While heavy cream and whole milk might make for a robust, rich treat while on vacation, consumer coffee culture is shifting away from thicker creamers and toward lighter substitutes. This shift can be attributed to many factors. People are increasingly becoming vegan, cutting dairy out of their diet entirely. Many others are lactose intolerant, and even more people are simply choosing to reduce dairy intake for a healthier lifestyle. On average, coffee add-ins increase caloric intake by an extra 70 calories a day. With health trends growing in popularity within American culture, consumers are looking to enjoy their beverages with fewer calories and less guilt.
A rich, creamy drink is a great novelty item for a first-time customer, but increasing coffee shop traffic from repeat customers will require healthier options. Consumers should feel that they are able to drink specialty coffee multiple times a week, and not just on special occasions. They still demand flavorful cups of coffee with sweet or savory notes, but more frequently wish to achieve that taste without pumping in the whole milk or packaged creamers.
Fortunately for the small coffee shop jostling for attention in this health-conscious market, there are various options to please all customers. Let’s take a look at how to make coffee taste good without creamer-- and therefore drive higher customer retention rates.
Why People Don’t Want Creamer
The ultimate goal in offering creamer alternatives is to retain customers you likely would have lost without the new products. Understanding why consumers want coffee without creamer is critical to providing tasty and appealing coffee options that don’t use milk or dairy creamers.
Some people are health-conscious and will be satisfied with a healthy non-dairy substitute, or possibly a rich-tasting cup of black coffee. Some are lactose intolerant but still want sweet or savory coffee without dairy products. Vegans and wish to avoid animal products altogether. Using a variety of the following techniques will help you provide great-tasting coffee to diverse consumer types.
For many modern consumers, creamers are becoming associated with the unhealthy coffee-chain beverages that loosely resemble coffee like frappes or cream-based drinks with coffee flavors, delivering caffeine through whopping amounts of calories and high sugar counts. A Harvard study found that while there are a number of health benefits to drinking coffee, these benefits are often canceled out by ridiculously unhealthy variations.
The Basic Cup
Aside from a select few consumers who seek to completely drown coffee’s taste with creamers or other add-ins, many of us truly love the taste of a cup of coffee. Brewing a good cup of coffee reduces the amount of creamer needed-- if any is needed at all. Serving and brewing fresh coffee with recently-roasted beans is a great way to protect the integrity of the coffee without needing add-ins.
Customers who are seeking to avoid creamers generally have a more-refined palate; you won’t get away with b-grade espresso or roasting with these customers. Reducing the temperature at which you brew the coffee is an easy hack to make your coffee more drinkable without creamer because this will reduce the bitterness and acidity of the cup. Lowering the temperature from 205 degrees to 195 or 190 degrees will give you a less-complex brew, with a simpler flavor and smoother texture. Delve into the real nitty-gritty of coffee science; you’ll be able to fine-tune your cups with intentionality that services every type of customer.
Upping your cold brew game is another trick for how to make coffee taste good without creamer. Cold brew coffee is typically smoother and sweeter than a hot cup, since its brewing process doesn’t allow the harsher notes and acidity to release like they do with traditional brewing methods.
Syrups and Flavor Infusions
Unsurprisingly, vanilla, chocolate, and caramel remain the most popular syrup flavors in American coffee culture. If you’re trying to avoid creamers in order to pitch healthier coffee, keep in mind that drinks’ names will heavily influence the consumers’ perceptions of the cup. A “Double-Chocolate Monster Mocha” and a “Smooth Mocha” might have identical contents and nutritional facts, but one will be ordered as a novelty drink and the other creates a regular customer. You can also design on-brand names by using products such as Ghirardelli chocolate sauce as the base for a new drink.
While ultra-processed, fine-grain sugar may have a bad reputation, the perception of sugar’s use in coffee is largely dependent on branding. Products like Sugar In The Raw have a healthier, cleaner perception that can make coffee taste great without the added calories and weight of creamers. While sugar may not be an effective creamer substitute for the health-conscious customer, it is a practical option for vegan or lactose intolerant consumers looking for great-tasting coffee.
Sugar in black coffee can sometimes create a metallic taste as the sugar interacts with the bitterness; to avoid this, slightly decrease the temperature on the brew to create a smoother base for the sweet addition.
For customers who are committed to the popular Keto diet, butter is a great way to pack extra energy and calories into coffee without using milk or creamer. The protein and fat in butter help your body process caffeine slowly; this results in a burst of energy without the stereotypical crash in the afternoon. Serving Keto-friendly, slow-burn-energy coffee offers customers a creative new way to enjoy coffee while adhering to their dietary needs.
Almond, coconut, and soy milks are all great options for non-dairy creamers and have been widely used for quite some time. All three create different tastes: almond milk gives coffee a sweeter and nuttier texture, coconut milk provides a lighter flavor, and soy milk is the ideal replacement for a dairy-like taste.
When it comes to non-dairy creamers, you’ll really need to ride trends and keep up with the rapidly-changing coffee culture in order to score customers. Oat milk is having a moment right now, and should be a good bet for a little while longer; hemp milk and its edgier taste also seem to be rising in popularity. Make sure to follow blogs and influencers to keep up with the next big dairy substitute so that you can win the younger generations of coffee drinkers who tend to follow trends. When you’re thinking about how to make coffee taste good without creamer, you’ll need to be thinking about the culture at-large.
When thinking about how to make coffee taste good without creamer, you’ll need to provide a variety of options for different customer needs. There are a few reasons why people want to avoid creamer in their coffee, and providing solutions for each will help you to gain and maintain customer bases. Try non-dairy creamers, syrups, sugar, and butter as available mix-ins. Most importantly, start with a better, smoother cup of coffee as a base. The right coffee with the right add-ins will keep customers coming back for more.