Drinking mindfully with coffee and tea

There has been a noticeable push into alcoholic drinks on the part of coffee and tea in recent years as some spirits companies are looking to better position their portfolios to align with the mindful drinking trend, while others are using coffee and tea to create interesting new flavour combinations. However, learning from the spirits industry does not necessarily have to mean making alcoholic products. By Matthew Barry

Wellness trends are causing consumers to be more mindful of their consumption habits. Drinking less alcohol is often associated with this, driving the rise of “Dry January” and “sober curious” lifestyles. While these are certainly ways to approach mindful drinking, consumers could also be responsible in other ways like using healthier mixers or alcohol fermented from organic grains.

It is into this mindful drinking space that alcohol takes on coffee and tea. There have, of course, always been alcoholic versions of hot beverages (consider, for example, the Hot Toddy or Irish Coffee). Alcoholic coffees and teas, though, are changing form as consumers start to reconsider their relationship to alcohol on a large scale.

Drinking Alcohol in a Healthier Way

In general, there is a long-term shift away from sugary carbonated beverages toward healthier options, above all water. In the United States especially, this has resulted in rapid growth in sparkling waters like LaCroix and its various competitors. Sales growth in sparkling waters laid the groundwork for the explosion of hard seltzer demand in American alcoholic beverages in the summer of 2019 (the so-called “White Claw Summer” in reference to the largest brand of seltzer). The wider consumer health and wellness trends that helped LaCroix also sparked the growth of cold brew coffees, herbal teas and kombuchas. Could these too find White Claw-like success in the alcoholic drinks space?

Different Facets of Mindful Drinking

There has certainly been a noticeable push into alcoholic drinks on the part of coffee and tea in recent years. In many cases, alcoholic drinks companies are looking to better position their portfolios to align with the mindful drinking trend as well as simply offer intriguing new products for consumers. Jameson’s, for example, recently tested an Irish Cold Brew in a ready-to-drink (RTD) format. Pabst Blue Ribbon also added both a hard coffee and a hard seltzer to its portfolio to adapt for this new era.

In other cases, tea and coffee are looking to break into alcoholic drinks, usually in a more explicitly health-focused way. Blurring the lines between tea and alcohol is the nascent “hard kombucha” segment, which offers an alcoholic drink experience with vitamins and probiotics, positioned as a generally more responsible choice when out drinking. Segment pioneer Kombrewcha emphasises balance in its marketing, highlighting how its products allow consumers to live healthier lives without giving up alcohol entirely.

A Union of Premiumisation

Adopting a mindful drinking approach is not the only reason alcohol players are pairing up with coffee and tea. Some are just using coffee and tea to create interesting new flavour combinations. Many craft breweries are experimenting with coffee flavourings in their beers, usually porters and stouts, but sometimes even IPAs.

As coffee goes premium, many in the industry are adopting terms from alcoholic drinks when discussing origins or flavour notes. Using coffees in premium cocktails certainly builds the image of certain coffees as premium beverages, like the partnership between La Colombe and Grey Goose to produce high-end espresso martinis.

Many new coffee and tea formats are closer to alcohol than ever before even when they have an ABV (alcohol by volume) of zero. Nitro coffee, for example, comes from a tap, has a creaminess similar to a stout and is often served in a beer glass. Learning from the alcoholic drinks industry does not necessarily have to mean making alcoholic products.

Image courtesy of NOBL/Andy Upton

Toward a More Mindful Future

The two sides of mindful drinking – drinking less and drinking better – are in many ways two sides of the same coin. Many consumers participating in Dry January end up drinking in a healthier way the other eleven months of the year as well, which is benefitting coffee and tea.

Many traditional alcoholic drink and mixer categories are vulnerable as cold coffee and tea options are exploding in availability and sophistication, providing plenty of opportunities.

Though replicating the hard seltzer craze is unlikely, products that appeal to consumers’ dual desire for indulgence and wellness can potentially take coffee and tea into new occasions in even the most mature of markets.

  • Matthew Barry is senior beverages analyst at London-based Euromonitor International. He is based in the Chicago, Illinois office, and may be reached at: [email protected].

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