A couple of months ago, Time dedicated some lines to what the article writer thinks is a younger generation trend: preference of energy drinks over coffee.
She even mentions a research that seems to point to the fact (?) that under-25ers are becoming "coffee-resistant" and it seems that this is mainly due to the coffee bitterness.
The study was conducted by a reputable research firm and we must assume that the population samples and sizes were scientifically determined.
In my modest opinion, the study is biased in the fact that it's considering coffee an "energy drink", i.e. something that people must drink simply to stay awake and alert. True, many people drink coffee for this purpose only, in fact the coffee guzzlers only drink coffee as a crutch; however, more people each day are learning to taste coffee, to differentiate origins and to demand better quality.
Ergo, we might -for simplification's sake- divide the coffee market between the two Gs: Guzzlers vs. Gourmet.
Guzzlers are the drinkers that grab a large paper or plastic cup filled to the brim with a concoction that may contain some coffee of undesignated origin, rush to work and, after a few gulps of the cold, tasteless drink, end up throwing it away. This depiction could be a bit dramatic, but it defines the group. As a matter of fact, Starbucks is now offering a 31-oz cup, which is an exaggeration with the sole purpose of increasing sales volume. Right, this segment demands large volumes of coffee and it is mostly composed of people who already work, so they are above the 25-year limit. In order to sustain the production of standard quality coffee in some countries, this segment is needed and must be pampered by those interested.
Gourmet drinkers, on the other hand, select their coffee and then enjoy sipping and savoring what they deem a delightful experience. These drinkers demand quality, aroma and flavor; they taste different origins, different varietals, exchange opinions. They refuse to drink anything that is poured into paper or plastic cups by the gallon. These customers try a diversity of methods to roast, grind and brew their coffee. They make a lower percentage of the sales volume, but they are the driving force of better quality coffee. Certainly, all the members of the ROASTe community fall into this category of coffee connoisseurs.
Should we, as producers and marketers of selected coffee be worried about the trend enunciated?
Those of us involved in improving quality are totally focused on these facts.
Quality begins in the field by selecting varieties, by hand-harvesting the best beans, by processing the beans with TLC and after that by selecting the very best beans for export.
Then it moves to the roaster, who must also use lots of TLC so the coffee reaches a peak level of body, aroma and flavor. Here, we must leave out the "intense" roasting that some people demand, where intense equals burning the coffee to disguise bad characteristics.
It is up to us marketers to convince more people that coffee is not simply an energy drink, but an enjoyable, pleasurable and satisfying habit. We must devise strategies to entice more people to taste good coffee by removing the jitter connotation and by promoting a coffee culture.
We can compare these coffee drinking habits to wine drinking: sipping and enjoying a good wine vs. getting drunk. Both markets are being served.