.”
Jamroz notes that SteepFuze works with the least-processed, most-natural form of hemp extract—which also means working with strong flavors. “Balancing flavors becomes very tricky,” he says. “For example, if we use a strain of hemp that produces an earthy, peppery extract, we will infuse it into a fruitier, natural-process coffee that would have been a little too sweet otherwise.”
This process relies on equal parts art and science. “Hemp extract can have a sharp and overwhelming flavor,” says Jamroz. “But when infused into coffee beans and tea leaves in the right ratios, the terpenes and flavonoids within deliver a pleasant effect on the body and mouthfeel of the beverage, without spoiling any of the inherent flavor qualities of the coffee or tea. It’s a matter of balance. With the right balance and technique, even ingredients with a flavor profile typically considered undesirable can be beneficial to the end product.”