Brands like Taco Bell and Dunkin’ Donuts are adding premium coffees, tapping into this nation’s bustling coffee culture. And the Tea Association of the U.S.A. forecasts that tea sales will double over the next five years. Why the rocketing interest in specialty teas and coffees? It’s a natural offshoot of the craft movement, where diners seek out authenticity, adventure and quality. What’s fun to watch is how that consumer fascination blends with foodservice innovation, moving coffee and tea into creative applications across the whole menu—not just the beverage one.
1. Flavored Coffees
Although a few pumps of hazelnut are just fine, consumers are reaching for a bigger variety of flavor extracts—from the retro fun of red velvet to a more sophisticated bergamot-infused coffee. A Lavender Latte is one of the specialties at Great Lakes Coffee in Detroit.
- Maple Walnut Coffee
—Port City Roaster’s, Portsmouth, N.H.
- Rosemary & Bergamot Latte
—VanBuskirk Artisanal Chocolatier, Cottleville, Mo.
- Honey Cinnamon Latte
—Thinking Cup, Boston
2. Iced Coffee
Attention to detail is the name of the game in iced coffee today. Artisanal roasts find a home here, as do mix-ins like mint, heavy cream and turbinado sugar. At Cafe Sophie in San Francisco, even the ice cubes get special consideration—to avoid dilution, iced coffee is chilled with coffee ice cubes.
- Vietnamese Iced Coffee: Fresh ground coffee with sweet condensed milk
—Curbside, San Francisco
- Iced Caramel Latte
—Eternity Coffee Roasters, Miami
3. Coffee-Inspired Teas
Interest in tea is spiking because of the increased awareness of its health benefits and its promise of exotic discovery. The trend in specialty tea drinks is bolstered by our love of specialty coffee drinks—customers are familiar and comfortable with the coffee vernacular, so exotic teas are easing into the scene by adopting those easy-to-understand profiles like lattes and mochas.
- Earl Grey Latte—Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore
- Hazelnut Rooibos Tea Latte—Teaffee, Brooklyn, N.Y.
4. Specialty Iced Teas
Approximately 85 percent of tea consumption in the United States is iced, reports the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Innovation here encompasses so many flavor trends—from tropical fruit-flavored tea and Southern sweet tea to the more exotic Thai-style concoctions, such as Thai black tea, star anise and sweet condensed milk or coconut milk.
- Litchi Noir Iced Tea—Belly Q, Chicago
- Thai Iced Tea Latte—The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, multiple locations
- Blackberry Jasmine Green Iced Tea—Bergamot Cafe, Santa Monica, Calif.
Matcha is powdered green tea leaves, so it’s an even more potent source of nutrients than steeped green tea. It’s also three times as caffeinated. But fans of matcha say that its buzz is unlike the jolt of coffee—more like an alert calmness. Propelled by its healthful attributes and its Zen properties, matcha is popping up in specialty drinks and on menus nationwide.
- ChaLait Hot Chocolate: Matcha latte with hot chocolate—ChaLait, New York
- Matcha Green Tea Doughnut—Doughnut Plant, New York
- Matcha Mint Latte—Black Cat Coffee, Portland, Maine
6. Tea-Infused Dishes
With tea garnering so much attention, it makes sense that it’s finding its way into both breakfast fare and desserts, where it adds flavor and sophistication. Tea infusions artfully straddle that sweet spot of familiarity and adventure.
- Green Tea Waffles: Matcha green tea powder waffle topped with lemon-ginger cream and ground pistachio—Waffles Café, Chicago
- Caramelized White Chocolate, spiced carrot cake, black tea sherbet, cranberry—Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis
- Earl Grey Gelato—Nico Osteria, Chicago
Fresh takes on iced tea let the ingredients shine. Alfafa honey simple syrup sets apart this Alfalfa Arnold Palmer.
7. Bubbly Coffee Drinks
Espresso tonic drinks have made their way from Europe to San Francisco, perhaps representing the outermost fringe of the specialty coffee movement. Although definitely on the cutting edge, the ingredient list is short: tonic water and espresso. Carbonated coffee drinks seem like a natural progression from iced coffees—and who doesn’t like a little bubbly?
- Espresso Tonic—Saint Frank, San Francisco
- East Village Special: Hologram espresso, lemon, Tiki bitters, orange cream citrate, soda—Everyman Espresso, New York
8. Kid-Friendly Coffee Drinks
Kids today are growing up in a world steeped in coffee culture so their palates are primed for specialty drinks beyond hot chocolate. The tony Park Slope area of New York is known for its mini decaf cappuccinos called “babyccinos,” a shot of decaf espresso with steamed milk and froth. Steamers for kids—steamed milk with flavored syrups—are gaining traction across the country, too.
- Cotton Candy Frappe—Starbucks
- Cookie Dough Swirl Decaf Latte—Dunkin’ Donuts
9. Alternative Milks
Soy milk has long been the alternative to dairy in coffee and tea. But nut milks and coconut milk are filling a growing demand for more options. Starbucks reports that the demand for non-dairy alternatives is the second-highest customer request; the company responded by adding coconut milk to its pantry.
- Horchata Latte: Traditional horchata topped with a shot of espresso—Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, Downey, Calif
- Iced Almond Milk Coffee: Cold-brewed chicory coffee, sugar, almond milk—Donut Savant, Oakland, Calif.
10. Coffee-Infused Cocktails
Craft cocktails meet craft coffees in this ultimate expression of modern fusion. Finding a natural home on brunch and happy hour menus, coffee wakes up the booze, imparting depth, bitterness and a little attitude.
- Headspin: Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, Frangelico, Stumptown Cold Brew Coffee, House Spirits Coffee Liqueur, milk foam float, spices, coffee dust—Anchors Down, Seattle
- Empire State of Grind: Bourbon, coffee-infused vermouth, chocolate bitters—Slipstream, Washington, D.C.
11. Tea-Infused Cocktails
This trend is perhaps the greatest harbinger of tea’s extended reach. Seeing how teas are gaining favor, bartenders and mixologists are now looking to add tea’s flavor nuance and exoticism to their cocktails.
- Jalisco Campfire: Tequila, Lapsang Souchong, agave, Thai chile, lime—Joule, Seattle
- Sweet Tea Punch, tea-infused vodka, mint, lemon—610 Magnolia, Louisville, Ky.
- Palmer Peach: Van Gogh Peach Vodka, Van Gogh Blueberry Vodka, iced tea and lemonade—The Sunset Tiki Bar and Grill, Westford, Mass.
12. Cold-Brewed Coffee
Slow-steeped for hours, cold-brewed coffee offers a premium product that demonstrates care and attention. Coffee aficionados swear by it, saying it deepens flavor and smoothes out unwanted acidity and bitterness. Now it’s moving beyond hipster cafés—in April, Starbucks rolled out cold brew options at select Northeast and Midwest locations.
- Vanilla Iced Nirvana: Infinite Black cold-press coffee with vanilla and cream—Dunn Brothers Coffee, multiple locations
- Caffe Negroni: Gin, Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth, and Campari with a float of housemade cold-brew coffee—Fort Defiance, Brooklyn, N.Y.