With Diageo having recently snapped up the Mr Black brand, and the popularity of the espresso martini at an all time high, coffee liqueurs are again in the spotlight. High-quality innovation over the years has led to a plethora of brands marketing themselves on the quality of the coffee itself. But with fresh blood now entering the market, things are beginning to move in a decidedly different direction.
When Mr Blacks launched, the brand was revolutionary. While the wider coffee market had ditched instant and embraced more exotic and varied single origin beans and different brewing techniques to better extract the flavour, liqueurs until that point, hadn’t.
But even as the coffee liqueur market began to diversify, Mr Blacks stood out for its barista-style take on boozy brews. Over the years, beyond its core Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, it has added a cold brew Amaro; Italo Disco Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur - which focused on espresso with a “big, brash, bitter-sweet Italian Dark Roast” intended for “proper coffee drinkers”; limited edition rum-barrel aged and a Single Origin variant using a Colombian bean. Its aim was to take the craft coffee movement to the bar, prioritising the preferences of coffee drinkers.
According to Diageo, its fusion of modern coffee brewing techniques and quality bean sourcing, helped it to become the fastest growing brand in the global coffee liqueur category over the past five years.
When it comes to the type of products on the market, Mr Blacks undoubtedly forced other brands to at least keep pace with quality coffee trends. But now a new wave of launches are actually moving the category away from the origins and brewing processes of the coffee itself, focusing instead on an easier, more mainstream flavour profile and bold, disruptive brand identities aimed at reaching a new audience.
Due to their caffeine content and bitter flavour profile, coffee liqueurs have tended to skew a little older. But the distinctive Jumping Goat brand from New Zealand looks intent on appealing to a younger demographic. From its disruptive bright red packaging, to its simplified espresso martini recipe (just add a shot of espresso, ice and shake) it has pointedly been designed to stand out, prioritising consumer experience, over showcasing the nuances of the coffee itself.
In fact further evidence of its intent lies in the fact that the brand had added unspecified spices to its liquid (alongside fair trade organic cold brew coffee and whey vodka) to remove the bitterness and appeal more to younger taste preferences. It’s interesting that though it talks about the geographic origin of its vodka and spring water (both from New Zealand), it does not in fact mention anything about where the coffee itself has been sourced, even though origin has become a key factor of discernment for existing coffee drinkers.
Jumping on wider consumption trends
Another company actually moving their coffee liqueur further away from the coffee when it comes to its taste profile is Mentzendorff. Its Luxumus Original Liqueur uses sherry as a base, but adds botanicals to the mix. In fact the blend includes refined sugar, cocoa, curacao, vanilla, and citrus to lighten the taste of the coffee, giving it a chocolate and toffee finish. Looking wider in its cultural reach too, the brand is targeting the Mexican Carajillo as its signature serve. The hot, coffee-based drink is common in Spain and other Latin American countries, where it’s commonly made with brandy, rum, mezcal or a coffee liqueur. Overall, this sweeter taste profile tallies with a broader move away from coffee as the main marketing point of these liqueurs.
Dead Man’s Fingers Coffee Tequila Liqueur is another brand sparce on details of the coffee it uses, but bold in visual identity. In perhaps a bid to target the gap left by the retirement earlier in 2022 of Patron XO Café, it combines bittersweet coffee flavours (rather than actual coffee) with tequila. And in line with the rest of the Halewood-owned brand, the graffiti-style packaging is clearly pitched at a younger, LDA demographic.
Why is coffee taking a backseat?
So why is coffee fading from being the hero ingredient for such brands? It’s worth noting that younger consumers are actually embracing coffee. According to a 2021 study of US consumers by National Coffee Data Trends (NCDT) 65% of Millennials aged 25-39 reported drinking coffee in the past day – an all-time high it says – while among Gen Z, for those aged 18-24 the figure stands at 46%, an increase of 10%.
Perhaps this shift comes then from the developing functional savvy of younger consumers, who are developing a fluent understanding of products that cater for specific moments and needs. The moment when one requires a jolting hit of caffeine from their morning coffee, is not the same as the functionality required from a late-night coffee-based cocktail. This theory is borne out by the recent release of a decaffeinated coffee liqueur from Welsh brand, Derw, which aims to give the taste, but not ‘stay awake’ buzz of coffee.
Furthermore, though coffee consumption is high among younger consumers, the numbers don’t speak to how those consumers are actually imbibing it. According to research by Nescafé, coffee forms an integral part of Gen Z’s lifestyle with 86% purchasing coffee out of home every single day. Gen Z may be driven by drinking rituals, yet those new to coffee are likely to find its taste profile overly bitter to consume black, adding flavours, syrups, sweeteners and (often plant-based) milks to adapt it to their liking.
Gen Z are already being widely credited with driving the current coffee boom. Now their preferences, preferred consumption moments and serves are strongly informing innovation in alcoholic coffee products too. And that’s a trend that alongside the number of Gen Z coffee drinkers, is only set to increase.
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