We decided to take a look at what trends have emerged, after a full year of pandemic living. What follows are some of the top trends and insights in coffee for 2020.
The National Coffee Association (NCA) is an industry association that tracks and reports on trends within the coffee industry. Chances are, your favorite local coffee shop’s owner or specialty coffee roaster reads their seasonal “National Data Trends” report.
The NCA found coffee is still American’s favorite beverage. The typical coffee drinker enjoys three cups a day. One major disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is the increase in at-home coffee preparation. Around 70% of coffee lovers said they consume their favorite brew at home since they are spending less time out at the office or at their favorite coffee shop.
In 2020 and early 2021, people explored their thirst for new experiences, creative expression and variety while remaining at home.
Exploring New Coffee Beverages At Home
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s profound disruptions on our lives, coffee continues to be America’s favorite beverage,” said NCA President and CEO Bill Murray. “New routines mean Americans are drinking more of their coffee at home than ever.”
As people spent more time at home during the pandemic lock-down, they also looked for new activities to pass the time. Coffee drinkers indulged both their creativity and applied their thirst for adventure to their home coffee drinking habits.
Here are a few ways that coffee drinkers enjoyed new coffee experiences while staying at home:
- 41% of coffee drinkers decided to try a new type of coffee drink.
- 25% purchased a new kind of coffee or a new roast or blend.
- 27% said they attempted to replicate their favorite coffee shop at home.
- 23% said they purchased a new coffee machine or brewing equipment over the past year.
The Specialty Coffee Association teamed up with the NCA to research consumer trends. They found the most popular at-home brewing methods were as follows:
- Drip coffee machine: 42%
- Single-cup system like pods and espresso makers: 24%
- Cold brewing: 10%
- Instant coffee: 8%
- Pre-made ready to drink coffee: 8%
In other words, although many coffee lovers are enjoying their favorite brew at home, they are trying new drinks, new brewing methods, and learning new techniques.
Honing Home Barista Skills
All over the world, coffee lovers expressed themselves by attempting to recreate their favorite latte foam art and other more advanced techniques.
In addition to NCA’s discovery, Melitta North America’s 2020 survey also noted similar trends in coffee drinkers attempting to recreate their favorite boutique coffee drinks at home. Around 46% told Melitta they wanted to learn how to brew better coffee at home.
One surprising twist is that nearly half of the respondents plan to travel this year and 16% of them said they expect to pack their own coffee brewing equipment.
Smooth Foamy Nitro Cold Brew
Cold brew coffee is less acidic than traditionally brewed coffee. For that reason, cold brewing techniques have been trendy for years. Fans find the flavor less bitter tasting and smoother resulting in a lower calorie drink since they feel less need to add sugar or creamer. Also, people who get upset stomach from heat-brewed coffee find cold brew gentler.
Nitro cold brew involves introducing nitrogen gas to cold brew coffee. The innovation was inspired by beer brewing techniques. Since the nitrogen gas doesn’t dissolve well into water, it results in a thicker mouthfeel. Many compare it to drinking a pint of Guinness partially because of the creamy foam head.
The exact origins of nitro cold brew are disputed. Nate Armbrust of Stumptown Coffee Roasting in Portland, Oregon is one of the possible creators of Nitro Cold Brew.
“He started thinking about his home-brewing days and the appeal of Guinness poured fresh from the tap,” according to Chemical and Engineering News. “That beverage is blended with nitrogen gas, which creates small bubbles that help stabilize a creamy head. Looking to replicate that creaminess with coffee, Armbrust struck upon the idea of pushing nitrogen gas into his cold coffee.”
Others credit either Cuvee Coffee in Austin, Texas with creating or popularizing Nitro Cold Brew.
At-home baristas create their own versions of nitro cold brew by using a refillable whip cream canister to infuse their own cold brew with nitrogen.
The Coffee Market: Ecommerce & Subscription Boxes Rule
The National Coffee Association found online purchases increased by 57% in 2020 as more people drink coffee at home yet still crave variety.
Also, online shopping increased during COVID-19. Coffee is one of the top selling e-commerce niches with an annual market sales of $1.08 billion in the United States, according to “Tea and Coffee.” Amazon is the leader in online coffee sales with pods and capsules accounting for 86% of their sales.
E-commerce stores and specialty coffee subscriptions carved out a special niche. If you can’t visit your favorite coffee roasters or café, you can still subscribe to your favorite roast of beans.
In the United States, consumers have a range of options when it comes to buying coffee, including:
- Whole bean
- Ground coffee
- Instant coffee
- Coffee pods & capsules
Subscription options exist for fans of whole bean, pre-ground ground, instant or coffee pods.
Sustainable Coffee Consumption: From Seed to Cup
Foodies often struggle to balance their interest in gourmet treats with their interest in environmental sustainability. Farm to table and field to fork restaurants and sustainable food distribution methods appeals to these consumers.
A similar trend has been emerging in the coffee world. Many coffee lovers balance their thirst with concern about the environment. Climate change may severely impact today’s coffee growing regions. These consumers may pay a premium for fair trade and environmentally sustainable coffee producing practices from seed to cup.
Even coffee enthusiasts who use single cup brewing pods like K-cup sometimes embrace reusable or compostable pods to diminish their environmental footprint.
What About Coffee Shops?
“Let’s grab a cup of coffee” is a phrase easily said that contains so much subtext and nuance. It can be a low key way to start a friendship, business partnership or romance. How will the pandemic change the role of the coffee shop?
“Many are also returning to coffee shops around the country or plan to do so soon,” said NCA President and CEO Bill Murray.
Traditionally coffee shops are places where people gather and share ideas. Writers, entrepreneurs, artists, and students in all fields use their favorite coffee shops as a third space. Like bars and restaurants, coffee shops are struggling. Some expect COVID-19 may cause nearly one quarter of US coffee shops to close.
Many coffee shops quickly pivoted to expand their Ecommerce, drive through and curb-side pickup options in order to survive.
Whether at home or on-the-go the coffee industry demonstrates its ability to evolve, innovate and adapt to consumers’ changing needs.