The Coffee Drinkers Cycle

Ever wondered where you currently are in the cycle of a coffee drinker?


The Coffee Drinkers Cycle

The coffee drinkers cycle is a term that I invented in my mind today while reading a question on I quickly googled the term ‘coffee drinkers cycle’ and no exact word-for-word titles appeared so I’m claiming this name as my ‘idea’! (for now lol).

The question on Quora was regarding Starbucks and what the main strategic issues were that Starbucks faces. Many people gave their answers on the topic and some revolved around how Starbucks weren’t covering specific niches such as the home market and some ethnic based markets. Regardless of what advice the answers were offering, after reading some of the replies I soon realized that Starbucks plays an integral role in the coffee industry – Starbucks introduces consumers to coffee in a retail environment. I know there are many that had their first retail coffee elsewhere but for many – Starbucks is their first. This is what led to the coining of the phrase ‘coffee drinkers cycle’.

This cycle that most coffee drinkers move through – it starts by consuming coffee at home with friends/family and then it moves to coffee at work or school. More work/school/family/friends meeting outside of the home leads to meeting in a retail environment and the inclusion of coffee in a more personal manner which influences the individual. Sub-consciously and physically the link to caffeine through driving factors such as work and social engagements as well as the physical enhancements entice the individual to embrace coffee on a daily basis.

coffee drinkers cycle
Should I add sugar?

For many people, the very first coffee that you drink probably isn’t going to be the type or brand that you stick with for life. Everybody likes their coffee a certain way but for those who like theirs with a lot of milk and sugar, unfortunately, this is not healthy for you nor is it sustainable over a long period of time without some form of degradation or weight gain to your body. After this realization for many coffee drinkers, most opt to exclude milk and/or sugar which usually turns them into black coffee drinkers and this is an example of a stage in the coffee drinkers cycle.

So far I’ve identified 2 mainstreams in the coffee drinkers cycle:

  1. Transitioning from no/low concentrated caffeine to a higher concentration of caffeine. Let’s name this phenomenon: the concentration stream.
  2. Transitioning from a lower/commercial grade of coffee to a higher quality grade of coffee. I’m calling this the quality stream.

I am a prime example of someone who has moved through the concentration stream of the coffee drinkers cycle. I started by drinking hot chocolate then moved to drinking mochaccino’s, then long blacks and finally espresso (also known as a short black). I now drink a variety of single origin filter coffees brewed via Chemex. In this example of the concentration stream, I most definitely have moved from a lower/no concentration of caffeine to a higher concentration of caffeine. Below I’ve listed the drinks in order from lowest concentration of caffeine to highest (please note these are coffee drinks you would find in a cafe serving specialty coffee):

  • hot chocolate – no caffeine
  • large mochaccino – espresso + chocolate + milk
  • large flat white – double shot espresso + milk no froth
  • large latte – double shot espresso + milk + little froth
  • large long black (aka. an americano) – double shot espresso + hot water
  • mochaccino – espresso + chocolate + milk
  • flat white – espresso + milk no froth
  • latte – espresso + milk + little froth
  • cappuccino – espresso + milk + lots of froth
  • piccolo – espresso + milk
  • long black – double shot espresso + hot water
  • long machiato – double shot espresso + hot water + dash of milk
  • short machiato – espresso + dash of milk
  • short black – espresso
coffee drinkers cycle
La Marzocco Linea PB Coffee Machine

All of the drinks mentioned above are produced on an espresso machine found in a cafe. Now there are other caffeinated drinks available from a cafe, although not created by using an espresso machine such as:

  • cold drip coffee (made using a traditional cold drip device)
  • cold brew (cold coffee, usually served over ice)
  • nitro brew (cold fizzy coffee)
  • filter coffee (hot coffee brewed via chemex, V60, pour over)
coffee drinkers cycle
Chemex brewed filter coffee

I know that filter coffee contains more caffeine then an espresso because the water is in contact with the coffee grinds for a lot longer which tends to take more caffeine with it while the water makes it’s way through the coffee. An espresso is more intense than a filter coffee, but I like filter coffee because I find there is a wider variety of flavors that are more prominent in filter coffee.

You or someone you know who drinks coffee regularly from a retail store will have most likely moved through the concentration stream of the coffee drinkers cycle.

Now moving through the quality stream is a bit harder to navigate because I don’t want to judge the perceived quality of someone’s coffee and or offend anyone. So I have put together list of general categories from lower quality to higher quality below. As this is a general list, it may however have coffee’s that fit elsewhere and not be applicable to the list below:

  • instant coffee (robusta)
  • instant coffee (commercial arabica)
  • retail/wholesale coffee (robusta)
  • retail/wholesale coffee (commercial arabica)
  • instant coffee (specialty arabica)
  • retail/wholesale coffee (specialty arabica)
  • microlot/nanolot coffee (90+ grading arabica)
coffee drinkers cycle
Branch of coffee cherries

Robusta and Arabica are the 2 types of coffee tree species. Robusta grows at low altitudes and is more resistant to bugs and predators. Arabica grows at high altitudes and is better quality than robusta.

Regarding the quality stream, most coffee drinkers at home are drinking a mix of instant robusta and arabica. For those who drink coffee at home from Nespresso or Keurig pod machines, I believe there are some good commercial arabica blends available. As coffee consumers become more educated they begin to notice what is quality and what’s not. A robusta grade coffee can be quite invasive after drinking a lot of specialty grade arabica from a quality cafe.

If you are familiar with green bean varietals and their grading, you can probably place a lot of the cafes you know into the quality stream general list which will give you an idea of the quality of their coffee. I believe most cafe’s would use commercial arabica but the top cafes will only use specialty grade arabica from coffee roasters.

Some consumers never complete the coffee drinkers cycle, they may be happy just to stay where they started or stop in a certain position. The 90+ grade coffee is usually very hard to find and most cafe’s will display if they have coffee in stock which is in this grading.

If you can identify with either stream in the coffee drinkers cycle, please feel free to comment below and include where you transitioned from, and where you are now.