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Gen Z’s ‘Little Treat Culture’ Especially Apparent in Coffee Category

CHICAGO – Members of the global coffee and tea community from over 85 countries recently gathered for the 35th annual Specialty Coffee Expo. North America’s largest coffee trade show highlighted a few developing themes in the category: cold brew, ube, and mushroom coffees designed to appeal to Gen Z and millennial’s desire for “little treats.”

Cold Brew

Younger consumers are driving growth in cold brew coffee. Cold brew coffee beverages offer both on-the-go portability and visual appeal. Customers can customize their cold beverages with beautiful cold foams and glitter and show off their drink on TikTok and Instagram.

“Gen Z and millennial consumers want cold brew coffee and they’re willing to pay more for it because cold brew coffee has a smoother, less acidic flavor profile,” Jillian Hermanowicz, VP of corporate marketing and communications at FFP, owner of the Javo Beverage Company, told The Food Institute.

“Cold brew is only on about 12 percent of restaurant menus, so there’s a tremendous runway for growth,” said Christopher Johnson, president of foodservice at FFP.

Producing cold brew coffee in the traditional manner takes about 8 to 24 hours, with the plastic or glass vessels taking up refrigerator space. Javo Beverage Company sampled its pure cold brew coffee concentrates that are offered in shelf-stable bag-in-box and 16-oz and 64-oz bottle formats to allow coffee shops to quickly serve cold brew coffee. Marco Beverage Systems Ltd. showcased its Marco ColdBRU concentrate brewer that makes coffee concentrate in under three hours.


You’ve probably seen the striking purple-hued ube lattes and ube cupcakes in your Instagram feed. Ube has been a trending flavor in specialty coffee shops in large cities this year, and now ube is entering the mainstream as Monin’s 2024 Flavor of the Year. Monin, a leader in beverage and culinary flavor solutions, spotlighted its Monin Ube Syrup at the SCA Expo.

What exactly is ube (pronounced ooh-bay)? Ube is a purple yam with an earthy and nutty flavor popular in the Philippines that originated in Southeast Asia.

Monin’s research revealed that 67% of consumers are likely to purchase an ube-flavored beverage or dessert. The Monin Ube Syrup is a flavor blend of ube with notes of fig, vanilla, and cinnamon. At the SCA Expo, Monin’s featured recipes included an Ube Coffee Frappe made with its Ube Syrup, Monin Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate, and oat milk.

“Little Treat Culture”

Many exhibitors in Chicago highlighted indulgent coffee and tea beverages that fit into the “little treat culture” trend. On TikTok and Instagram, Gen Zers and millennials post about small indulgences such as vanilla matcha lattes and mini chocolate cupcakes as they engage in self-care and escapism.

Kerry Foodservice recently noted that “little treat” culture has become a cultural phenomenon, and the F&B world is poised to embrace it by offering more affordable, functional, and indulgent concoctions.

As part of its indulgent offerings, Kerry served an aesthetically pleasing textured beverage – a Strawberry Fields Boba made with its Big Train Strawberry Crème Mix and prepared strawberry Popping Pearls.

Consuming “little treats” allows busy, stressed-out consumers to take a brief escape from work and school responsibilities. In fact, Torani refers to everyday escapism in talking about its new Galaxy-inspired Syrup. Andrea Ramirez, consumer & customer market insight manager at Torani, told FI that “Twenty-twenty-four is the right year for Galaxy-inspired flavor, in part because young people’s interest in astrology is high.” She added: “Torani’s flavor scientists masterfully balanced art and science to bring our Puremade Galaxy Syrup to life.”

Functional Benefits

In addition to indulgent experiences, many coffee and tea drinkers are seeking out functional health benefits as part of their self-care routine. Playing off that theme, Renude combines indulgence and function by calling its Renude “Chagaccino, the millennial version of the mocha Frappuccino.” The Renude Chagaccino features ingredients like wild-foraged Chaga mushrooms (an adaptogen with immune-supporting and stress relief benefits with 40 times more antioxidants than blueberries) and Ceylon cinnamon (an antioxidant).

Atomo Coffee, the makers of the world’s first bean-less espresso, highlighted how the company sources “farm-grown superfoods and upcycled ingredients to match the same 28 compounds found in coffee beans.”

“Coffee lovers visit specialty coffee shops with an expectation of an elevated experience encompassing taste, quality, and visual appeal,” Atomo Coffee Chief Operating Officer Ed Hoehn told The Food Institute. “We spent the past five years perfecting our product to meet and exceed those expectations while also delivering the most sustainable cup of coffee on the planet.”

Virginia Lee is a food & beverages trendspotter and market researcher. She has advised companies on innovation and market entry opportunities in consumer packaged goods at Euromonitor International, Innova Market Insights, and Brightfield Group. Connect with Virginia on Instagram, TikTok, and X at @VirginiaALee.

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