Staying Power

The modern, Internet-friendly coffeehouse can trace its existence back to the 15th century in the Ottoman Empire. Since their inception six centuries ago, they have evolved and adapted to their host countries’ cultures. But the essence of the coffeehouse as a place to gather with friends, exchange ideas, talk and relax over a good cup of coffee has remained unperturbed, transcending both time and geography.

The concept of the coffeehouse as intellectual hub was firmly established in Europe by the 1600s. Iconic places like the Café de Flore in Paris, with regulars such as Picasso, Hemingway and Sartre, or the Café Greco in Rome that counted Goethe, Wagner and Casanova among its customers, all made their imprints on history.

In the United States, coffeehouse culture dates back to Revolutionary times, but it saw its boom in the late 1980s with the introduction of Starbucks first and Caribou a couple of years later. There is a ritual in coffee consumption that has cultivated and promoted the culture of coffeeshops, with their homelike atmosphere, multifaceted beverage options and knowledgeable baristas.

“People like to go to coffeehouses; they can bring their computer and do work, visit with friends, socialize,” explains Joseph F. DeRupo, director of external relations and communications for the National Coffee Association. “The coffeehouse offers a positive and constructive environment for patrons to interact.”

Today, Caribou and Starbucks can be found in almost every major metropolitan area in the world. Although the 2008 global economic crisis presented some challenges for coffee retailers, they continued to grow. The Specialty Coffee Association of America reported in 2011 that retail coffee sales had increased by more than $5 billion in the previous decade.

In another study, the National Coffee Association noted that last year, daily coffee consumption soared by seven percentage points, placing coffee solidly ahead of soft drinks. In 2011, there were 20,000 coffee shop businesses in the United States, with combined revenues of $10 billion, according to First Research. Seventy percent of sales were generated by the top-50 coffee shop operators, including Starbucks, Seattle’s Best (operated by Starbucks), Caribou Coffee and Peet’s Coffee.

With that fierce competition, coffeehouses have had to re-invent themselves to remain relevant to their customers. Seasonal drinks, such as pumpkin-flavored coffees and teas or cold specialty brews, are some of the items they serve to offer variety to their regulars and lure new customers.

Most cafes also have introduced food items beyond traditional coffeehouse fare such as pastries. These include breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal or salads for lunch. Alfredo Martel, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Caribou, says the 500-store chain is "always looking to offer our fans new experiences. We’re very focused on elevating the flavor profiles of our handcrafted beverages and also developing new food products.”

DeRupo notes that the rise in coffee consumption seems to encompass all age groups. “The jump in consumption is most significant among people between 18 and 39 years old,” he says, “with 18- to 24-year-olds seeing a 10 percent increase in the last year and the 25 to 39 group experiencing a nine percent rise.”

So whether your coffee of choice is a pumpkin white chocolate mocha with espresso; a grande skinny vanilla latte, no foam with an extra shot of espresso; or a simple cup of Joe, order up, sit back and enjoy. You are in good company.

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