Let me start by saying, I love the millennial and post-millennial culture, which is represented by today’s teens and young adults. This group is often maligned and misunderstood due to media-driven generalizations. But I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with this community and I predict a massive global shift in values as this generation matures and comes of age.
Having owned a coffee shop in a small ski / resort town in western New York, I know that coffee growing, sourcing and retail environments have undergone a major shift in the past two decades, a shift that has been largely driven by millennials. The term ‘third wave coffee’ is used to describe a collection attributes associated with ethical growing practices, responsible sourcing, fresh roasting and artistic presentation. When you understand the culture and values driving Third Wave Coffee, you will understand more about ‘The Experience Movement” driving millennial spending behavior. More importantly, you will understand more about the inner workings of the millennial psyche.
First wave coffee was dominated by brands like Folgers. This coffee consumer was very consistent and predicable. Second wave coffee was dominated by brands like Starbucks and Caribou. A wide variety of coffee products emerged, including lattes, cappuccinos, and iced versions of coffee drinks. Consumer preferences became more diverse. Third wave coffee is in a league of its own. Complex flavor profiles, fresh roasting, responsible sourcing and knowledge are hallmarks of the third wave coffee movement.
Social Consciousness – Third wave coffee beans are sourced from fair trade growers. Millennials are willing to pay more for a cup of coffee if they know coffee growers are being paid a ‘living wage’ that meets needs for food, shelter, health care and education. Millennials are quick to support charitable initiatives and they expect businesses to do the same. Millennials typically tip well. They share!
Environmental Consciousness – Third wave coffee beans are grown using organic, environmentally responsible growing practices. Millennials are willing to pay more for their cup of coffee if it means they are helping the planet. They have a strong affinity for recycled, environmentally friendly products. They value small family farms and are likely to purchase organic products.
Socially Connected – The number of local coffee shops has exploded almost as quickly as craft breweries… likely for the same reason. Millennials value time with friends. Of course young people of every generation enjoyed time with their peer groups. But millennials are looser with their wallets, making socially-driven business ventures more profitable. New restaurants, bars and coffee shops are more likely to succeed in a socially-driven culture fueled by liberal spending habits.
Aesthetically driven – Third wave coffee isn’t just about the coffee taste. Fresh, robust flavor is a given. Third wave coffee engages all the senses. The fresh coffee smell, a warm, comfortable environment, high quality espresso machine and aesthetically pleasing setting play a huge role in the third wave coffee experience. Millennials expect cleanliness and orderliness.
Adventure – Third wave coffee is about exploration. Millennial coffee drinkers are not afraid to try something new, especially if the new product has an interesting, compelling story. Cold brew coffee is exploding in popularity because it is less acidic, easier on the stomach and involves more time / craftsmanship. Millennials would never expect to drink the same coffee their entire life. They are inquisitive and adventurous. This is the generation that gave birth to van life and the digital nomad movement. Millennials are not afraid to challenge the norm. They value experiences over possessions, travel over McMansions.
Expertise – Third wave coffee is all about expertise and craftsmanship. Millennials expect baristas to know where their coffee came from, how to pull a perfect shot of espresso and artistic skill in creating latte art. This generation was raised on the internet. You can’t BS them. They know a lot about a wide variety of subjects and they value intellect and knowledge.
Value Personal Growth and Coaching – Beyond the positive attributes exemplified by third wave coffee, our millennials are experiencing anxiety and depression in greater numbers than previous generations. Fortunately, they are not afraid to ask for help. In fact, millennials are the fastest growing consumer of self-help books and life / career coaching programs.
In many ways, I feel like this phase in my life is mirroring that of many millennials. Due to a divorce, I’m starting over. The thought is invigorating, stimulating and bumps my heart rate up a few notches… kind-of like coffee! I’m grateful for this opportunity to share thoughts, creativity and hopefully inspiration.