The Growing Teen Market for Coffee

The educational and extracurricular responsibilities shouldered by today’s teenagers are considerable; admission to a desirable college means participation in many different activities, from debate club to basketball to band. With so much on their plates, it’s no surprise that the market for coffee is exploding among teenagers.

A Steady Trend

According to the National Coffee Association, young people are now the fastest growing population of coffee drinkers. At the organization’s recent annual convention, president and CEO Bill Murray stated, “More of us are drinking coffee, and younger consumers appear to be leading the charge.” The trend has grown steadily. According to the American Dietetic Association, when it comes to teenagers drinking caffeinated beverages, the number has tripled since the 1970's.  

The Rise of Espresso Beverages

Why the growing appeal? Besides caffeine, two reasons: social status and an appetite for sugar. Thanks to the relatively recent advent of espresso-based coffee drinks, particularly mochas and flavored lattés, the coffee industry has successfully rebranded itself to the youth market—kids who already craved chocolate, sugar and dairy were suddenly presented with an option that tasted delicious, made them feel like full-fledged adults, and gave them an energy boost to get through the day.

The spread of coffee’s popularity within the teen demographic happened quickly—early adolescents, more than other age groups, want to do what their friends are doing. It seems that espresso’s increased appeal among teenagers initially pointed more toward social factors than a desire for a caffeine or sugar buzz.

“On the whole,” the Chicago Tribune reported in the mid-1990’s, “the teens who drink coffee say they do it for social reasons, not because they want the extra caffeine.” These days, apparently, the sugar cravings are stronger and the caffeine more necessary to daily teenage life. By all accounts, coffee has been successful in its attempts to enliven its staid image in an effort to compete with soda.

Health Factors

While there is evidence suggesting that too much caffeine can have adverse effects on the body, especially the still-developing body, there is much to suggest that coffee is actually a welcome replacement over sugar-packed soda, and is knocking soda off the list for many teens. Coffee is also proven to have positive effects on health, stemming mainly from its antioxidant properties, whereas soda is generally agreed to have little to no nutritional value—which might tip the scales toward thinking differently about teenage coffee consumption.