Who Is the Coffee Drinker?

We have recalled coffee's past, seen where coffee stands today, and thought about how our current perceptions of coffee took root in American society. So what does all this mean? What conclusions can we draw regarding Americans who participate in this caffeination infatuation? What are you really buying, or buying into, when you order a tall Jamaican Blue Mountain to go with your Javachip at the local espresso drive-through?

The consumer of today's specialty or gourmet coffee declares a certain intellectual awareness, and perhaps superiority, with his purchase. He also demonstrates a sense of style and a demand for comfort. He is an educated thinker who knows what he wants, right down to the colorful, individualized icon on his coffee cup. Consider the phenomenon of cafes within bookstores. Barnes & Noble, unable alone to lend credibility to coffee, teams up with a powerful source of coffee credibility: Starbucks. Barnes & Noble then creates the aesthetics not ordinarily associated with superstores, such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot. A modern, friendly, artistic environment is crafted with plush living-room chairs, green and brown organic touches, classic wooden chairs, and sturdy modern tables. The effect draws a thinking consumer who lingers in the library-like atmosphere (Schmitt, p. 296.)

Today's consumer of coffee beverages also tends to be young or at least feel youthful. While the library effect created in bookstores may tend to appeal to a more mature coffee drinker, coffee's newer, unique cousins appeal to a hip, trendy consumer. Some beverage companies have combined coffee with colas, such as Big Head Coffee Cola. A mix of dark-roasted Brazilian coffee and carbonated cola is used to create flavors like Decafanilla, Butter Rumba, and Aboriginal-Kola Nut (Briceno, 1996.) Those in the coffee industry say that teens have turned away from traditional coffee in favor of new cold concoctions like Latte Chills. "These same teens are helping to fuel the 'quantum' growth of 'specialty coffee,' the industry's fastest growing segment" (Kulman,1997.) Corvallis (Oregon) School Food Service implemented a coffee shop concept at its food service operation at Crescent Valley High School, where a brand-name approach is used in the mall-type food court (Food Management, 1996.) Obviously, the brand-naming of coffee can only help when considering the young consumer of coffee products. Coffeehouse-style entertainment continues to appeal to the college crowd. Companies such as Greenberry's Coffee & Tea Company have developed in strategic locations, such as the University of Virginia. At Elon College, Aramark's Campus Dining Services has opened the College Coffee Shop, which offers a complete line of Starbucks coffee products seven days a week (Nation's Restaurant News, 1996.)

Americans who purchase specialty coffees have a sense of style that extends to how they look, how they dress, and where they spend their leisure time. Cafes usually appear in trendy retail areas and malls, implying a certain dress code for their patrons. The consumer wants a tasteful environment for repose, hence the elaborate aesthetic endeavors of Starbucks, Greenberry's, and other companies. Coffee trends have even extended to the cosmetic industry. Revlon's 1997 coffee bar color collection features colors of brown and bronze. The fact that image-conscious consumers are using the tones of java on their faces implies that sex appeal has been linked with the beverage. Since 1987 advertisers have kept millions of Americans interested in the Gold Blend love affair between coffee and consumer. The 'soap opera' style of around 20 commercials has lauched several imitators (Marketing, 1997.) Few commercials point to coffee's sex appeal as blatently as 'Coffee Shop,' the Lee jeans commercial. An attractive man drinks coffee all night trying to gather the courage to talk to his attractive waitress, finally asking her out for- what else?- a cup of coffee (Martin, 1996.)

The surge of coffee popularity among working, professional consumers speaks volumes about how Americans are changing. Breakfast, once a morning ritual of millions of households, has become a grab-and-go occasion. With greater demands on their time, Americans now leave home before they have eaten and 'find' breakfast somewhere. This shift has led to the teaming of breakfast foods with coffee companies, such as Big Apple Bagels and Brewster's Coffee, a company which plans to acquire the My Favorite Muffin chain (Zuber, 1997.) Other examples include Dunkin' Donuts' new coffeeshop image and Tuscany Coffee Roaster & Bagel Bakery. "Certainly, the overall breakfast market shows potential for growth; there seems to be a real desire by the customer for a portable breakfast that can be eaten on the run, which is fueling the growth of the bage', bakery, and coffee chains" (Kochak, 1996.) Coffee has found a captive market in the professional world. Specialty coffee chains such as the Coffee Station, Pasqua Coffee and Timothy's world of coffee prize their locations in high-rise office buildings. Executive business can be drawn from the outside as well as within (Scarpa, 1997.) Even foodservice chains such as 7-Eleven, which appeal to a much wider market, have focused on their breakfast menus. The breakfast program of Wawa, Inc. features bagels, fresh-cut fruit, Dunkin' Donuts products and gourmet coffee (Casper, 1997.) Americans spend $875 million a day in a restaurant or food-service outlet; in 1996 they spent 44% of their food dollars on meals away from home. In 1995, that figure was only 25% (Khami, 1997.) Stores such as Emily's Market appeal to the hurried market: the store has a loop layout designed for convenience and efficiency, featuring a coffee bar and emphasizing home-meal replacements.

Does all this caffeinated hustle and bustle signal the end of coffee as a social beverage? True, cybercafes allow the computer-literate consumer to partake in coffeehouse life from the privacy of his home. True also that coffee has been targeted to the on-the-go crowd. However, some portion of the coffee-drinking world continues to cherish coffee's social roots. In Neodesha, Kansas, Porter Drug Store continues to serve as a social gathering place where residents meet each day to drink coffee and enjoy the pleasant company (Drug Topics, 1996.) According to some, the 1990's seem to be picking up on all of the pop cultural trends of the 1950's, such as cigars, tattoos, martinis, cuff links, and coffee (Taylor, 1997.) This may seem an indication that coffee drinkers value and enjoy the celebrated styles of the past. On the other hand, some social critics call these trends a return to former vices: "This headlong rush into living dangerously is good news for 'vice' catalogs such as Liquor by Wire, Geerlings & Wade (wine), Starbucks coffee, Finck Cigars...whether it is stogies, booze, or java, the hip consumers demand only the finest brands for their vice," says trend watcher Judith Langer (Dowling, 1997.) Although they are far from beats or radicals, a portion of coffee drinkers have definitely embraced some of coffee's past associations.

In conclusion, the America's consumer's habits have changed as his personal and professional life has changed. He embraced the introduction of European trends and has fostered faithful relationships with the companies that have catered to his needs. He knows exactly what he wants and enjoys being able to get it, whether driving through an espresso lane or leafing through a novel at a bookstore. He is educated, conscious of his social status, and upwardly mobile. Finally, while he is willing and ready to explore coffee's new frontiers, he always looks forward to that perfect cup of joe.


Introduction Coffee's Past Coffee Today How Coffee Got Hot Coffee Drinkers