When it comes to coffee, statistics show that taste is the primary incentive—by an overwhelming 94% of survey respondents—in determining coffee choice. But is the quality of taste its only parameter? Coffee drinkers are getting more sophisticated and thinking in subtler terms—light, medium or dark roast; light or full body; an entire world of espresso creations; and everything in between. So, who prefers what flavor? And how much do demographics—race, income level, geographic region and the like—play a part in what kind of coffee Americans prefer?
A Look at The Numbers
A 2016 survey conducted by the National Coffee Association asked respondents which roast of coffee they consumed the day prior. The survey found that, generally speaking, Americans prefer medium and dark roasts to lighter ones. Medium roast was by far the most popular answer (63% of respondents), while dark roast came in at a respectable 39%. Light roast, on the other hand, tallied only 11% of those surveyed. (Six percent were unsure what roast they had consumed.) From these numbers, it seems likely that a decent number of people of every race, income level and geographic locale indulge in medium roast coffee from time to time. But what about light and dark roasts?
Regionally, the West Coast is famed for its preference for dark roasts, while East Coast residents tend to enjoy medium or light roasts (hence the well-known “New England Roast,” which is light). Light roasts generally contain more caffeine, which may be an incentive for urban areas like New York City (famously nicknamed “The City That Never Sleeps) and Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. There may be an international factor at play, as Europeans are known for favoring dark roasts, indicated by the names of those that occupy the darker end of the roasting spectrum: French, Italian and Spanish.
Ethnicity is a definite factor in coffee consumption level, especially that of gourmet coffee (which the NCA defines as “espresso-based beverages and regular coffee made with gourmet coffee beans”). A 2014 NCA study found that daily gourmet consumption was highest among Hispanic-Americans (48 percent), followed by Asian-Americans (42 percent), Caucasian-Americans (32 percent), and African-Americans (23 percent).
In spite of the fact that the average price of an espresso drink nearly twice that of traditional brewed coffee, millennials prefer espresso drinks to brewed coffee, according to a 2016 National Coffee Drinking Trends Report. For purchases of espresso-based beverages alone, there has been an increase from 9% to 22% for the 18-24 age group and 8% to 29% for those aged 25-39 since 2008.