Drinks

Can You Dig It?

Why iced coffee is going canned, and the best ones to buy
Photo: Katie B. Foster/Tasting Table
Canned Coffee

Every year, iced coffee figures out how to get a little bit cooler. Last year, fizzy nitro swept the country. This year? It’s all about the can.

Gone are the days when you need fancy at-home equipment or a naturally lit shop with a beanie-wearing barista to get quality coffee. National brands like Blue Bottle and La Colombe have entered the canned coffee field with aluminum-bound cold brew and a foamy latte that tastes identical to its freshly brewed version. Coffee in a can is not exactly a novel concept—the Japanese have been doing it since the late 1960s—but now that many of the big third-wave coffee players have joined in on the trend, it’s sticking. And smaller independent roasters are embracing the can-do attitude, too.

Matt McGinn, president and founder of Blackeye Roasting Co. in Minnesota, knew it was time to stick his foot in the game. “Cold brew is blowing up in New York, Austin, Portland, Seattle. But there was nothing here in the Midwest.” After figuring out how to put nitro cold brew on tap, he started bottling it last year, thanks to another industry that knows packing: the beer world, with more than 90 breweries in the state. McGinn sought out their help (and bottling machines)—but then he wanted his nitro coffee to function like a Guinness. “We knew cans were the future,” he says. “Plus, they’re a lot easier.”

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Thanks to new technology that extends the cans’ shelf life, Blackeye will be adding 16 states to its current Midwest distribution over the next six months, and the cans will gradually be available nationally. You can get the cans both in grocery stores, like Whole Foods, and in convenience stores on a road trip pit stop—explaining their motto of “gas station coffee doesn’t have to suck.” Nearby Big Watt Cold Beverage Co. is canning its cold brew as well, giving the Midwest a lot to look forward to.

A welcome fact is that canned coffee doesn’t taste like can, the way forgotten leftover chili can taste like freezer. In fact, bottles let in more sunlight, which limits the shelf life. Cans are also more economical than bottles, weigh less and don’t break if they’re dropped. They’re good from a distributor’s standpoint, and when you throw some basic supply chain economics in there, people will respond with demand as long as the interest is there. And it’s there—frankly, because people are lazy.

For Jin Han, owner of Crema BK in Brooklyn, the biggest advantage of canned coffee is convenience. “America is a convenience culture, and once Americans fall in love with something, it’s common for innovators to take that product and make it more convenient.” Han’s way of jumping on the convenience is coffee in a plastic pouch that you can brew anywhere, but he sees why cans are becoming ubiquitous.

There’s also the time factor, of both cold brew itself and canned coffee. Serious coffee drinkers and casual caffeine fans are no strangers to cold brew. The slow, heat-free method has a lot going for it over simple pour-over or drip coffee. Set it and forget it the night before, and it’s ready for you when you wake up.

Canned coffee takes this ease and accessibility one step further: You can forgo brainpower and effort altogether (step one: Open refrigerator; step two: Take can), and it’s good for traveling, making it perfect for summer. You can grab one on the way to work or pack a cooler for an ocean-side picnic.

“You can’t take a bottle into a beach or a golf course,” McGinn smartly points out. “But you can take cans: There are unlimited possibilities.”

Our favorite canned coffees:
La Colombe Draft Latte
Blackeye Roasting Co. Nitro Cold Brew
• Blue Bottle Cold Brew
• Stumptown Nitro Cold-Brew Coffee

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