Flash Brew: How It's Made
An interview with Verve Coffee Roasters Flash Brew production manager, Baker C.
In 2013 an obsession was born in a garage with a drill, a friend and a popcorn popper. Baker would roast coffee during the day, taking notes on the walls, scraps of cardboard, whatever was handy to learn the core roasting skills and experiment with new ideas. At night, the duo would pause roasting, push the small roaster to the side and shape surfboards. Between the foam and coffee chaff coating everything in sight, it’s still a wonder how his landlord didn’t boot them out! This hobby developed into roasting for friends, serving craft coffee at house shows, then eventually, people started wanting to pay for their coffee. The coffee bug bit hard. It was all downhill from there.
After landing a barista job led to managing a flagship cafe, Baker continued his coffee-focused career with recipe development for a start-up cold brew company. It just so happened that Verve was looking to launch the Flash Brew program when that same cold brew company was looking to move down to LA. Packing up and moving was a deal-breaker, so here he is. And we wouldn’t be more thankful for the timing. Baker brings multi-dimensional coffee chops to our Flash Brew operation. “It feels great to be able to bring my experiences from the past several years and continue to grow my love for coffee culture.”
Q: Can you walk us through the high-level process of how Flash Brew is made?
A: I’ll try to, without giving away any secrets! We start by stripping the water to pure H2O and can engineer it to extract what we want from the coffees, like sugars, acids, bitters, etc. Using our custom-built equipment and a tried-and-true recipe, we brew the coffee hot to create Flash Brew's notable vibrancy. It moves into a controlled chilling process to capture freshness, all in an oxygen-free environment. Then a series of proprietary filters are used to ensure a clean product. The coffees are then packaged into cans or kegs using nitrogen displacement to ensure freshness and give that creamy mouthfeel.
Q: Why are you brewing a hot cup of coffee just to chill it down?
A: There’s no way around the science; heat opens up the coffee in a way that cold temperatures just can't. Those pleasant aromatics, the acids that we want, the high note flavors are all thanks to appropriately-applied heat! It’s what separates Flash Brew from traditional cold brew coffee.
Q: How long does the process take from start to finish?
A: This is a tough one, as the extraction process is pretty quick, but we’re doing high volume canning runs, so it’s tricky to say, but we’re cranking out a lot of icy cold Flash Brew.
Q: What was it like developing a new process in the ready-to-drink cold coffee category?
A: We are working with a totally-unique process here. It was very tough dreaming up and customizing equipment to accomplish our flavor goals for Flash Brew. And not everything worked the first time. Every coffee responds to our process differently because it’s an organic product with its own story and energy. Adjusting the Flash Brew process for multiple coffees is an ongoing challenge, but it’s so worth it. We’re able to make each coffee flavor profile shine.
Q: Were there any roadblocks during the development of Flash Brew?
A: There were several! Luckily, we have a great team here at Verve Coffee Roasters and everyone rallied around the Flash Brew team to diagnose, brainstorm, create, test, and evaluate everything. Building a beverage production program from the ground up is quite a challenge and out of respect for our farmers and customers, I wanted it to be above the bar on everything to create the highest-quality cold coffee that we can make. We're still making improvements daily. Our team is always seeking to be better.
Q: Flash Brew stays refrigerated as soon as it leaves the canning line. What are the benefits of keeping it cold from production to its final destination like a cafe cooler or store fridge?
A: Freshness! As a refrigerated product warms up, it can cause it to thin out and muddle the flavors. We don't want that!
Q: How long is Flash Brew good for unopened and when properly refrigerated?
A: At this point, 120 days. We're always trying to work on increasing that, but we refuse to sacrifice flavor quality and freshness.
Q: What's the difference between using nitro versus CO2?
A: CO2 packs a product with bubbles; think sparkling water, champagne, or beer. It makes a product fizz and that's not what we wanted for Flash Brew. In my opinion, CO2 tends to ruin coffee, disrupting its continuity. We wanted to bring the product closer together versus separate. Nitrogen can smooth it out and thicken it slightly to give our Flash Brew its signature creamy finish.
Q: Were there any serendipitous or breakthrough moments during the Flash Brew development?
A: One of the most monumental for me was when we built out the team. I believe that we have a dream team of caring, invested, creative, energetic, optimistic and driven people. They live by that "never give up, never settle" attitude. They're the hands and hearts that make Flash Brew what it is. I think, on a larger scale, that's the beauty of the coffee industry and on a more personal note, a large reason why I am in this industry. It all comes back to the people, from the farmers who grow this amazing plant to our roasters who carefully and artistically develop each coffee, to our ready-to-drink Flash Brew team who continually strive for the highest quality with absolute passion.
What makes Flash Brew great are the intangibles as well as the tangibles. Sure, it tastes amazing, different and lively, but it's the people as well as the process that make it great. Realizing that gives purpose to one's program, tying it to a bigger picture. That’s a pretty unforgettable breakthrough.
Q: What do you say to skeptics claiming nitro cold coffee is a trend?
A: Wait and see, haha. That's all any of us can do. What people want is always changing. But I believe that if we create something truly unique, enjoyable and approachable by all people, it won't go anywhere any time soon. People are getting creative with nitro cold coffee, and I hope that our Flash Brew family continues to grow.