Brewing Growth: Coffee and Tea Trends for 2012


For the past few years coffee has been all the rage in the quick-service segment. Now, innovation is taking this staple beyond the basics. Today, foodservice operators of all sizes and stripes are embracing flavour and ingredient trends, and in the process, creating new opportunities.

In fact, in examining the menus of approximately 350 Canadian chains and leading independent operators using Technomic’s “MenuMonitor,” it’s clear the incidence of filtered coffee is flat, while the number of specialty coffee beverages is growing by six per cent.

Similarly, the number of hot tea items is up slightly (three per cent), while specialty tea items have grown almost 10 per cent.

To tap into the growing market, check out the following list of coffee and tea trends brewing industry-wide.

Packing a punch

Ironically, today’s consumers prefer healthy, comforting tea, but they want rich and indulgent coffee. A menu analysis finds Canada’s top chains and leading independent operators are creatively working to give guests what they want. The most common flavours being merchandised on menus include mocha, vanilla, caramel, chocolate and hazelnut. In fact, mocha is found in 13 per cent of all iced-coffee drinks, 10 per cent of specialty coffees and 27 per cent of frozen-blended-coffee concoctions.

Restaurants feeding the desire for indulgent coffees include Starbucks, which launched Menthe Frappuccino and White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino ($3.95 for a tall) this year; and McDonald’s, which added Iced Coffee in caramel and vanilla flavours ($1.89 for a medium).

On the other hand, tea continues to be viewed as a calming beverage. Top tea flavours include lemon, citrus, raspberry and mint. And, though they are not flavours per se, chai and green tea are listed frequently, particularly as specialty teas (chai at 22 per cent; green tea at 14 per cent) and frozen tea drinks (chai at 20 per cent; green tea at 47 per cent). New flavoured tea products from leading concepts include Vancouver-based The Old Spaghetti Factory’s flavoured iced tea in raspberry, peach, mango or strawberry ($3.32) and Ajax, Ont.-based Mrs. Fields new green tea ($1.86).

Beverages with Kick

The number of adult coffee drinks is up by 45.5 per cent. In fact, regular coffee is one of the top 20 ingredients in alcoholic beverages. Among the adult coffee drinks, 48 per cent include whipped cream, 19 per cent feature brandy and eight per cent include Amaretto. Other popular ingredients include espresso, chocolate, cream and whisky.

Many coffee cocktails now highlight refreshing tastes. For example, the Vancouver-based Boathouse restaurant offers a Double-Down martini made with Van Gogh Expresso Vodka ($7.99) and Mississauga, Ont.-based East Side Mario’s offers a Tiramisu Espresso Martini, Baileys Caramel Irish Cream and Frangelico Liqueur ($6.99) shaken with ice and Lavazza espresso, and served frothy.

Tea is also forming the base of adult beverages. Brewsters Brewing Company & Restaurant offers blueberry tea, Earl Grey with Amaretto and Grand Marnier, served hot; it sells for $6.50 at the Calgary-based chain. Innovative iced-tea cocktails on menus include the Razzle Bazzle ($7.99) at Vancouver-based Joey Restaurants, with fresh basil, raspberry purée, Smirnoff raspberry vodka shaken with lemon iced tea; and Vaughan, Ont.-based Milestones Grill & Bar’s “Tea”Quila Sunset ($8.99), featuring green tea, Jose Cuervo Silver tequila, Blue Curaçao and Milestones’ signature Bellini (white rum, peach liqueur and sparkling wine).

Better for you?

Further analysis of Canadian restaurant menus finds few coffee and tea beverages are described with healthy claims such as low-fat or low-sugar. It may seem disingenuous to make such claims on filtered coffee or cups of hot tea, but with the growing prevalence of flavour boosters and creamy additions, it may encourage guests to buy.

Interestingly, the term decaffeinated is found only in 12 per cent of filtered coffee descriptions, two per cent of specialty coffee descriptions and only three per cent of hot tea and three per cent of specialty tea items. Due to the variety of teas, it might help customers to note whether a beverage is decaf, or whether it can be made with a decaf tea. Tea has its own healthy perception, so perhaps operators don’t feel they need to boost its appeal.

Healthy halo terms such as “organic” and “natural” aren’t used often when describing coffee and tea, but several concepts — including Toronto’s Canoe and Freshii, Calgary’s River Café and Mississauga, Ont.’s Second Cup — tout fair-trade coffee. While not necessarily better-for-you, these products can be promoted as better for the global community, as more and more consumers are attracted to socially conscious companies.

Coffee and Tea as Ingredients

These days, coffee and tea land on more than just the beverage menu; they’re also being found as ingredients in recipes at innovative Canadian concepts. Just as consumers appreciate the subtleties of coffee beans and tea blends and the many tea varieties, they are intrigued by the use of those flavours in other menu items. At Toronto’s Reds Bistro & Bar, the Baby Spinach Salad on the $20 prix-fixe Winterlicious menu was topped with coffee-cured smoked duck as well as wine-poached cranberries, toasted pine nuts and citrus vinaigrette. And, at Vancouver’s Salmon House Restaurant, an artful appetizer wraps scallops with smoked sockeye salmon and lays the duo on an asparagus salad tossed in orange coffee vinaigrette ($15.50).

The Maple B.C. Salmon Gravlax starter ($16) at Toronto’s Canoe features radish, fennel, candied lemon and Labrador tea cream. And the Flat Iron Steak Salad ($17) at Vancouver’s Dockside combines lemon-tea-marinated steak, with fresh cucumber, cherry tomato, cilantro, mint, toasted cashews and fried onion, served on a bed of greens. On the dessert menu, Ontario’s Ichiban Sushi House offers Matcha Roll Cake ($5), green-tea flavoured sponge roll cake with cream and red bean inside, served with green-tea ice cream.

Coffee as Dessert

Some coffee and tea drinks almost qualify as dessert. Ice cream is featured in 11 per cent of frozen coffee drinks and 20 per cent of frozen tea drinks. Vancouver-based Blenz Coffee’s Cappa Chillo beverages (starting at $3.85) are blended with ice cream, frozen yogurt or soy. And, Saint-Laurent, Qué.-based TCBY Canada’s Cappuccino Chiller ($4.59) blends ice cream or frozen yogurt with milk and coffee flavouring, and is topped with whipped cream and cinnamon.

Coffee and Tea as a Snack

Consumers now consider a beverage to be a snack, with Technomic’s recent “Canadian Snacking Consumer Trend Report” finding customers often rely on coffee and tea to satisfy hunger between meals.

Coffee and tea are widely associated with breakfast, so it’s not surprising that nearly three out of five consumers who consume snacks between breakfast and lunch, at least once every three months (57 per cent), say they drink coffee or tea during this time, at least occasionally. The figure skews even higher for women (60 per cent) than men (52 per cent).

For mid-afternoon snacks, 54 per cent of respondents consume coffee or tea; again skewing higher for women (59 per cent compared to 48 per cent of men). And 46 per cent of consumers say they drink coffee or tea as a snack after dinner.

Coffee Comes First

There’s no question coffee drives traffic, a trend suggesting the beverage  also has the power to drive other fast-food occasions. Data collected for Technomic’s 2011 “Canadian Breakfast Consumer Trend Report” found more than one-fifth (22 per cent) of consumers polled in 2011 (up from 12 per cent in 2009) strongly agree breakfast food comes second to coffee. The report also found consumers are increasingly loyal to a particular brand of coffee; 38 per cent of consumers polled in 2011, compared to just 28 per cent in 2009, say they’re loyal to a restaurant that serves their preferred coffee brand.

Darren Tristano is executive vice-president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

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