2017 U.S. Specialty Coffee Consumption Trends


Specialty coffee consumption in the U.S. is growing, and this year there has been a significant increase in daily specialty coffee drinkers. Furthermore, over the last 18 years, the number of daily specialty coffee drinkers has consistently increased, strengthening the consumer demand for specialty coffee.

Let’s take a closer look at the data.

The National Coffee Association (NCA) has been tracking U.S. coffee consumption since 1954 through a survey study called the National Coffee Drinking Trends (NCDT). The over sixty-year study is the longest available statistical series of coffee consumer drinking patterns in the U.S. Every year, the NCA surveys adults (18+) in the U.S. and asks if they drink coffee, how often they drink coffee, and what type of coffee they drink. The results provide key data and analysis on American coffee drinkers’ behavior and attitudes.

In 2001, the NCA began tracking specialty coffee consumption, or what is termed in the report as “gourmet” coffee, which is defined by the NCA as “coffee drunk hot or iced that is brewed from premium whole bean or ground varieties. This includes espresso based beverages, iced/frozen blended coffee, cold brew, and iced coffee infused with nitrogen.”

It is important to keep in mind that this data is based on the consumers’ perception of ‘specialty’. There are many ways to identify specialty coffee: cupping score, absence of defects, etc. Since this is consumer research, it is focused on consumer perception, which is critical: after all, the effort put into attaining and preserving quality is meaningless if the consumer cannot perceive it.

Extracting and interpreting data from the NCDT report, the SCA has developed an infographic that paints a picture of specialty coffee consumption in the U.S. over time. The infographic is broken up into three parts: percentage of adults in the U.S. drinking specialty coffee, cups per day per U.S. drinker, and market share of specialty coffee in cups. Let’s focus on each piece separately.

Percentage of Adults in the U.S. Drinking Specialty Coffee

  • This metric illustrates the percentage of adults drinking specialty coffee daily, weekly, and occasionally.
  • Over the last 18 years, the number of daily drinkers has seen the strongest growth. Only 9% of adults in the U.S. were drinking specialty coffee daily in 1999 and 41% were drinking daily in 2017.
  • It is important to note that this year the number of drinkers has increased 10 percentage points, up from 31% in 2016.
  • This year also showed a significant increase in weekly drinkers: 53% drink specialty coffee weekly, up from 45% in 2016. There has been consistent growth since 2001.
  • Occasional coffee drinkers have remained steady over the last 16 years at around 60% of U.S. adults drinking specialty coffee occasionally.

Cups Per Day, Per U.S. Drinker

  • In the survey, specialty coffee consumers are also asked how many cups they drink daily.
  • In 2017, specialty drinkers were consuming 2.97 cups of coffee per day which has increased from 2.24 cups in 2001.

U.S. Market Share of Specialty Coffee, in Cups

  • This is a metric that indicates the market share of specialty coffee, in cups.
  • To put it simply, of all the cups of coffee consumed, 59% of those cups were specialty versus 41% non-specialty.
  • In 2010, the NCA started tracking this metric (which was 40%) and over the last 7 years, the market share has increased to 59%.

Overall, this information demonstrates the continued consumer desire for more and better tasting coffee. We are acknowledging it through different measurements of consumption and based on these trends, there are no significant signs of slowing. But what about your experience? Does this data resonate with you, your consumers, or what you are experiencing? What are subsequent questions to ask yourself to continue your exploration of specialty coffee consumers?

*Source: National Coffee Association’s Annual Drinking Trends Study

Heather Ward is the Market Research Manager for the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).