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Coffee Beverage Development Guide

Beverage development is the key to propelling brands forward and sustaining their growth. This blog focuses on coffee, a beverage at the center of some of the world’s greatest innovations. Billions of people turn to coffee to start their mornings, kickstart their afternoons, or jumpstart a few more hours of work or partying late into the night. Read on for insight into how you can optimize your coffee beverage development process.

Beautiful smiling woman drinking coffee beverage
Have a cup and smile! Coffee is the pick-me-up of choice for millions of people around the world.

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A brief overview of coffee beverages

Let’s pour over the details of coffee beverages—distinguishing handcrafted on-premise concoctions from the convenience of ready-to-drink (RTD) options. While espresso shots and pour-over creations lead menus in coffee shops, RTD coffee drinks bring a different set of expectations and innovations to the table, inviting a fresh take on everyone’s favorite pick-me-up.

What are some of the most popular coffee beverages? The classic espresso remains a heavyweight, with its concentrated taste and flavor making it an indispensable ingredient in numerous other drinks. Lattes and cappuccinos consistently top the charts for their creamy textures, mild taste, and comforting appeal. The Americano wins over purists who appreciate its no-nonsense espresso taste, but in a less concentrated format. Coffee has a cool side, too: cold brew, revered for its smooth finish and less acidic profile, has surged in popularity in the past decade. And then there’s the trendy nitro cold brew, a spectacle with its cascading bubbles and velvety mouthfeel—catapulting coffee into the domain of craft beverages. Finally, blended iced coffee drinks offer a refreshing and indulgent flavor experience that consumers adore.

In the RTD coffee category, simplicity and convenience are key drivers. Canned lattes take the lead, offering a portable version of the café experience with a variety of indulgent flavor infusions like vanilla hazelnut, peppermint mocha, or salted caramel. Similarly, bottled frappes have become a staple in many grocery and c-stores, capturing the indulgence of a blended coffee treat in a portable, shelf-stable bottle. For those seeking a healthier option, protein-enriched coffee shakes provide an energizing boost, meeting both nutritional and energy needs. As consumer tastes evolve towards plant-based alternatives, non-dairy iced coffee beverages crafted with almond, soy, or oat milk are also carving out a significant niche in the RTD coffee market.

As we move through Q1 2024, innovation in coffee beverages is everywhere you look. One trend gaining steam is the fusion of coffee with unexpected flavors, such as aromatic spices or herbal infusions, challenging the taste buds and offering a sensory expedition with every sip. Functionality is also a key driver; nootropic coffees that support mental focus and harmony are very much on-trend, combining brain-boosting ingredients with caffeine for a natural high. Shifting focus to sustainability, upcycled coffee products are on the rise, where discarded coffee cherry husks are transformed into rich, flavorful drinks, diverting waste and creating a full-circle coffee economy. These trends not only reflect evolving consumer demands but also embody the beverage industry’s commitment to innovation and sustainability.

Farmer picking coffee cherries, natural coffee beverage development
The husk of the coffee cherry is being upcycled into beverages and food products, helping improve the sustainability of the coffee industry.

Coffee flavor profiles

Coffee’s journey from mountainside to mug begins with the coffee bean. Arabica and Robusta are two of the most popular coffee varietals. Their coffee beans are the blank canvases upon which careful roasting and brewing add layers of flavor complexity.

Arabica beans, renowned for their exceptional quality, offer a spectrum of natural flavors. From delicate floral notes that dance on your palate to the vibrant and pronounced fruity accents that give a blend pep ad personality, each sip is a journey of sensory delight. On the other hand, Robusta beans, living up to their name, provide a bold and earthy foundation. With its overall flavor intensity and nutty nuances, Robusta is the bean of choice for intense dark roast coffee blends.

Two main varieties of coffee beans, arabica and robusta

Coffee beverage development terminology

A crucial step in formulating coffee beverages is practicing coffee sensory! By understanding common coffee flavor descriptors, beverage developers can better optimize and communicate their beverages’ unique flavor profiles.

  • Bright/Acidity: Refers to the tangy sensation on the palate, often associated with a higher elevation coffee. It’s what gives the coffee a ‘liveliness’ as opposed to flatness.
  • Crisp: Related to acidity, a crisp coffee is refreshing and palate-cleansing. Think of the sensation after biting into a fresh apple.
  • Full-bodied: Describes a coffee that feels thick in the mouth, coating the palate with its rich presence. It’s a textural experience akin to comparing whole milk with skim.
  • Complexity: The range of flavors experienced when tasting a coffee, how they unfold and interact. Complex coffees have multiple layers of flavors that keep you guessing from the first sip to the last.
  • Earthy: Evocative of soil or damp forest, this descriptor often applies to coffees from regions like Sumatra. It’s a grounding and hearty characteristic.
  • Floral: Suggestive of blooming flowers, this term describes certain aromatic notes that can be perceived in some light roast coffees, especially those using Arabica beans.
  • Fruity: Indicates the presence of fruit notes such as berry, citrus, or stone fruit. It’s a natural attribute resulting from the coffee cherry compounds.
  • Nutty: Reminiscent of nuts, this flavor aspect can range from the subtle sweetness of almond to the more robust intensity of walnut.
  • Spicy: Refers to the flavor nuances that hint at spices like cinnamon, clove, or pepper. Not to be confused with heat, it refers to the spice flavors themselves.
  • Caramel: Denotes the sweet, almost syrupy flavor of cooked sugar. It can impart a buttery richness to the coffee’s taste.
  • Chocolatey: Used when coffee exhibits flavors reminiscent of cocoa or chocolate. It varies from the raw bitterness of dark chocolate to the creamy sweetness of milk chocolate.
  • Winey: A term used when coffee has flavor overtones that recall the qualities of a fine wine, including a sense of fermentation and fruitiness.
Barista holding a cup of flavored coffee, ready to drink coffee concept
Take these convenient coffee descriptors to go!

Flavor impact of coffee roasting and brewing methods

Roasting is the transformative process that turns green coffee beans into a sensory delight with a multitude of taste profiles. Light roasting carefully preserves intricate flavors, while dark roasting creates bold, smoky overtones. The roaster’s craft imparts personality to each batch, setting the stage for the magic of beverage development.

When looking at the spectrum of coffee roasts, the flavor distinctions are both striking and subtle, charting a course from the delicate complexity of a blonde roast to the robust assertiveness of an Italian espresso roast. A medium roast, often a crowd pleaser, balances brightness and body, exhibiting a harmony of moderate acidity with rounded flavors. Light roasts, favored for highlighting natural coffee flavors, often feature vibrant acidity and maintain the nuanced floral or fruity notes inherent to the beans. Alternatively, dark roasts drive forward a pronounced richness, a decrease in acidity, and an increase in bittersweet chocolate nuances and astringency – creating a taste profile that lingers on the palate. Coffee roasting is an alchemy of heat and time, with flavor quality and profile varying greatly. Working with the right raw materials makes a big difference when brewing up a new coffee beverage.

Close-up of coffee roasting process, coffee flavor development
Careful and skilled roasting holds the key to unlocking complex coffee flavor.

Speaking of brewing: Extraction is the art that turns water and ground coffee into the energizing liquid we love. Various methods exist, each offering a unique experience. French presses provide a fuller body due to the prolonged steeping process that extracts the coffee’s natural oils and flavors. The result is a robust and bold taste that satisfies the palate. On the other hand, cold brew techniques involve a slower extraction process, which yields a mellower and smoother flavor profile. This method highlights the subtle nuances of the coffee bean, resulting in a rich and refreshing taste experience. With each brewing approach the coffee bean’s unique characteristics are released, offering a diverse range of aromas, flavors, and textures to savor.

The combination of coffee roasting and brewing methods plays a crucial role in the final beverage flavor profile. From the extraction process that highlights varietal nuances to the roasting techniques that bring out distinct taste profiles, these methods work together to create a diverse and captivating coffee experience. Now we’re ready to start talking about coffee beverage innovation!

Coffee beverage development innovations

From nitrogen infusion to adaptogen enhancements, today’s coffee innovations reflect a consumer demand for sophisticated and functional coffee beverages. Paleo-friendly brews, sustainable sourcing, and immune support additives are not just trends—they address consumer drivers of health and novelty.

Man holding a glass of nitro cold bre coffee, coffee beverage innovation
Nitro cold brew coffee is one of the hottest beverage trends today.

Functional ingredients

Adaptogens, a class of herbal supplements known for their stress-mitigating properties, are becoming a mainstay in coffee innovation. Take ashwagandha-infused coffee, for example. Known to potentially reduce cortisol levels, this ancient herb adds a health boost to the traditional caffeine kick. However, this isn’t without its challenges—ashwagandha’s earthy and sometimes bitter flavor can clash with coffee’s natural richness, requiring careful balance in formulation. Beverage developers are tasked with the challenge of ensuring that the sensory profile of the final cup is not compromised. This may include increasing sweet taste and/or decreasing bitter taste with natural flavor modifiers, masking earthy offnotes with natural flavors, increasing body and mouthcoating with fats or gums, or adjusting the coffee blend to better marry with the flavors of the functional ingredient. 

Woman sipping a cappuccino, consumer coffee trends
Good morning, cappuccino! Everyone has their special way (and beverage) to greet the day.

Ready-to-drink (RTD) packaging

Packaging innovations in the RTD coffee category are pushing the boundaries of both beverage design and functionality. Brands are exploring materials that can improve sustainability credentials and enhance flavor preservation, with biodegradable components and nitrogen-sealed cans leading the conversation. Nitrogen keeps coffee fresher for longer and adds a creamy texture upon opening, merging taste with tactile satisfaction. However, the development of these cans presents challenges, notably in ensuring the nitrogen doesn’t affect the integrity of the coffee flavor and that the seal remains uncompromised during distribution. 

Hand popping the tab on a can of cold brew coffee, coffee beverage innovations
Consumers demand for canned beverages remains high, especially for RTD coffee. Sustainable and carbon-offset materials are the next wave of packaging innovation for this popular format.

Instant and single-serve

Another convenient direction in coffee beverage development is instant mix or instant brew. While this category is not as novel as canned coffee, it has seen recent innovation in the form of single-serve packaging, such as stick packs, sachets, and of course – the pod! These formats continue to see improvements in plastic and liner technology as beverage developers look for ways to increase the shelf-life and decrease the carbon footprint of these single-use containers.

Close up of a coffee pod, single serving coffee concept
Single serve brewed coffee and the coffee pod were significant innovations in coffee brewing and packaging.

Indulgent flavors

What about flavor innovation? At Blue Pacific, we see plenty of it! Indulgent natural flavors such as tiramisu, birthday cake, cookies ‘n cream, and s’mores are some of our favorite coffee and coffee creamer flavors. For those beverage development projects that need a little natural coffee flavor topnote, we offer any different profiles to round out the blend. Request a sample and start using our coffee flavors in your products today!

Cookies and cream flavored coffee, coffee flavor trends, coffee beverage development
Flavored coffee is extremely popular. Try Cookies ‘N Cream coffee flavor in your next beverage innovation!

7 steps in the coffee beverage development process

Designing the next standout coffee beverage requires a strong strategy. Defining target flavor profiles, selecting the best coffee blends, and evaluating dozens of prototypes are all integral to building an iconic product. Here are seven key steps to consider when embarking on your beverage development journey:

  1. Ideation
  2. Supply Chain
  3. Production
  4. Packaging
  5. Distibution
  6. Marketing
  7. Quality Control

This complex ballet of precision and creativity starts with ideation, where innovative flavors and concepts are brainstormed and blended into potential product concepts. Securing a stable supply chain of quality and proprietary raw materials is a critical next step, as a beverage is only as good as its next batch (and that batch better match!). The production phase is where these benchtop ideas are scaled up in the plant, and adjustments are made to meet processing specs. Packaging should be considered very early on, in parallel with ideation and open to influence by supply chain and production constraints. This stage should take full stock of the impact of the package on shelf life quality, consumer experience, brand identity, and sustainability values. Next comes distribution, which needs to ensure efficient and economical on-time delivery of product to the channels where your consumers are shopping. Whether through digital marketing, print advertising, or package design, marketing serves as the megaphone to trumpet your beverage story, engaging customers through storytelling that resonates with their motivations and needs. Last but NEVER least, quality control is a critical set of standards that need to be established before going to market – and not in reaction to your first consumer complaints.

Woman shopping for coffee, reading coffee label
With so many coffee choices avalable, today’s consumers are less forgiving of quality lapses, distribution shortages, or packaging defects.

Coffee market trends and consumer preferences

The modern coffee drinker is an informed connoisseur, chasing experiences and authenticity as much as caffeine. The current wave of coffee trends demonstrates a preference for natural ingredients and a leaning-in on plant-based and functional beverage options.

According to the Fall 2023 report by the National Coffee Association (NCA), “30% of Americans had flavored coffee in the past-week. Vanilla is the most popular [coffee flavor], with caramel and hazelnut tied for second, followed by mocha.” This data confirms consumer preferences for sweet, nutty, and indulgent taste profiles continue to lead sales; however, there is still significant demand for coffee flavor innovation. TikTok is driving a whole new wave of coffee trends, such as the viral sensation of whipped coffee, also called Dalgona Coffee. This South Korean drink is a bifurcated beverage with cold milk on the bottom and a creamy whipped coffee cream floating on top. Translating this unique beverage into a natural whipped coffee flavor that can then be added to RTD beverages, creamers, and other products is an opportunity for market-leading innovation. By tracking social media coffee trends, beverage developers are better equipped to align their products with emerging consumer preferences, ensuring more successful and relevant product launches.

Sharing coffee with a friend, special flavor memories
How many special conversations have you shared over a cup of coffee?

Beverage development, one cup at a time

The intricate process of coffee beverage development reveals a journey enriched by history, nature, innovation, and scientific creativity. The path from bean to cup is both an art and a science, where every choice impacts the final experience delivered to the consumer.

Whether we are talking about coffee beverage development services, natural coffee flavors, or beverage innovations, it’s clear that cutting-edge coffee innovation is what keeps the industry percolating with promise. As we keep our finger on the pulse of the latest coffee trends, let’s raise our mugs to the future—a future that tastes phenomenal, one cup at a time.

Coffee mixing with coffee creamer, close-up, creative coffee beverage
Making coffee beverages is a technological and artistic endeavor!

We hope these ideas help launch your next iconic beverage product!  Blue Pacific Flavors has been a leader in flavor trends and beverage innovation since 1993.  Sign up for our email list to get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Need help with a beverage development challenge? Talk to an expert on the Blue Pacific Beverage Development team today!

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