In recent years, iced coffees have experienced a popularity boom.
Making up more than 6% of the UK specialty market today, they have gone from relative obscurity to forming an integral part of many coffee shops’ success.
Favoured, in particular, among younger generations, iced coffees are prepared by either brewing the coffee cold or brewing coffee normally before serving it over ice or with cold milk.
While this is easy enough to do in-store, the challenge arises when customers order them to go. This is because unlike hot drinks, such as americanos and flat whites, iced coffees perform significantly better in plastic cups as opposed to paper.
However, with growing concerns over the environmental impact of single-use plastics, it has become indefensible for coffee shops to use nonrecyclable plastic cups for iced coffees.
But is there a viable alternative? Read on to find out more.
What is iced coffee?
The concept of an “iced coffee” has existed for decades; but it’s only recently that their popularity has truly taken off.
Not to be confused with cold brew, an iced coffee is typically a combination of espresso, milk, and ice. Some cafés offer the addition of sweeteners, whipped cream, and even ice cream.
In the case of the “Kyoto style” iced coffee, which is found across a number of cafés in the Japanese city of Kyoto, room temperature water is dripped over coffee grounds for several hours, before being diluted with ice.
According to Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, 74% of beverage sales in the third financial quarter fell into the “cold category”, representing a 10% increase over the past two years.
Similarly, Allegra World Coffee Portal estimates that more than 170 million iced beverages are sold in cafés each year in the UK alone. This is predominantly during the summer months, although they have become a permanent fixture in many coffee shops.
Data suggests that the impressive growth of iced coffees is driven largely by millennials and Generation Z consumers. Mintel, a market research company, found that 38% of consumers aged between 18 and 24 claim to drink iced coffee, compared to 20% for other age groups.
The move towards cold beverages has a number of reasons. However, the most commonly cited concern flavour and the influence of social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok.
The dilemma of iced coffees to go
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, most coffee shops have been forced to close their doors at least once.
It’s estimated that more than 90% of hospitality venues have had to shutter at some point in the last two years.
Inevitably, this has led to the emergence of a number of new coffee consuming habits, namely the rise of takeaway coffee orders.
Seen as a way to continue enjoying coffee shop beverages while maintaining social distancing measures, takeaway orders have provided a lifeline for many business owners.
It has allowed them to continue operating despite the closure of seated areas and kept staff busy when other businesses have struggled to keep employees on.
To cater to the sudden spike in takeaway orders, finding the right cups for each coffee has been fundamental. For example, a different cup size is needed for a macchiato than for a cappuccino.
Similarly, iced coffees tend to require a different takeaway cup. Popular US coffee chain Blue Bottle realised this after they tried using the paper cup cups normally reserved for hot drinks to serve their iced coffees.
Looking for ways to cut down on plastic waste, they decided to stop using single-use plastic cups.
However, they soon found that the paper cups and the ice were not compatible: the paper would act like a sponge, soaking up the cold and weakening the cup’s structural integrity.
The lid was also a problem. Iced coffee consumers tend to prefer drinking from a straw rather than through a spout in the lid. However, with Blue Bottle’s paper cups, the lids had only a small square opening that was not big enough to fit a straw without tearing it.
Although Blue Bottle has since resolved the problem, it highlighted a common dilemma for coffee shops: which takeaway cups are both environmentally friendly and compatible with iced coffees?
What are the best takeaway cups for iced coffee?
For many coffee shops, reducing their environmental impact has become a chief concern. This involves everything from switching to renewable energy to upcycling wet coffee grounds.
One of the easiest areas to become more sustainable is with takeaway cups. The increased availability of recyclable and compostable materials such as kraft paper and PLA have made it simpler than ever to cut plastic waste.
For iced coffee, a good option is PET (polyethylene terephthalate). Durable, cost-effective, and widely recycled, PET can be recognised by resin identification code #1.
Because PET is fully recyclable, it is considered a highly sustainable material. However, it also offers a great material for holding iced coffees.
This is because, unlike paper, the condensation from the cold beverage forms on the outside of the PET takeaway cup – rather than being absorbed into the material. As such, the structural integrity is preserved.
PET takeaway cups are also typically designed with lids that cater to the use of straws. They come with a circular opening in the middle of the lid that allows for easy access.
For many businesses, iced coffees have become much more than just a drink enjoyed during the summer.
Their popularity among young people in particular have made them a permanent fixture on the menus of cafes around the world.
To cater to the growing demand for both iced coffees and takeaway orders, it’s important to find the right drinking vessel.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer PET takeaway cups designed specifically for iced coffees. Not only are they robust and cost-effective, they are also fully recyclable, ensuring minimal environmental impact regarding both production and disposal.