“This is the hero of the line,” says Jessica Mitchell, Senior Director of Innovation at Peet’s Coffee. She’s just passed me a 12-ounce glass bottle of Baridi Black, the most straightforward of three variants in Peet’s newly-launched Ready-To-Drink (RTD) collection. She leans back to watch my face as I take the first sip, and I mentally scroll through a long list of coffee brands who have already taken the plunge into the RTD market. Can we call this one a hero?
To wit: It’s been decades since Ueshima Coffee Coompany first tossed some coffee, milk, and sugar into a can and called it a profitable day back in the ‘60s. Slowly, other companies began dipping their toes into the water. From Maxwell House’s conceptually problematic iteration in the early ‘90s to Blue Bottle Coffee’s milk carton-clad line and the Stumptown stubby, these days it seems like every major coffee brand has some RTD product to boast. Credit competitive marketing. Credit the popularity of healthier options over sugary sodas. Hell, get lofty and credit the way technology has shaped our approach to wait time and business-to-consumer interactions. Whatever the reasons, the demand for RTDs continues to grow.
And that’s because at its core, ready-to-drink is uncomplicated. It’s accessible. It sells. (Even Sprudge’s own Zac Cadwalader is on board.) It’s successful because, let’s be real: Deep down, even the most corporeal of coffee nerds occasionally, begrudgingly, enjoys convenience. Also, as Mitchell argues, it simply tastes good.
“We found that when we started experimenting with cold brew about two years ago that we really loved the cold brew profile—that lack of of bitterness and acidity,” she explains. “It’s smooth, it’s refreshing, it’s aromatic.”
And the Peet’s customer seemed to agree. In their cafes, cold brew sales doubled in those two years. Though the spike in cold brew demand isn’t unique to Peet’s (according to Food Business News, cold brew business in the United States grew 115% last year alone), the company could justify the desire to neatly bottle up that success into a RTD collection. Keen on locking down an already interested body of clientele, the San Francisco Bay Area-based corporation set out to shape their own product—a distinctly Peet’s product. Available as of the last Monday in July, the line is now carried in Peet’s cafes and grocery stores exclusively in the Bay Area.
Enticed parties have three options. There’s the aforementioned Baridi Black, a simple blend of Eastern Africa beans (from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Rwanda, to be exact) that’s as straightforward as promised, and—despite its ominous opaqueness—is not too toasty. There’s the Coffee Au Lait Cold Brew, a sweeter option that couples the Baridi blend with “the freshest rBST-free milk.” And finally, the Dark Chocolate Cold Brew, a Guittard cocoa-infused wallop that, even as an enthusiastic guzzler of all things sugar, I find a little overwhelming.
It’s easy to walk into any new situation with an agenda, and I fully admit that I find myself wanting to be all snobbily Third Wave, all hypercritical of any product that threatens to disrupt my blissfully cafe-filled lifestyle. But standing there with Mitchell, sneaking additional little sips of “hero” Baridi Black as we chat, I’m surprised. I’m enjoying this.
Will green coffee buying legend Aleco Chigounis be squirreling away a lifetime supply of Peet’s RTDs to quaff whilst weeping? Probably not. Will some average, 9-to-5 Joe snag a few of these to drink while hammering away at a desk? Sure—I happen to be that very same Joe at this exact moment, and I’m having a totally decent time. Simply put: You’re not going to be buying a bottle of the world’s most interesting coffee when you pick up this RTD product, or frankly, any RTD product on the market right now. You’re going to buy a bottle of coffee that gets the job done—one that tastes much better than your parent’s generation of bottled Frappuccino dreck.
Can we call this line heroic? Let’s call it the least offensive product you could possibly imagine. To paraphrase Fitzgerald: Show me a hero, and I’ll bottle you an RTD.
Photos courtesy of Peet's Coffee & Tea.