First it was overly-posed instagrams, next it was skinny jeans, now it’s hot coffee. That’s right, hot coffee is officially cheugy.
Disclaimer: Cheugy is difficult to define, but easy to identify. Think: anything with a Chevron pattern, the laughing-crying face emoji, motivational quotes like “live, love, laugh”, the double “G” Gucci belt, calling yourself a “girlboss” and man-buns. Basically, it’s when someone still follows basic, over-done trends. Or, in other words: Cheugy describes persistent millennial un-coolness.
If there’s one thing that can unite us Gen-Zers it’s our complete rejection of hot coffee, and our wholehearted embrace of the iced latte. One only has to scroll through TikTok to ascertain that piping hot cappuccinos and once-trendy pumpkin spiced lattes with elaborate foam art are a cringe phenomenon of the past. Today there is one undisputed social media celebrity reigning supreme: the iced latte (or cold brew, if you’re feeling brave).
Whilst iced coffees have been widely available for a few decades now, with Starbucks historically introducing their first range of iced caffeine in 1995 (https://www.coffeemagazine.co.za/blog/1/5617/the-history-of-the-iced-coffee), they really came to the fore during the boom of TikTok and post COVID-19 lockdown, when iced coffee trends such as the Dalgona whipped coffee phenomenon inundated our social media streams and whipped us into an iced caffeinated frenzy. According to Forbes, YouTube videos with the title “Dalgona” went up 5000% in March 2020 - the height of the pandemic (https://www.forbes.com/sites/annakang/2020/06/11/could-dalgona-coffee-become-more-than-just-a-tiktok-trend/?sh=71972f2e81fb).
Since then, GenZ’s appetite for frosty coffee has not died down. Quite the opposite; today, cold drinks account for 75% of Starbucks’ beverage sales (https://www.businessinsider.com/coffee-chains-see-sales-cold-drinks-surge-thanks-gen-z-2023-8?r=US&IR=T), and people’s preference for iced coffee rises approximately 10% annually (https://www.mintel.com/press-centre/brewed-for-success-iced-coffee-accounts-for-one-in-five-global-coffee-launches/). It’s safe to say that to GenZ, iced coffee is as widely consumed as water - and, despite wind and cold rain, is acceptable to drink all year round. That’s right, iced coffee is always in season for our generation, because being caught sipping a vat of hot latte is just about as cringe as unironically listening to Jedward or hitting the dab. Cheugy af.
According to Starbucks CMO Brady Brewer, “the younger you are, the colder the beverage” (https://www.businessinsider.com/coffee-chains-see-sales-cold-drinks-surge-thanks-gen-z-2023-8?r=US&IR=T). And whilst that sounds vaguely sus, the sentiment holds: if you were to plot it on a graph, the lines between Gen Z and iced coffee would inevitably cross: we just fucking love the stuff.
The real question is why? Why do we crave chunks of ice and an ombre of (plant based) milk in our coffee? I’m glad you asked, because I’m here to try and hypothesise. Let’s get into it.
Why do we love iced coffee?
Ummm, is it because the planet is hotting up so every day is acceptable to have ice in your coffee? Yikes. I hope not. Plus with the frosty conditions of our so-called summer in the UK this year, I don’t think this quite covers it. So, what is really fuelling GenZ’s cold coffee craze. Well, I’ve come up with a few possible answers.
1. Venti Virality
Gen Z lives off trends. Gen Z is social media’s top consumer in today’s world (https://medium.com/@josefinamongenunezde/iced-coffee-a-look-into-gen-zs-addiction-c8a3eeb57a3b#:~:text=Gen%20Z%20is%20social%20media%E2%80%99s%20top%20consumer), it’s no surprise therefore that our life decisions are greatly influenced by, well, influencers. And, if you didn’t think that coffee influencers were a thing: think again. There’s influencers for everything nowadays, and something as popular as coffee is obviously going to be subject to online social media discourse. For me, it was my love of Emma Chamberlain’s vlogs that encouraged me to try out iced coffee, and I haven’t looked back since. What started as a piggy-backing off my fave influencer’s aesthetic, became a full-blown obsession. But, I cannot deny that the initial draw was based on the sheer trendiness of it all.
From the dalgona coffee trend, to having your iced coffee in Stanley Cups: TikTok and other social media trends play a huge part in determining the consumer spending habits of GenZ. Some have even gone so far as to say that TikTok has created its own “coffee culture” based off “sharing Starbucks orders” https://medium.com/@josefinamongenunezde/iced-coffee-a-look-into-gen-zs-addiction-c8a3eeb57a3b. Whilst this might be more of a US phenomenon, where the Starbucks ‘secret menu’ reigns supreme, it’s fair to say that the iced coffee trend has certainly been picked up over the pond.
2. All about aesthetic
I stumbled across this quote from a Millenial named Matthew in an article in Metro (https://metro.co.uk/2021/04/24/hot-coffee-is-cancelled-why-gen-z-love-iced-coffee-1446475), he (cringely) says: “my honest belief is that heat is crucial for coffee to maintain its aroma, and that stacking in ice cubes limits the sensory information available, while distracting from what little there is with the sensation of cold - thus reducing taste”.
Firstly: ew. Sorry to be a hater, but anyone who unironically says the word “aroma” is certifiably cringe.
Secondly, he goes on to say “half the enjoyment of a cup of coffee…is the comfort of a hot mug in my hands”. Don’t you think this is giving massive 2014 sweater weather tumblr energy. Like Zoella-meets-Christian-girl-Autumn wistfully cradling a vat of coffee in a novelty Starbucks mug after coming back from the farmers market vibes. Tell me you get what I’m saying… No hate to sweater weather millennials; I do believe that Pumpkin Spiced Lattes (or, PSL if you will) slap hard, and cardigans are cute, too. Plus, it would make me a bad feminist (and human) to drag people for their beverage (and aesthetic) choices.
All I’m trying to articulate is that this quote perfectly encapsulates the divulgence of opinions between Gen Z and Millennials when it comes to coffee aesthetics: Millennials are stuck in the hot coffee Tumblr supremacy, and Gen Z laud the cute Emma Chamberlain-esque aesthetic of see through cups full to the brim with ice, sugar and caffeine.
If the rise in social media has taught us anything, it’s that it’s all about aesthetics for Gen Z. One only has to type “iced coffee” on Pinterest to see that perfectly posed nails, tablescapes, shoes, and even jewellery can be seen alongside a vat of iced coffee in a Pinterest-viral post. I know that I’ve been guilty of ordering a new Starbucks concoction and meticulously posing it next to my fresh acrylics…sorry not sorry, I’m a Pinterest girlie at heart. Iced coffee is pretty, and us GenZers love anything that will look good on an Insta story. Well, most of us do anyway.
3. Speed, speed, speed
Us GenZers have never known a world outside of the internet. We’ve never had to go to the library to find the answer to a question. Hell, we’ve never had to even go outside to ascertain the weather; it's always been at our fingertips. Subsequently, we’ve become used to having things be fast: fast food, fast internet, fast downloads, fast transportation. TikToks have ruined our attention span; fast food chains have ruined our patience. And whilst there has been a kickback promoting a slow living lifestyle, the efficiency and speed of the GenZ lifestyle is pretty well enjoyed. I don’t find it hard to believe, therefore, that GenZ prefer iced coffee because it’s quick to make (think: cold brew on tap), and crucially it’s quick to drink: you don’t have to wait for it to cool down, and slurping up a straw makes the drink disappear.
4. Because it tastes fucking good, duh
Iced coffees are often subject to ridicule owing to the fact that they are endlessly customisable and, as a result, often contain more milk and sugar than coffee. It stands to reason therefore, considering the fact that strong hot coffees are generally assumed to be a paradigm of mature adult taste, that the lighter, sweeter, and all-around more palatable iced coffees are more popular with younger generations. One could even argue that sweet iced coffees are somewhat of a gateway drug (caffeine is a drug, lest we not forget): keep it sweet so that you can get them hooked young. I hate to insinuate that iced coffee is a sign of immaturity, but looking at my own hectic life and my own obsession with cold brew…I can’t deny that I fit the mould.
We could sit here and hypothesise a million and one explanations as to why people born from 1995 onwards are ice coffee fanatics. Maybe my theories are correct, or maybe iced coffee is just delicious, and more widely available than ever. Who am I to say? I’m just a girl sipping on my iced coffee. If you take anything away from this article, it’s that iced coffee reigns supreme and isn’t going anywhere as the colder months await us. Now get your ass down to your local coffee shop and treat yourself to something long, cold and caffeinated. It’s sunny, and you deserve a lil’ treat.