N.O. CoolBrew celebrates 25 years of cold drip coffee

The popularity of New Orleans Coffee Co. Inc.’s CoolBrew cold-brewed, fresh coffee concentrate has spawned imitators.

Competitors in California, New York and Alabama are making what they call “New Orleans ice coffees but we are the original ones,” said Danielle Boyce Batten, who manages the brand.

“Ours is the most concentrated cold drip, cold brewed,” added co-owner Greg McCrory, whose father, the late Phillip McCrory, created the coffee concentrate in 1989.

CoolBrew has been made in the New Orleans area since its inception, and the company remains a family-owned and operated business led by brothers Jeff and Greg McCrory. Its 10-person staff is mostly family, with the brothers overseeing production and finances. Jeff’s wife, Julie, and 19-year-old son, Dylan, work alongside him in production and bottling. Batten is Greg McCrory’s niece.

Chief pharmacist for the state health department, Phillip McCrory was looking for a better tasting and less acidic coffee when he started making cold-dipped coffee at home using a process that had been around in New Orleans since the late 1800s, but on a much smaller scale than the New Orleans Coffee Co.’s method. In its cold-filtration process, the company brews freshly roasted coffee very slowly using only cold water to organically remove the acids usually found in hot-brewed coffee. Using its CoolBrewing method, the company says the acidity remains in the grounds, not the coffee concentrate.

Jeff McCrory recalled the company’s start-up. He and a couple of friends arrived home from high school while the elder McCrory was making his concentrate. Jeff’s friends thought the coffee tasted really good and one commented that it should be bottled.

“Dad thought it was a good idea,” Jeff McCrory recalled. “Mom thought it was crazy.”

“He started out in Covington in a little pilot plant in an office building my uncle had,” Jeff McCrory said. “The original coffee extractor was made from a stainless steel Miller beer keg. We had a solar-powered pump on it and a solar-powered filter.”

They later moved production to St. Claude Avenue, then Broad Street and the West Bank before moving in 2000 to their current 30,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 4433 Ulloa St. in Mid-City New Orleans. “We moved from one garage to another garage,” Greg McCrory joked. With business booming, they are getting cramped and are thinking of adding a second floor.

Once he got his large batch, cold-brewing process perfected, Phillip McCrory sought a unique, brand-identifying bottle that would allow customers to measure and pour a single serving of coffee.

Once he found CoolBrew’s twin-neck bottle, which limits air to the product, he officially launched New Orleans Coffee Co. in 1989.

Dorignac’s was the company’s first retail partner, followed shortly by the original Whole Foods on Esplanade Avenue, Langenstein’s and a variety of other local retailers.

“Our bottle is why people remember us,” Batten said. The company’s trademarked reusable, recyclable plastic bottles are embossed with a fleur de lis emblem. The coffee concentrate comes in two sizes. The small bottle is 16.9 fluid ounces and makes 16 servings. The larger bottle is 1 liter and makes 32 servings. A 1-ounce shot of concentrate makes an 8- to 10-ounce drink.

The company goes through six to eight 630-pound bags of Arabica coffee beans a week. “Our coffee beans are sourced from Central and South America and our chicory is grown in Nebraska,” Greg McCrory said. “We used to get the chicory from France, but it put a tariff on it.”

“The Nebraska chicory tastes the same,” his brother noted.

Their busiest season is from March to the end of September when people are using CoolBrew for iced coffee. “I only drink it hot, but it’s the best thing to use for iced coffee,” Greg McCrory said.

Of the company’s eight varieties, all but the premium French Roast contain chicory, “even the decaf,” Batten said.

In the company’s infancy, Jeff drove to local stores selling CoolBrew from an ice chest in the back of a station wagon. “I was 18 years old. When I first started selling CoolBrew, no one knew what a cold-brewed coffee concentrate was … it’s exciting to see so much interest in cold-brewed New Orleans-style concentrates now.”

The growth of Louisiana’s movie industry in Louisiana has brought CoolBrew national attention. The cold-brewed coffee concentrate has become popular among movie crews, who use it to make iced coffee. “We do a big online business in California and New York,” Batten said.

“We’ve got a cult following,” Jeff McCrory said. “We’ve grown, but we’ve never done sustained advertising.”

New Orleans Coffee Co. is celebrating CoolBrew’s 25th anniversary this year with the release of its limited edition Chocolate Almond flavor, a customer favorite 25 years ago. It will be available in grocery stores throughout 2014.

Jeff McCrory said the company is dedicated to doing its part for the environment and its coffee grounds are donated at no cost to landscaping and soil companies for use in creating compost. In 2001 the company was recognized with the Sustainable Business Award from the City of New Orleans’ Office of Environmental Affairs for the “Creative Reduction of Energy and Waste While Producing a Quality Product.”

The company also works with other businesses, including Smoothie King, New Orleans Ice Cream Co. and Baton Rouge-based Tin Roof Brewing Co., in producing coffee-flavored items.

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum’s coffee exhibit will feature CoolBrew products as well as the pioneering contributions Phillip McCrory made to the world of modern coffee manufacturing.

CoolBrew is always located in the refrigerated section of grocery stores. It can be found at The Fresh Market, Rouses supermarkets, Whole Foods, Walmart and most independent stores and chains. To learn more, go to coolbrew.com.