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Coffee drinking evolves into the coffee experience

pouring latte art specialty coffee

Coffee drinkers, especially older millennials, aren’t just gulping coffee for a simple morning pick-me-up. They want a deeper, more sophisticated coffee experience that’s achieved through high-end brewing methods and premium ingredients.

“They didn’t know of a world that didn’t have a Starbucks in it,” says coffee consultant Stephen Schulman. “The older millennials are really moving in to wanting to understand the origin of what they’re drinking … They’re willing to spend more on single-origin coffee.”

Some 84% of consumers visit coffee cafes at least once a month for beverage-only occasions, according to Technomic’s 2016 Bakery and Coffee Cafe Consumer Trend Report. What’s more, daily consumption of gourmet coffee beverages has nearly tripled since 2008, according to the National Coffee Association’s 2016 National Coffee Drinking Trends report. Those customers between 25 and 39 are the most likely to drink espresso-based beverages including flat whites, cold brew, nitro and more, the NCA study found.

In other words, these are people who are in the market for occasional indulgence, in the form of high-end LTOs or upscale preparation techniques, and they’re willing to pay for it.

Operators need to up their coffee game to be prepared for these savvy consumers.

Schulman compares America’s growing coffee-drinking sophistication to similar trends for wine and beer decades ago. As consumers become more educated and interested, producers and operators follow with ever more refined products.

“Don’t underestimate your consumer,” he says. “They’ll know if they’re tasting something good.”

Also driving sales are LTOs and callouts of single-origin or other specialty beans. Everyone’s searching for the next pumpkin spice flavor. Caramel and salted caramel continue to perform well, Schulman says. And he expects to see more shops offering bourbon flavors as consumers continue to seek greater sophistication. Starbucks earned positive reviews for its recent Chile Mocha LTO that features coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla, ancho chilies and cayenne.

As coffee drinkers become more nuanced, baristas must be ready to become coffee “sherpas,” Schulman says. Front-of-house staff must be well-versed in all areas of coffee production and preparation.

“You need to be sherpas or educators to help people through the journey with specialty coffees,” he says. “You need to engage the person at the counter level. You need to be able to give personal service.”

This post is sponsored by FETCO