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2023 Trend Report:  Millennials and Gen Z Are Driving These Six Coffee Trends

2023 Trend Report: Millennials and Gen Z Are Driving These Six Coffee Trends

Welcome to 2023, home of the New Normal. Post-COVID life is here, and we expect our coffee shops to fuel our regained momentum. While we’re (getting back to) matching our pre-pandemic pace, we’re now marching to a different tune. 

Speaking of pace, famed entrepreneur Steve Case said, “The pace of change and the threat of disruption present tremendous opportunities.” And no one seems to know this better than the younger crowd. For those of us in the specialty coffee business, we’d do well to pay attention.

Largely due to the efforts of millennials and Gen Z, demand for sustainability has forced plastics to the wayside, convenience is a given, and menus include options to boost immune systems. If the future requires fortitude, this younger yet powerful consumer segment demands practices and products to build their stamina — and they’re not playing around. 

With new technology and health trends emerging (thanks to the millennial and Gen Z influence), some of these are certain to carry over to the coffee industry. We’ve identified six 2023 trends that you might agree are driven by our younger coffee connoisseurs. So, whether you’re a coffee roaster or café owner looking to stay ahead of the curve, give this a quick read. We’re betting it will provide you with ideas to broaden and bring more diversity to your product offerings, meet your customers’ ever-changing tastes, and boost your bottom line.

1. Decaf Coffee

We’re probably listing the most controversial coffee trend right out of the gate! Baby boomers and millennials might finally have something in common: While the older set may curtail caffeine to address existing health issues, today’s younger crowd is cutting it from their lifestyle as a preventive measure. 

Coined the “Wellness Generation,” today’s millennials are eating healthier, exercising more, and drinking less alcohol and caffeine than their elders. Thankfully, recent technological advances have created safer, more organic methods — including Swiss water processing and carbon dioxide — to decaffeinate specialty coffee to help rescue its poor reputation. Whatever the process used, the result helps retain the desirable characteristics roasters want in their green beans.

And, given that today’s millennials, along with Gen Z’ers, are one of the most significant segments of specialty coffee drinkers and contributors to coffee and cafe culture, we’d do well to listen and be prepared. It may be that decaf is rising from the ranks of something you have on hand for the self-selecting few (just in case) to a bona fide offering taking its rightful place alongside its caffeinated cousin.

2. Protein-Packed Coffee (aka Proffee)

TikTok has gained a reputation for its crazy trends, and coffee hasn’t escaped its antics. In mid-2022, the most recent coffee fad to appear in TikTok feeds is coffee mixed with protein powder, aka proffee

If you’re asking yourself why this is a thing, there may be a couple of reasons. First, protein powders help build muscle, aid in recovery, and encourage healthy weight loss — important goals as many of us work to regain our pre-pandemic health. And, because post-pandemic life has us yearning to make up for lost time, combining your protein and daily coffee is just a matter of convenience. Plus, it’s pretty tasty.

Mixed with cold coffee (see above), you can also add in extras like spices, whipped cream, and milk. Given that an average scoop of protein powder packs 20 grams of protein, that’s significant!

3. White Coffee

Here’s another contender for breakout star of the 2023 coffee world: white coffee. We’re guessing you’ve heard of it, but it’s not to be confused with Starbucks’ popular “flat white” drink. Instead, it references a highly delicate and light roast that — you might have guessed, based on the focus of this article — the younger folk are flocking to. 

While white coffee has only recently (relatively speaking) emerged as a roasting trend, it originates in the Middle East. 

Here’s a surprise: The color isn’t due to the bean itself but because of actions taken during the roast and using a much lower roasting temperature. Specifically, to get white coffee, you must cut the roast before caramelization, resulting in a white or light yellow coffee bean instead of the traditional brown. The result is a much higher density bean than achieved by conventional roasting.

And the white variant has some unique characteristics: It contains less acid and more antioxidants, so it may be more suitable for people with acid reflux or other gastrointestinal issues.

Another surprise awaits: the taste. You might not know what you’re in for when you first try it. White coffee may have a nutty, smooth, sweet profile similar to coffee, but it offers an entirely different flavor profile from fully roasted coffee.

If you’re ready to try roasting white coffee, here’s a great resource.

4. CBD Coffee

Coffee has long been considered our go-to supplement for energy. And, as CBD — the hemp-derived cannabis compound that contains less than 0.3% THC — continues to solidify its reputation for pain and anxiety relief (and more), it’s only natural to wonder what might happen if our two favorite “C” supplements join forces. 

Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill removing hemp-derived CBD from the Controlled Substances Act, making it essentially legal in all 50 states, we’re seeing CBD increasingly added to coffee as a booster to offset the effects of caffeine and provide balance.

Coffee brands like Balance CBD, Dani Pepper, and Sträva have led the CBD coffee trend over the past five years, and we think we’ll see the coffee-CBD dynamic duo make a more prominent name for itself in 2023. Expect more cold brew and specialty coffee offerings in this category, including CBD bitters or drops to add to your favorite coffee cocktails.

5. Cold Brew

From classic iced coffee and nitro brew to the relatively recent arrival of the snapchill process to the market, cold brew is quickly becoming one of the most popular coffee cafe beverages worldwide with young consumers — even in cold weather. The American National Coffee Association reports that cold coffee beverages have increased 23% since January 2021, and they’re poised to drive future segment market growth by just over 25%.

So, what’s the hype behind cold brew? Well, brewing coffee at room temperature doesn’t activate the same acidity in the beans (it’s up to 60% less acidic than hot coffee), so it creates a much smoother, less bitter flavor. Add to this more antioxidants and a longer shelf life, and you can see why coffee consumers (once again driven by young adult preferences) are attracted to it.

6. The Rise of Robusta

Have we saved the most surprising trend for last? Only you can be the judge, but we’re guessing this trend might tie with decaf coffee in some readers’ minds regarding controversy. We all know arabica coffee reigns supreme in the world of specialty coffee. Robusta is generally lower quality, yet usually cheaper to buy and easier to grow. But has its day finally come? With arabica coffee prices soaring, coffee buyers and farmers are considering better ways to leverage some of robusta’s positive qualities. 

Robusta is already used in many coffee blends, but will we see this practice increase? It mostly depends on whether our industry can help change the perception of robusta’s reputation as the less desirable alternative. The fact that many younger consumers prefer milk-based coffee drinks helps. Why? The more bitter, less acidic robusta beans highlight the creaminess of the milk — saving the arabica to shine on its own. Plus, with robusta’s cheaper price tag, these cost savings get passed to younger consumers with less disposable income. 

Climate change might also have a hand in boosting robusta’s higher yields — making it an even more attractive alternative to arabica.

What do you think? Do you already incorporate robusta into your coffee offerings? Are you willing to consider it?

CoffeeTec Is Ready

We find these 2023 coffee trends fascinating — but really only because of who is driving them. There will always be a new generation to innovate. In fact, we’re counting on it. We’ve seen coffee “waves” come and go, and that’s the thing about the fluidity, or the ocean, of change. There will always be new waves, new opinions, new needs, and new consumer habits to consider. And all of these factors will surely impact one of the biggest common denominators of our modern lifestyle: coffee consumption. 

Change is always challenging to navigate, but if you’re like us, you thrive on it. That’s part of the excitement and fulfillment of the world of specialty coffee. So, just know that if you’re contemplating how to make the most of 2023 and stay a step ahead of the trends, we’ve got you covered.

Contact us with your thoughts and let’s jump on a call to figure out a game plan — whether that’s by outfitting you with a new-to-you roaster or other equipment, selling your current roaster, setting you up with financing, or consulting with you on how to improve your roastery’s operations. 

As we always say, we’re here to help you build the roastery of your dreams — and stay ahead of the trends. Now, let’s go make something great of 2023!

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