In case you haven’t noticed, the general age of the coffee drinker has gotten lower over the years. Now, this isn’t necessarily a surprise nor is it a reason for concern, but it does point to a few changes we’ve been seeing in coffee of late.
Catch the Wave
There are currently four waves of coffee culture. To understand how coffee consumption has changed over the years, one needs to understand what each coffee wave means.
This is coffee as we typically think of it. In the 1800s coffee was introduced to the middle class. New ways of preserving coffee like vacuum-packaging and instant coffee were discovered. Lower prices and marketing to the masses dominate the first wave of coffee.
The second wave of coffee takes us into the “Specialty” realm. Unlike gourmet or premium, specialty coffee must meet or exceed certain criteria. For example, during a taste-test, specialty coffee must score 80-100 in order to be given the term specialty. Consumers want to know more about where these coffees come from and second wave coffees can answer those questions.
This wave is quite intense. People want to know the entire back history of the coffee beans they are consuming. Including where they are grown, how they are grown, and how exclusive the coffee is. Think of this as a combination of transparency and art.
The newest wave of coffee almost brings us back full circle. People who fall into this wave believe that automation of coffee preparation must be rolled back. Going back to a more hands-on approach, rather than using a coffee maker or single-serve machine, fourth wave coffee drinkers opt for slow coffee. Pour Overs, Chemex, mocha pots, and boiling water in kettles – this is the fourth wave coffee drinker.
Knowing this information will better help to place different coffee drinkers into their proper categories. Truly, though we are talking about the actual chronological age of coffee drinkers, age doesn’t much matter. Coffee drinkers of any age can fall into any of these waves of coffee. It just seems to coincide with the lowering in the age of coffee drinkers.
Age of Coffee Consumers
Yes, the average age of the coffee consumer has lowered. Just think, not that long ago we would never have included the age group of 13-18-year-olds in a report about drinking coffee. That would have been considered too young. But today, we see quite a few of this age enjoying coffee. The average age when people start drinking coffee has dropped from 17 to 14. That is definitely going to make a difference in how coffee is perceived, enjoyed, and sold.
Younger palates prefer sweeter tastes. And the American palate already skews sweet to begin with. Therefore, it is not surprising to see sweet coffee drinks being promoted at your favorite cafe. So, let’s look closer at this.
Flavor of the Beans
Prior to the past few years, most of the coffee you could get in the store all essentially tasted the same. Arabica bean coffee blended with a robusta was the usual mix. Today you find coffees that are exalted for their unique flavors. Not only the usual chocolate and caramel, but there are also fruity notes, floral notes, and earthy notes are popular for our younger demographic.
There is a multitude of blends now, as well. As we’ve discussed before, blends are created for a few reasons, one of them being flavor. Of course, not all flavor comes from the beans alone. Some flavor comes from items mixed into the coffee – think syrups, milks and milk substitutes, sugars, etc. It’s not surprising to see coffees with unique flavors mixed in now with the wide variety of flavorings available. Expect to see more sour/sweet offerings as the younger adults who once grew up on Garbage Pail Kids start buying coffee for themselves.
Gourmet and Specialty
Younger generations seem to strive to enjoy life more. They wish to experience the best of what life has to offer. Because of this, we see much more than the coffee choices that used to be available in the grocery store. There are multiple gourmet and specialty coffee choices that can be found, not just in the store but also from coffee shops and cafes as well as online.
Youth in coffee has brought a desire to know where coffee comes from (remember the third wave?). Does this mean that it has only been recently that people have been able to get coffee from a specific region? No. What it does mean is more and more people are able to and interested in the coffee and its background.
We now see coffee from regions – South America, Africa, the Caribbean – as well as from specific countries – Yemen, Jamaica, Colombia. There are even some coffees that come from a specific farm! Gourmet and specialty coffee are extremely popular today.
Sure, you can still run into the grocery store to grab a bag or can of coffee, but many of our younger adult age groups see the potential in having most items delivered straight to the door. You have an infinitely wider variety of coffees from which to choose, you can cut down on potential impulse purchases, the cost is often comparable to what you can get in the store, and the time savings by having something shipped means more time for family, friends, and other interests. Don’t be surprised to start seeing coffee delivered by drone!
What Do You Think?
Where do you fall in the four waves of coffee? What do you think of the changes and do they affect you? Let us know in the comments below!