Coffee: What we love about it and what we want now

Coffee in cup

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Coffee: whether it’s something to enjoy with friends at a chic café on the weekend or what we crave to get us energised in the morning, there’s no denying that coffee is a huge part of most people’s daily lives. But for most, the caffeinated beverage is far more than a means to wake up – it is something they savour. It’s no wonder, then, that our tastes are becoming more complex and sophisticated year on year.

October 1st was International Coffee Day, where people around the world celebrated their love for all manner of delicious coffee-based drinks with events, social media posts and more. But why exactly do UK consumers love coffee so much, and what we can take away from this for future industry insight?

What people love about coffee

Coffee in a cafe

Once upon a time, coffee was something of a status symbol for British consumers. The exclusive domain of the elite white gentleman, coffee was drunk only in 18th century coffee houses in cities such as London, from which women and the poor were explicitly excluded. Luckily, this has changed. Coffee is now accessible to anyone in the UK, although, as Mic reports, the take-away cup is now considered a desirable fashion symbol. Coffee is now very much considered part of an individual’s personal style, so much so that publications such as Harper’s Bazar publish articles like “What your coffee order says about your style”, with lattes being associated with “laidback and chic” styles, ice coffee indicating a “trendsetter” and cappuccino lovers dubbed “the classic”.

But besides the visual appeal, why do people love to drink coffee? The importance of the caffeine boost should not be underestimated, but there is certainly more to the consumer’s love of coffee – as more efficient sources of caffeine exist. Of course, the taste is a huge factor for many – but this varies significantly from cup to cup.

A Buzzfeed video questions the fundamental reasons why people enjoy coffee, concluding that, although humans were originally programmed to dislike bitter tastes, the ‘medicinal’ purposes of coffee in waking us up may be the reason for our partiality.

To gain insight on which types of coffee are most popular, a Quibblo online survey asked respondents how they like their cup. The results so far show that 39 per cent of respondents take both milk (or cream) and sugar, 10 per cent with just milk, 12 per cent with just sugar, and 27 per cent prefer their coffee black. A further 12 per cent chose ‘other’ – probably indicating that they would choose speciality coffees such as lattes with specific flavour options. This would indicate, as Whole Latte Love claim, that the accommodating nature of coffee and its many variations is a key factor in its popularity.

On its way out: instant coffee

Instant coffee

According to a Telegraph article, only one-fifth of coffee drinkers are consuming instant coffee more than once a day, which has caused instant coffee sales to fall by 3 per cent in 2014. The demographic most averse to instant coffee are those in their early 20s. As the British Coffee Association state, “ground coffee and single-serve coffee pods are becoming increasingly popular, particularly amongst millennials (aged 16 – 34) who account for 16% of all buyers”. They continue to explain that the increase in interest in gourmet coffee extends into the hospitality sphere, noting that “café culture has also continued to boom, 80% of people who visit coffee shops do so at least once a week, whilst 16% of us visit on a daily basis”.

Highly sought after: speciality coffees

Speciality coffees

Gone are the days of simply pouring water into your instant coffee granules. Now there are so many choices available at a coffee shop that some even have secret menus that people spend hours trying to uncover!

Instead of just adding water and milk at home for a standard instant coffee, consumers are choosing to head out to their favourite café or coffee shop for brews made by professional baristas. When buying coffee, customers are incredibly open to innovation – in an ICO report, 50 per cent of surveyed individuals said they look out for new products when visiting their favourite joint.

According to the report, key emerging trends among the consumer base include a desire for sustainability and ethics, sensory indulgence, health and wellness and individualism. An important sub-trend was the notion of ‘made for me’ coffee and sensory fusion, which requires businesses to offer exciting combinations of taste, texture, flavour and smells, whilst offering extensive customisation in flavour and design. In fact, 73 per cent of respondents said that the ability to express themselves through their choices was an important factor in their buying decisions.

This makes sense when we consider that, in coffee-centric cities such as New York, indie coffeehouses now outnumber Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts by two to one, according to a 2013 analysis cited by Daily Coffee News. 

The Telegraph reports similar trends in the UK, where Britons are “becoming more willing to try new types of coffee” such as cold brews, flavoured syrups, different coffee bean blends and healthy alternatives such as dairy-free milk.

So, what do coffee drinkers really want?

1.        Aesthetic appeal.

Now, coffee occupies a huge proportion of visual media, with over one million Instagram posts tagged ‘#latteart’, where users share images of the unique patterns in the froth of their coffee. Therefore, the look of a cup of coffee, as well as the environment of a café or shop, is of key significance.

2.      Customisation

Consumers love being able to pick out specific flavours, sizes, blends and textures to complement their tastes and daily routines. What a businessperson on the go might choose in a latte may be very different from what they might choose on a lunch date with a friend – whether the difference be the strength of the brew, the size, or the optional flavours.

3.      Healthy options

Individuals are very much aware of the health benefits and risks of caffeinated drinks. Most people know how unhealthy certain brands of speciality coffee can be, and look out for low-calorie or low-sugar options on a day-to-day basis. This does not mean that consumers don’t still enjoy a gingerbread latte, but they want other options to be available, too. This is particularly important for those with intolerances, so outlets offering dairy alternatives will be well-positioned.

4.      Innovation

We’re always looking for something new, whether that’s in style or in our choice of beverages. Coffee drinkers are looking for brand new flavour combinations and textures, as well as seasonal or themed choices, to shake up their usual routine.

5.      Convenience

Despite the many options consumers expect to be available, coffee lovers want their buying experience to be simple and efficient. From to-go orders for professionals to boutique café experiences, customer service must be fantastic, customised choices must be simple to order and quick to enjoy.