The 38-year-old, who in less than a decade graduated from instant to full-bodied European coffee, never deviates. “I start every day with a cup,” Zahoney said.
So do an increasing number of Americans. About 83 percent of adults drink coffee in the U.S., the world’s biggest consumer of the beverage, up from 78 percent a year earlier, according to the National Coffee Association’s 2013 online survey. That’s an average of three cups a day per person, or 587 million cups. The only weak spot: volatile young drinkers, who last year drank less coffee.
“You could say this nation runs on two dark liquids — petroleum and coffee,” said Bob Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University who once taught a course on Starbucks and the coffee phenomenon.
“Thousands of people are lubricated and made mobile by coffee every single day.”
Coffee has become more than just a shot of caffeine. It’s a $30 billion-a-year national industry, a foodie fixation, an affordable luxury, a boost of disease-fighting antioxidants, a versatile ingredient, an intoxicating aroma and a beverage that brings people together.
Industry experts credit a handful of diverse factors driving coffee’s escalating popularity. The most cited is the growth in hot-selling home-brewing gadgets, with single-serve coffee makers leading the pack. Other strong factors: gourmet offerings, coffeehouses with hip appeal and health benefits.
“Coffee has become important to us on so many levels and there’s no signs its cachet is going away any time soon,” said Joe DeRupo, National Coffee Association president. “It’s part beverage, another part pop culture.”
According to the recent NCA survey, consumption of gourmet coffee remains strong and steady, with nearly one-third of U.S. adults drinking a gourmet coffee each day. At the same time, those drinking traditional coffee dropped from 56 percent in 2012 to 49 percent this year.
Gourmet includes gussied-up coffees such as lattes and espresso, along with custom blends of exotic beans. Today, more coffee brands than ever before are parlaying taste, price and even snob appeal to attract customers.
“We’ve gone from drinking mass-produced coffee to specialty coffee. People today are more educated about coffee than ever before. They know where it’s grown and how it’s roasted,” said Matt Poole, owner of Giant Coffee, a downtown Phoenix shop that pours single-origin coffee roasted in San Francisco.
“They want coffee to taste exactly how they like it.”
The coffeehouse, often called a third space between the home and office, also plays a role. Along with quality beans and skilled baristas, coffee shops — from small independent spots to mega chains like Starbucks — offer a place to meet friends, conduct meetings, work on the computer or read.
“The coffee shop is the town square of today,” said Poole, who also owns Matt’s Big Breakfast in downtown Phoenix. “The expression ‘let’s meet for coffee’ is more about getting together than actually drinking coffee. Coffee houses are providing that place to meet.”
Baristas at home
At the same time, a record number of Americans are bringing the coffee shop home. Sur la Table, a chain of 100 stores nationwide, reports double-digit increases in the sales last year of its 600-plus coffee products, from espresso makers, filters, grinders to the latest must-have gadget — single-cup brewers.
The single-serve format, which involves machines designed to brew one cup at a time, continues to grow. The study showed that 13 percent of the U.S. population drank coffee made in a single-cup brewer the previous day, up from 10 percent in 2012.
Mintel, a Chicago-based market-research firm, reports that the single-cup coffee market has exploded from $103 million in sales in 2007 to $11.8 billion in 2012.
“The interest in coffee makers has been increasing, increasing and increasing as people look to replicate the coffee shop experience at home,” said Martie Sullivan, owner of Sweet Basil Gourmetmare and Cooking School in Scottsdale, Ariz.
In addition, experts credit coffee’s new-found image as healthy for driving up sales. Coffee, caffeinated or decaffeinated, may help extend the lives of people who drink it daily, according to researchers at the National Cancer Institute.
Men who drank two to three cups a day had a 10 percent chance of outliving those who drank no coffee, while women had a 13 percent advantage, according to the 2012 study.
Other research suggests coffee lowers the risk of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes.
“I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that consumption increased during a time when research refuted the old health myths and proved that coffee was in fact good for you,” DeRupo said.
While steady growth of consumption continues, the demographics of coffee drinkers constantly changes.
NCA tracked Hispanic-American drinkers for the last two years, and now ties increases in overall coffee consumption to them: 74 percent of Hispanic-Americans drink coffee daily, a full 12 percentage points ahead of non-Hispanics.
“We’re doing a better job of including the Hispanic-American coffee-drinking habits into the survey, and we credit this with part of the overall gain,” DeRupo said.
But the younger generation is drinking less.
Among those ages 18 to 24, 41 percent said they drank coffee daily, down from 50 percent in 2012. Young adults also greatly reduced their daily intake of non-gourmet traditional coffee, dropping to 17 percent from 27 percent last year, the study showed.
Experts, however, are hesitant to label the decrease a trend. Coffee drinking among youths has been volatile, bouncing up and down annually, for the last decade.
Despite changing drinking habits, coffee consumption is expected to continue climbing.