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Coffee in United States Pop Culture Part Two

Dec 14, 2020 | Blog, Blog Home

Part Two – The 21st Century

So, now that we have a bit of background (see Part One), let’s move on to coffee pop culture in the 21st century.

From TV and movies to our social conscious, coffee is still firmly a part of the culture in the United States in this century as well.

Right at the beginning of the century arrives Lorelai from ‘Gilmore Girls’. “Oh, I can’t stop drinking the coffee. I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing and walking and the words putting into sentence doing.” With this pop culture laden show, coffee frequently takes center stage and is a lifeline for the two main character.

Starbucks. That name says a lot. It becomes a pop culture icon showing up in movies and street corners everywhere. In 2003, Starbucks launches their Pumpkin Spice latte. This kicks off how we now recognize the “start of Fall”. The flavor also gains so much attention that it has leeched into just about every product under the sun since. To keep people enthralled a cold brew version with a pumpkin cream was released in 2019.

Now during the century coffee has become a much classier and accepted way to overindulge with caffeine.

That said specialty coffee shops increased 19x between 2001 and 2015 alone. Numbers show 40% of millennials even spend more on coffee than on saving for retirement.

coffee pop culture

So, with all of this happening, it is no surprise that Kopi Luwak makes a solid appearance in a 2007 movie. And in the hands of Jack Nicolson himself no less. His character in ‘The Bucket List’ has this coffee everywhere from the hospital to his private jet. The punchline: Kopi Luwak is an expensive coffee created with coffee cherries that first pass through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet cat before humans even touch them.

Slide forward a bit and in 2012 we have ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’. Just as the title promises, Jerry Seinfeld drives comedians in fabulous cars to go get coffee. Conversations are had while the host and guests visit various cafes and restaurants drinking their coffee.

Now in 2015, things begin to shift.

While there is still fun and beauty in coffee, see the art by Dirceu Veiga. This Brazilian artist made his American coffee debut with coffee stain art of pop culture icons like Pharrell, Jimi Hendrix, and Robin Williams.

There is also controversy. Starbucks, yep them again, started their holiday cups in 1997, but, in 2015 was when everyone began to take note. There was a religious and political uprising, started by Joshua Feuerstein, against the cups claiming that the coffee chain was trying “to take Christ and Christmas off of their…cups”.

coffee pop culture

The fury over the cups continued for two more years, going viral via Twitter. With accusations of “political brainwashing” and spreading “liberal bias” fluttering around until 2019 when neutral, Christmas-y patterns arrived.

With all of the political commentary, also began a larger push on social impact.

This is when the emphasis changed from chains over to a more local focus. With community such a big part of coffee house popularity, the independent café made it big. In 2017 independent cafés made approximately $12 billion in revenue.

Most cafes drawing on one of the most enduring aspects of coffee culture as a metaphor of non-conformism. Instead, coffee drinkers are looking for an experience uniquely tailored to them, or at least uniquely tailored to the community. Millennials and Gen-Z are willing to pay more for a unique coffee experience. A trend that is proven true in the past 100 years of coffee prices per cup; 1920 at $1.95 vs 2018 at $3.17.

In addition to locality, environmentally friendly concerns about climate change and sustainability affect how we source and drink our coffee now. 66% of coffee drinkers say they are willing to pay more for services and products from companies committed to having a positive environmental impact. Starbucks has made great strides to eliminate plastic straws by this year. They also have a goal of developing a 100% compostable and recyclable hot cup by 2022.

As we continue to look forward one has to pause and wonder, what will coffee’s influence be seen next?