January 22, 2018
Can quick serves capture coffee converts through creativity?
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: We know an awful lot about coffee already.
After centuries of cultivation in places as far-flung as Ethiopia, Indonesia, Hawaii, Brazil, and the Arabian Peninsula; after roasting, grounding, and using in beverage-making for umpteen generations; and after spawning 27,000 Starbucks stores and a trail of discarded K-Cups long enough to reach the moons of Neptune, there just isn’t a lot of mystery or intrigue left when it comes to our morning beverage of choice.
And yet, according to the National Coffee Association (NCA), the percentage of Americans drinking coffee on a daily basis increased from 57 percent to 62 percent in the past year. A 5 percentage-point increase inside 12 months is a whole lot of new coffee converts in a very short time.
What accounts for the jump? And who are these new converts? The association claims the increase has to do with “soaring consumer enthusiasm for gourmet coffee varieties across most demographics,” particularly “a robust increase in past-day coffee drinking among younger consumers.”
The NCA didn’t make this particular claim, but my suspicion is that another factor that drove greater coffee consumption was the vast media attention surrounding a study on coffee consumption published in the highly regarded journal Annals of Internal Medicine this past August. Reputed to be the largest-ever study on coffee and mortality, it involved more than 520,000 people in 10 European countries. The finding? Drinking more coffee could significantly improve a person’s life expectancy.
Assuming coffee’s allure isn’t just a flash in the pan, it’s worth asking whether it’s possible for limited-service chains to carve out a chunk of that growth for themselves. Here are a few trends that could help operators looking to horn in on the big coffee chains’ dominance.
Brewing coffee by steeping it in cold water tends to produce a less acidic, less bitter variant. It’s generally softer on the palate because the brew oxidizes and degrades at a slower pace than it does in typical hot-water brewing. And while cold-brew coffee is often consumed in iced form, it is possible to make hot coffee using the same technique. The cold-brew approach also allows for the addition of ingredients such as chicory and spices to the base coffee, which can produce a broad range of different and interesting flavors much more subtly than you get by pouring sweetened syrup into the finished product.
Cold brewing is also handy for those who like their iced coffee with a bit of effervescence courtesy of carbon dioxide. At Stumptown Coffee, for instance, the bubbly offerings include a sparkling honey-lemon cold brew and a sparkling ginger-citrus variety. Imagine a whole line of coffee “mocktails” based on sparkling cold-brew java; morning cola drinkers might never again pop a can tab or a bottle top for breakfast.