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The Changing Coffee Landscape

Traditional coffee is the most purchased coffee type among consumers today. However, more individuals are also showing interest in seeing a greater variety of coffees at foodservice locations, including those that feature new brewing methods and flavors. Since coffee remains deep-rooted in consumers’ daily habits, operators are innovating more around this beverage than ever before to broaden appeal and increase traffic.

Emerging Prep Methods

Four out of 10 consumers would like to try new or unique preparations and presentations of coffee beverages. Let’s look at some novel ways coffee is being prepared at both independent and chain restaurants.

Nitro Coffee
Nitro coffee is the practice of infusing cold-brew coffee with nitrogen gas. The nitrogen-infused coffee features a creamy stout-like effect and foamy texture. It is poured from a tap and served over ice either straight up or with syrups, sauces and/or milk. Since nitro coffee has a sweeter taste compared to other preparations, many consumers forego adding milk and sugar to it. Males respond higher to finding nitro coffee appealing compared to female consumers, particularly men ages 35-44, who have the highest response (60%) among all age groups within both genders. Other notable demographic findings show nitro coffee is also appealing to millennials (46%) and Hispanics (40%).

Barrel-Aged Coffee
The process of barrel aging requires having porous green coffee beans roll or sit in an aged wine or spirit (particularly bourbon or whiskey) barrel so the beans can absorb the alcohol flavor. After the beans are roasted, the result is complex-flavored coffee with notes (but no alcohol) picked up from the barrel. A key to barrel-aged coffee is to properly match coffee varieties to complementary barrel aromas, so the alcohol enhances the coffee flavor, rather than dominating it. Because of the unpredictable nature of using wood barrels, some operators are experimenting with steel barrels instead.

Cold Brew
Cold brew refers to the process of steeping coffee grounds in room temperature or cold water for an extended period. It produces a sweeter and more caffeinated coffee than traditional drip brew and has a longer shelf life when refrigerated. Cold-brew coffee is often sold in growlers at coffee shops and grocers for at-home consumption. Looking at interest in cold-brew by generation, it is not surprising that millennials find this preparation the most appealing, followed by Gen Xers (48%) and Gen Zers (46%). Men and women share an equal interest in cold-brew coffee, with 43% of both genders agreeing to finding this coffee type appealing.

Coffee Slushies, Shakes and Affogatos
Operators are experimenting with more frozen coffee varieties by blending coffee with ice and pairing it with ice cream. These items are positioned more like frozen treats than drinks and include coffee-flavored slushies and shakes. Affogato is a traditional Italian dessert in which a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream is topped with a shot of hot espresso. When chocolate gelato is substituted for vanilla, the dessert is called affogato mocha.

Bulletproof Coffee
Bulletproof coffee, which is inspired by yak-butter tea drinks from Tibet, calls for low-mold coffee beans, at least 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 to 2 tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride oil. Benefits of this coffee preparation—often referred to as butter coffee and consumed as a meal replacement—include the creamy texture and added fullness and boost of energy that comes from more calorie and saturated fat intake.

Hispanics are the ethnic demographic that most find bulletproof coffee appealing, although Asian consumers (39%) also express a likelihood to order this coffee. Interest in bulletproof coffee skews higher among men (31%) than women (26%), and has a higher positive response from Southerners (30%) compared to those from any other region.

Emerging Flavors

Beyond new preparations, consumers also express an interest in sampling a greater variety of coffee flavors. In fact, nearly half of consumers (47%) say they would like to try new or unique flavors in their coffee beverages. Some of the emerging flavors popping up on coffee menus include chicory, smoky, mojito and spicy. Here’s how these flavors appeal to different demographics:

  • Overall, men are more likely than women to find each of the above-mentioned emerging coffee flavors appealing.

  • Southerners tie with Westerners for most likely to find chicory flavor appealing, but Westerners have the highest response to all other flavors compared to any other region.

  • Hispanics express interest in these emerging coffee flavors more than any other ethnicity.

  • Millennials have the highest response among generations for finding each of these flavors appealing, whereas matures express the lowest interest in all flavors.

The Coffee Trend In Focus:

Wellness Lattes
Lattes featuring superfood ingredients are becoming more popular as consumers look to maximize nutritional benefits from their beverage consumption. These health-driven drinks are equally appealing to both genders (36% for men and women) but skew higher for younger generations and ethnic minorities. Operators are spotlighting these five ingredients in lattes to turn them into functional drinks.

  • Turmeric: Also referred to as “golden milk,” turmeric lattes offer anti-inflammatory and brain-healthy properties. The bitter, pungent flavor of this yellow-orange root pairs with nut milk in place of coffee to create a dairy-free morning option.

  • Matcha: Popular in Japan, this bitter-tasting green powdered tea is mixed into lattes for added antioxidants and energy and to help burn calories.

  • Charcoal: Charcoal lattes are made with activated charcoal and either milk or a dairy-free alternative. In addition to giving the latte a black appearance, the charcoal also benefits digestion and reduces inflammation.

  • Algae: Dubbed the “smurf latte,” blue algae lattes have a blue tincture and are rich in minerals such as beta-carotene and iron to detox the body and boost immunity.

  • Mushroom: Mushroom extract, which contains iron, fiber and vitamin D, is infused into lattes to offer healing properties, such as boosting immunity and productivity, all without giving a fungus taste.

  1. Maximize coffee’s potential

    Younger guests increasingly want their foodservice purchases to showcase extraordinary qualities such as weight loss and other nutritional benefits. Coffee is no exception to this movement. This means operators must do more to experiment with better-for-you coffee ingredients, particularly functional items such as algae and turmeric that enhance the body’s performance.

  2. Target new demographics with emerging coffees

    Technomic data shows that non-Caucasian ethnicities and males are the most likely to find new coffee preparations, presentations and flavors attractive. For operators wanting to grow store visits among these demographics, branching into new coffee territory will likely enhance a concept’s appeal with these guests. Novel presentations for coffee, such as pearl-shaped coffee caviar, as well as new taste experiences such as mixing lemonade into cold-brew coffee, are creative ways to reinvent this staple beverage.

  3. Look no further than your pantry for inspiration

    Not every operator should invest in new brewing equipment to create unique and craveable coffees. Innovation can start in-house by examining already stocked seasonings, syrups, powders and other ingredients that might shed a new and unexpected light on coffee. And nothing should be discredited as a potential coffee ingredient, as exemplified by Tim Hortons’ Buffalo Latte and the many uncommon coffee ingredients trending in wellness lattes.

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