Thursday, May 16, 2019

And America’s favorite coffee brand is…(drumroll please)…

I used to be a Starbucks devotee. I lauded the flavors, the baristas, the brewing processes, and the politics of Starbucks. Like people, brands evolve, and Dunkin’ Donuts (DD) is no exception. Ten years ago, when I was doing research for a book, I looked at DD versus Starbucks and concluded that next to the mega-shiny branding of Starbucks, DD was a stalwart, supermarket-based brand that one drank out of necessity when traveling in New England, which is where DD is based.

But it turned out that I underestimated this 69-year-old American-bred, Massachusetts-based chain, which was founded by William Rosenberg.  Dunkin’, which dropped Donuts from its name as of January 2019, is in the midst of a $100 million brand overhaul.  The new branding goes along with how Dunkin’ has positioned itself---as the premiere, beverage-led, on-the-go brand. As part of this offering, Dunkin’ now offers a special pickup section for online orders, in addition to a bevy of espresso-based drinks, cold beverages, frozen drinks, and vanilla chai.

The oldest coffee-shop brand in the U.S.
In fact, one of the best things about DD is its staying power.  In September 2018, more than 45,000 people surveyed by the polling company, Harris, expressed their brand preferences in different categories, including coffee. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, depending how you look at it, Dunkin’ emerged the hands-down winner. And although Dunkin’ is an American brand, it has a global presence, with almost 13,000 stores in 46 countries---and a total of 2 billion cups of coffee (and counting) sold every year. Oh---and one more thing...let’s not forget all of the store-brought Dunkin’ coffee in bags and pods. Once again, Dunkin’ rules in this category.

New brand, but Dunkin’ will still have donuts—lots of them
Dunkin Donut’s pink-and-orange branding seems whimsical, and in fact, it was intended to be fun and attractive to customers. For now, most Dunkin’ stores will retain the old branding, but all new stores will have updated signage, with the new logo and the streamlined color scheme. But, there will be donuts---there will always be donuts! In fact, last year, Dunkin’ sold almost 3 billion donuts worldwide.

When Dunkin’ has your heart
Why is Dunkin’ so popular?  Well, from a technical, brewing-related perspective, the fact that all coffee is thrown out after 18 minutes of brewing, if not consumed, could have something to do with it. But, there’s also the connection between coffee-consumption, family tradition, and personal preference.  Many people say they like it because it’s hot and strong—but not too bitter (often they mention Starbucks in contrast).

Based on my research I found that many people love Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, but find the atmosphere uninviting. In New England, however, the experience is different. A woman  I know, who grew up in New England, had her first significant coffee experiences in Dunkin’ Donuts, which dominates in New England. After church on Sundays, she and her father went to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. The lack of heavy Starbucks concentration, particularly in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and other parts of New England, can be jarring to those who are fixated on Starbucks as a reliable haven for coffee. But, for this mother of two, who now lives in Long Island, “Dunkin’ Donuts is home and Starbucks is a shiny mega-brand.”
Drinking Dunkin' with my colleague/friend. 

Fortunately for her---and for all of us---Dunkin’ has staying power and will likely be the go-to choice for many of our great-grandchildren, who will wax poetic about the coffee-drinking experience of 21st-centruy coffee-lovers. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Caffeine 2.0: How the 'eat your coffee' movement is getting it right

Happy spring!

It started slowly. First I noticed a few caffeine-bite products with clever names (VERB caffeinated energy bites; Eat Your Coffee caffeinated snack bar; Awake energy granola bars, etc.), and then it became a THING. As a coffee-lover, with a seriously caffeinated lifestyle, I personally like Wild Ophelia cold brew caramel latte bites. Think New England fudge meets morning coffee and Brach’s caramel, with a nice buzz---a little piece of caffeinated heaven.

The market for caffeinated food is not entirely new---there have been coffee- and/or caffeine-infused foods around for a while, but now there is a whole new level of caffeine awareness, as well as a lot of clinical evidence to confirm that caffeine is not only stimulating, but also health-enhancing.

What the data says about caffeine
According to researchers at Stanford, caffeine makes people healthier on a molecular level. They looked at the health of two cohorts of adults over time, including a healthy group of 20- to 30-year-olds and a healthy group of adults aged 60 and older.  Results were published in Nature in January 2017.

They found that older adults had more IL-1-beta, a circulating inflammatory protein, than younger adults. However, they also determined that older adults who consumed more caffeine than their peers had lower IL-1-beta levels, suggesting lower overall levels of inflammation, especially cardiovascular inflammation.

The lead researcher in the study, Dr. David Furman, a Stanford professor, has pointed out that 90% of non-communicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation.  And by extension, caffeine can have a profoundly anti-inflammatory effect in the body.

The eternal love affair with caffeine

Caffeine is a beautiful, life-affirming substance that increases alertness, whether a person is rested or fatigued, according to researchers.  It is especially helpful for tasks related to vigilance.  In addition, caffeine is thought to improve short- AND long-term memory because of its stimulatory and neuroprotective effects.  And finally, caffeine helps with endurance and physical performance.

Exercise physiologists point to coffee's ergogenic (something that enhances physical performance, stamina, and recovery) properties, which not only helps performance, but contributes to caffeine's fat-burning phenomenon.

Starbucks takes on twice the caffeine and ups the ante with nitro

So a couple of months ago, Starbucks introduced their new Starbucks Plus Ground Coffee with 2X the caffeine---a promising concoction that I buy in pod form and have enjoyed immensely. Can I taste the extra caffeine? No, but I can certainly feel it. (Hallelujah!)

But wait, there's more! If you're lucky you either live or work (or hang out near) a Starbucks location that serves Nitro Cold Brew. Nitro Cold Brew is the Starbucks version of nitro coffee (there are others, but Starbucks is definitely the frontrunner in this area).

What is Nitro Coffee?

Nitro coffee is cold-brewed, infused with nitrogen gas, and served on tap---just like Guinness. This process not only makes the coffee taste smooth and slightly sweet (no sugar or milk needed), but it has 30% more caffeine, on average, than a comparable non-nitro brew. Another benefit: Nitro coffee is generally made with dark roasts, which have less acidity and fuller body.

The process of brewing nitro coffee takes 16 hours. There is one caveat, however: Generally, when you order Nitro Coffee at Starbucks, you order the smallest size (tall). Venti (the largest cup at Starbucks) is NOT an option because it is considered too caffeinated. I find that level of caffeination very exciting!
I had my first cup of Nitro last week, and truth be told, I'm hooked. Have you tried it yet? My prediction: If you are a coffee lover, you will LOVE it. Spring 2019 is the perfect season for exploring and enjoying Nitro Coffee. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What will it be like to drink coffee in 2019? It could make us wealthier, healthier, and happier...

As we head into the first days of 2019, speeding along like a rush-hour Acela train, everyone I know is trying to frame the coming year, even as they are still processing 2018.  My main goal for the upcoming year is to become thriftier. I try hard, but I’ve certainly missed the mark more than I’d like to admit.  I found lots of inspiration on the internet. 

In fact, since the beginning of written history wise people have extolled thrift as a competitive advantage.

“Cannot people realize how large an income is thrift?” ---Cicero

"Cultivate these, then, for they are wholly within your power: sincerity and dignity; industriousness, and sobriety. Avoid grumbling, be frugal, considerate, and frank; be temperate in manner and speech; carry yourself with authority." ---Marcus Aurelius

But even virtues have their limits. For example, although I love coffee unconditionally, I JUST got a new coffeemaker after 13 years. That’s a long time that I relied on my Gevalia drip coffeemaker (very reliable---and utilitarian--- machine).

Goodbye Gevalia, Hello Hamilton Beach

It’s been several years that I’ve been wanting a new coffeemaker, knowing that when it was time, I was going to opt for a mid-range brand---neither very cheap, nor very expensive---but definitely good quality and highly functional.  So this holiday season, I strenuously hinted that I would like a nice, new coffeemaker.

My wish came true, and I became the proud new owner of a Hamilton Beach FlexBrew Coffeemaker, which brews drip coffee on one side, K-cups on the other—and has a single-cup option independent of the other 2 functions. It’s programmable and widely recognized for the fact that the coffee stays hot in the carafe for a long time, without making the coffee bitter. It all comes down to science.

The science of brewing coffee (for non-scientists)

I prepared myself to say goodbye to my Gevalia---my go-to source of coffee for many dinner parties, and afternoon playdates; always ready to brew for girlfriend get-togethers; and the way I started my mornings for more than 4,290 days of my life. I understood that it was time, and that over time, the coffee I was brewing was not optimal---it was okay, but could certainly be better.  

I wanted to get more insight, so I spoke to a chemical & biomedical engineering PhD candidate at Cornell---a true coffee-lover. He explained that the materials that the coffee flows through during the brewing process (plastics, metals, etc.) have been engineered to be nonreactive, meaning the materials that the water flows through do not have a leaching effect; leaching is a common problem that degrades the quality and purity of the water and the final brew.

He told me that even coffeemakers that are well-constructed with advanced polymers can become reactive over time, though more expensive coffeemakers tend to last longer. And apparently water temperature, and the ability to optimize it, is really important. So although a really cheap coffeemaker will basically brew the coffee, within 5 minutes you will have to microwave every cup you pour. Good coffeemakers have all of these features built in---and I’m really happy about the FlexBrew’s temperature optimization capabilities. Sure this is not the most expensive coffee-brewing machine on the market, but it hits all of my targets.

Creating Wealth

The best part of having a coffee maker you love is being able to brew coffee at home that you like as much as coffee you buy at cafes. The goal is thrift---saving by not spending. Granted, I don’t have a cappuccino or latte function, but I live in the land of many cafes and coffee shops---so no problems there. Most important, however, is my determination to save more in 2019 than I did in 2018 (the crazy rollercoaster stock market notwithstanding).

Speaking of coffee, I had some amazing coffee during the holiday break in the Berkshires. Wild Oats Market in Williamstown, MA, serves Currency Coffee---and it's really good. Currency Coffee is based in Dalton, MA, a small mill town, which also happens to be where all of the paper used to make U.S. currency is manufactured. 

One of the most interesting things about Currency Coffee is its branding, which features imagery from American currency pre-dating 1900, specifically currency from the era of the Industrial Revolution. 

Watch my review of Currency Coffee here:

That being said, Currency Coffee is au courant in terms of its coffee offerings, all of which are Fair Trade-certified. This company’s distributors are mainly based in the Berkshires and the surrounding areas, with distributors in Pittsfield (Guido’s Fresh Marketplace); Williamsburg (Williamsburg Market); Amherst (Atkins Farms Country Market); and, of course, Wild Oaks Market.

Finally, as we move into the new year, it’s customary to not only think about our money, but our health, as well. Coffee improves overall health and increases longevity, according to the bulk of evidence culled from 19,000 studies.  Health and wealth---two excellent goals for 2019.  And let’s not forget happiness!

Raise a cup to 2019. Happy New Year!