It's far from what cold brew should be

By Mike Pomranz
June 14, 2018
Photo courtesy of McDonald's

Cold brew is amazing. But what often gets overlooked is why cold brew is amazing. And speaking of which, McDonald’s has just added cold brew to its menu. And guess what, the chain completely overlooked what makes cold brew amazing.

To understand cold brew’s amazingness, we must look at the history of American coffee. Up until recently, most coffee in the US tasted like crap. But thanks to the popularization of coffee culture due to brands like Starbucks and newer third-wave roasters, coffee now tastes a lot better. With better tasting coffee, two things happened. First, people no longer had to add sugar and milk to their coffee: It unlocked coffee’s true potential as an essentially calorie-free wonder-drink. Second, you could cool coffee down and still drink it because, hey, it didn’t taste like crap. This helped popularize iced coffee—which is just hot coffee that has been cooled and served on ice. At some point, some genius remembered that, actually, coffee can also be slow brewed in cold water—a process that might make this cold coffee taste even better—and the modern cold brew obsession was born. 

While Starbucks helped popularize better coffee, the chain also popularized the opposite: Packing your coffee full of sugar and dairy. The obvious example is the Frappuccino. This week, McDonald’s unveiled its first-ever cold brew drinks—and yes, they chose the gussied-up Frappuccino route. Instead of tapping into the natural delights of cold brew, the burger giant is serving two options: a Cold Brew Frozen Coffee or a Cold Brew Frappe.

The Cold Brew Frozen Coffee, as described by BuzzFeed, is basically a cold brew coffee “base” blended with ice. Sounds simple enough, but that base already comes with cream, milk, and sugar—and you cannot order one of these “cold brews” black. Instead, you’re left with a reportedly 300-calorie frozen mess of sweetness. As if that’s not bad enough, the Cold Brew Frappe adds whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle on the top. As a result, to say that McDonald’s has added “cold brew” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s like adding apple pie to your menu and saying you are now serving apples.

None of this is to say that you might not like a McDonald’s Cold Brew Frozen Coffee or Frappe. They might be right up your alley—especially if you have a bit of a sweet tooth. But in an era where people are supposedly looking to cut calories and consume less sugar, the fact that McDonald’s (and, to be fair, plenty of other chains) are so willing to toss aside the inherent amazingness of the cold brew is, to say the least, a shame.