Talking Trends with Chef Eric Nakata

At S&D, we pride ourselves on our connection to the culinary world. One of our primary connections is our Vice President of Culinary & Innovation, Eric Nakata. Here, Chef Eric talks about recent trends and how they are taking shape in food and beverage innovation.

Advancing Iced Tea

As we approach spring and summer, when iced tea is usually most prevalent, I’m seeing florals such as elderflower, rose, lavender, almond flowers, chamomile, jasmine and hibiscus in the tea beverage landscape.

Citrus is always going to be in play, but what I’m noticing is that it’s paired with other exotic fruits for a more interesting take. For example, it’s not just lemon flavoring, but lemon plum, orange passionfruit or grapefruit elderberry.

The evolution of citrus is also seen in the adoption of fruits, like Ponderosa lemons or Shasta gold mandarins. On a small scale, fresh juice from these fruits can be used to develop beverages, but when thinking about varietals, mass production will need to leverage the use flavors to get those attributes.

Beyond just flavors, I’m also seeing interesting color changers being incorporated into beverages, like butterfly pea powder which gives drinks a nice blue hue, activated charcoal for deep black tones and beet juice for dark vibrant reds.

For the after 5 p.m. occasions, teatails (tea cocktails) are adding a boost to menus because of their ability to add flavor and complexity without being heavy and calorie-laden. Additionally, there are tea and coffee cocktail combos — mixing and matching based on the flavor profiles of each where the components are tied together with a flavor like smoked vanilla or grilled lemon, a simple sweetener and/or a gas (CO2 or nitrogen) resulting in a trendy combination.

Incorporating Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are also starting to play a bigger role in adding unexpected and unique flavor experiences. Savory herbs like rosemary, basil, thyme, oregano and sage have crossed over. These flavors are paired with bolder fruits like blackberry, jackfruit, rambuten, black cherries and mango ― which takes on new life when accented with an herb and/or spices.

The lines between sweet and savory and dining occasions continue to blur. Interesting combinations with ethnic flavors, such as za’atar, berbere, gochujang and togarashi bring in an earthiness and/or heat. These savory elements with the sweetness of fruit lends balanced sweet heat combinations that add dimension to both coffee and tea beverages.

Evolving Coffee

You would generally think cold brew would be an afternoon beverage, yet people are switching their morning hot coffee to cold brew because of its smoothness, flavor profile and ability to adapt to dairy and other flavors.

Baristas and others in this category are taking note from mixologists and focusing in on nuanced flavors that accentuate the coffee profile versus trying to mask or overwhelm potential attributes in the cup.

I see gases like CO2 or nitrogen as the future. The specialty beverage world is developing effervescent beverages with flavor and health attributes. These drinks offer an alternative to traditional soft drinks — giving consumers the familiar freshness of bubbles without the standard profile of water, sugar and a flavor.

Customizing Beverage Programs

More of our customer base is putting forth a concerted effort into their beverage programs, particularly when it comes to pairings. In the past, coffee and tea were “a need to have,” and now it’s being recognized as profit center on their menus.

They are asking us to look at their blends and overall beverage mix to offer optimal solutions to best pair coffee and teas with targeted day parts, consumers and menu selection.

Operators are also looking for drinks that can be added to round out their menu board and generate profits. Whether it’s tea-based smoothies and smoothie bowls or coffee into glazes, spreads or drinkable desserts, chefs are looking for SKUs that can play double duty as both a culinary ingredient and standalone beverage.

For further insights into another trend ― better-for-you beverages — check out this sponsored content from S&D on the Restaurant Business website.