By Rebecca Wooden
Our previous journal article ‘What's driving millennial coffee culture?’ explored the millennial generation as the driving force behind the third-wave of specialty coffee drinking. The coming of age of a millennial generation has sat side by side with the rise of specialty coffee that Climpson & Sons has been such a big part of over the last 20 years. This wave began when specialty roasters such as ourselves sought a move towards more traceable and sustainable practices in the industry, feeding a desire for coffee drinkers to connect deeply with where their beans have come from, as well as enjoying a much higher quality cup and a lighter roasting profile. This wave has been unstoppable, with more and more cafes, bars and restaurants choosing to brew specialty coffee and the mainstream brands following in the independents footsteps to replicate the specialty experience.
In the last few years we’ve seen a new generation coming of age, entering the workforce and more readily drinking coffee. Hello, Gen Z. Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z are fast becoming the specialty coffee consumers of the future, and with them comes a fresh perspective on what they want from their cup, as well as how and where they choose to drink it. The first truly digital generation, the current cohort of under 25s entering the workplace are fully tech savvy, having grown up in the era of endless information at their fingertips. Here, we’ll be exploring how coming-of-age in the digital landscape could affect coffee drinking habits for a whole generation
A recent YouGov survey ‘Understanding Coffee Drinking Among Gen Z’ suggests some serious shifts in the ways Generation Z are consuming coffee compared to the generations before them. Let’s take a look at the stats and explore what this might mean for our role as coffee providers for people from every age bracket.
“When asked whether there’s no such thing as too much coffee, three in ten Brits agreed, while 16% are undecided. But what’s the picture like between the generations?
Gen Z has the highest share of consumers who disagree with the statement (61%) with only 26% in agreement and 13% of consumers on the fence. Millennials and Gen X-ers, on the other hand, seem to have the highest share of coffee enthusiasts as 32% of them don’t think there’s such a thing as too much joe. Gen Zs are amongst the least likely to agree that there is no such thing as too much coffee – and the least likely among the youngest three generations. Does that mean the coffee love-in is dying? “
Can you drink too much coffee? The answer to this seems to me, obviously, yes. With more and more research into the effects of caffeine on the brain, there’s no doubt that this psycho-active substance could be over consumed. This view sits in line with an increasingly health-conscious generation, growing up in the information age where lifestyle views and opinions are readily shared and available on social media.
However the question is whether this greater awareness around the potential impact of over-consumption of caffeine will lead to a generation quitting coffee for good. In recent years we’ve noticed an increase in the amount of decaffeinated drinkers at our cafes, as well as roasting more and more of our decaf Colombian, La Plata for our wholesale customers. This suggests our customers are not skipping the coffee completely, but maybe switching out that second or third cup for a decaf option to keep their caffeine levels in check.
The question ‘is there a thing as too much coffee?’ that the survey focussed on also has a strong association with the ‘hustle culture’ mindset associated with a millennial generation.
“The hustle-culture narrative promotes the idea that there's always more to strive for: more money to make, a bigger title or promotion to secure and a higher ceiling to smash.” from ‘Hustle Culture: Is this the end of the rise and grind?
This work hard, rise and grind lifestyle has been fuelled by a caffeine obsessed millennial generation. With a large cup of filter in hand, the model of working hard to achieve financial success was born in the tech boom of Silicon Valley and replicated down to the individual level, where a side-hustle as well as a work based personal identity, became the norm. However, with pandemic induced cultural shifts, there’s been a change in attitudes across all generations to reassess our attitudes towards work and find more time to spend with family and friends, engaging in the hobbies and interests that make life fulfilling to form a rich and broad self of identity outside of the workplace. We’ve seen this particularly in Gen Z through the rise of TikTok trends around #quietquitting where self identity is disassociated with place in the labour market and a minimum effort model replaces the hustle culture that came before it.
Whilst this generational shift could have a real impact on caffeine consumption (... who needs multiple espressos to work with as little effort as possible?) it could also present itself as a very positive change for the specialty industry and a slower, more thoughtful and socially impactful coffee consumption. The values of sustainability and traceability are of increasing importance to a younger generation, having grown up with acute awareness of the real-time impact climate change will have on their adult lives. Climpson & Sons focus on sourcing quality coffees from environmentally minded producers sits very much in line with a slower and curated attitude to what we buy, eat and drink.
The YouGov survey also considers convenience as a factor in what motivates people to drink coffee.
“Among those who drink coffee, taste, strength, type of coffee and price seem to be the top four factors for the older generations when buying coffee. However, while taste and price are also at the top of Gen Z’s motivation, the next most important factor is convenience (20%). This could probably be the reason why a higher share of Gen Z bought ready to drink coffee (16%) in the last three months.”
While Gen Z value the quality in production and sourcing, they expect the final stage of service to be quick, to the point of instant. Growing up through the age of fast food and Deliveroo convenience, who can blame them. Here comes the rise of ready to drink coffee. We’ve seen this at our cafe with the love for our ready to serve cold brew growing year on year, as well as the popularity of our Nitro Cold Brew on tap from our coffee bar in Old Spitalfields Market. Similarly, Climpson & Sons Coffee Concentrate fills the need for expertly produced coffee at home, with zero brewing time or equipment needs. Convenience, without compromising quality.
While the profile of specialty coffee consumers changes with the generations, the values of sustainability, traceability and expert production shine through to coffee drinkers from all age groups, which can be seen through the wide range of people that drink our coffees, whether through any of our brilliant wholesale partners across the country or by brewing at home. By continuing to work closely with our repeat partnerships across the world, we hope that specialty coffee will continue to appeal to a more discerning, younger consumer as well as the millennial generation that gave rise to it. So is the coffee love-in dying? Perhaps the attitude of death before decaf and coffee fuelled hustle culture is fading with a socially and health conscious generation, however this doesn’t mean the end of specialty coffee and could instead see a further rise of more conscious, convenient and curated coffee drinking.