If you’re someone who just can’t do without your morning cup (or two or three) of coffee, you’re certainly not alone. Coffee is far and away the most popular beverage in the world, with more than 400 billion cups consumed every year. In the US alone, nearly two-thirds of American adults (64 percent) drink at least one cup of coffee a day, according to a 2018 study commissioned by the National Coffee Association.
Given the beverage’s incredible popularity, it’s hardly surprising that the coffee market regularly sees new products, techniques, and innovations intended to capture the interest of caffeine-hungry consumers.
Between 2015 and 2018, for example, the US market saw the launch of close to 2,500 new coffee and ready-to-drink coffee products. Naturally, however, this major market expansion means increased competition for brands. Coffee companies are increasingly trying to stay ahead of the curve by keeping up with the latest trends in artisanal coffee and incorporating those trends into commercial products.
Recently, a research team from the global taste and nutrition company Kerry took a market tour of some of the most innovative coffee bars and shops in Chicago to check out what’s new on the artisanal coffee scene. Their findings point to three big trends that coffee companies and manufacturers can leverage in order to deliver—in ready-to-drink form on a commercial scale—the kind of artisanal-inspired products that consumers are looking for. These trends are:
1. Herbs and spices
Unusual and exotic herbs and spices are currently appearing all over the culinary landscape, including in coffee and coffee beverages. Today’s consumers are increasingly more adventurous in their tastes, and they are expressing a strong preference for unique coffee beverages with subtle flavors that may or may not be traditionally associated with coffee.
For example, among the beverages that the Kerry research team sampled on their coffee shop tour were a ginger and curry sauce latte, a dark chocolate and peanut butter latte, and a latte made with basil, mint, cardamom, and rose. Sweet and savory or sweet and spicy combinations were especially popular, featured in such beverages as a maple-sage latte and a coffee drink with cayenne, honey, and coconut milk.
From a manufacturer’s perspective, it’s possible to tap into this trend through products such as herb or spice-flavored syrups. These can deliver the novel tastes consumers are looking for while making beverage preparation easier for baristas.
2. New brewing techniques
The way that coffee is prepared can make as much (or even more) difference to its final flavor expression as the beans and other ingredients used.
Artisanal coffee shops today are becoming more and more scientific about the brewing process, and they’re experimenting with different methods and techniques that result in rounded and nuanced flavors. While these processes can be time consuming, it’s clear that consumers think they’re worth the wait—many coffee shop customers are happy to have the authentic experience of watching their beverage being brewed and prepared right in front of them, especially if an innovative method or unique piece of equipment is being used. Interestingly, this caters to the increasingly accepted view that coffee can be a carefully considered, artisanal product, not just fuel to get through the day.
The Kerry research team also had the opportunity to witness a number of different new brewing processes, emerging from their tour with the impression that some coffee shops are starting to look more like science labs than cafés. Innovations they saw included a siphon brewer and an automated pour-over coffee maker able to deliver a consistent brew each time.
For coffee manufacturers whose business depends on ready-to-drink products produced at scale, replicating the experience offered by these artisanal brewing methods can take some creativity. As these manufacturers are not in the position of being able to prepare their products right in front of their customers, they can instead partner with flavor experts to ensure that ready-to-drink products match the artisanal taste that these alternative methods deliver. It also helps to develop a rich and rounded backstory about the innovation or craftsmanship behind the product.
3. Health and wellness
Coffee has long been considered something of a vice or indulgence, but more and more of today’s consumers are hoping that their daily jolt of caffeine will be able to give them the functional health benefits that they are looking for from the rest of their food and beverage choices.
Coffee shops, as the Kerry team found, are getting in on this trend in a big way—many are serving up lattes and other coffee beverages that incorporate ingredients with reputed health benefits, such as beets, coconut milk, and jasmine. In some cases, coffee bars are serving functional beverages that don’t necessarily contain any coffee or much caffeine, such as rishi tea, matcha lattes, or kombucha. Happily, for manufacturers, many of these products work just as well in ready-to-drink form as they do freshly made.