Demand for bolder flavors has been a major influence on restaurant menus for some time and the trend is now spilling over into coffee. Savvy restaurants, coffee chains and retailers are satisfying coffee consumers’ more adventurous tastes and increasing sales by offering a growing variety of flavored coffees and flavored coffeehouse beverages, often brewed to order via single-serve systems.

According to bevindustry.com, which recently reported on Chicago-based Technomic Inc.’s 2012 Beverage Consumer Trend Report, the past two years have shown an increase in consumers’ purchases of blended or specialty coffees.

Once considered a seasonal novelty, flavored coffee and flavored coffeehouse beverages are now available year-round. While vanilla and hazelnut and holiday favorites such as peppermint and pumpkin spice are still the dominant flavors, many operators have expanded their options. Like Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors of ice cream, they are brewing up traditional drip coffees as well as cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatoswith almond, hazelnut, maple, caramel, coconut, white chocolate, dolce de leche, blueberry and raspberry, to name just a few flavors. And those seasonal favorites, such as the pumpkin spice latte? Operators are making them available on menus earlier and earlier each year to meet the growing demand.

Operators typically add these flavorful options to their menu either by purchasing beans already infused with flavor during the roasting process, or ordering flavored syrups or extracts to add-in to house brews during beverage preparation. Others offer flavored creamers, whipped cream and ground spices that customers can use to further customize their favorite flavor blend. All three approaches are appealing to operators, because they require little operational effort in exchange for big profits.

Consumers like flavored coffee not only for the unique taste, but also because they can enjoy a different brew each day, their own way. That customization factor is just one of many reasons experts say flavored coffees and flavored coffeehouse beverages have grown in popularity in recent years.

 “Applications for coffee-flavored extracts have expanded the category,” said Kim Cipriano, director of marketing for Autocrat LLC in Lincoln, R.I., in an interview with beverageindustry.com. “Customization of coffee beverages allows customers to decide which blend, flavor and additives they want in order to make their blend truly unique.”

While all kinds of consumers enjoy flavored coffees, research firms across the country say Millennials, young adults aged 18 to 24, present the biggest opportunity for operators.

According to a survey from Port Washington, N.Y.-based research firm The NPD Group, the preferred energy boost beverage of 18- to 24-year-olds is no longer caffeinated soft drinks, but coffee. In addition, Technomic Inc.’s 2013 College and University report reveals the top non-alcoholic beverage of choice for students at the nation’s 50 leading universities is specialty coffee.  And, in Chicago-based Mintel’s Coffee U.S. 2012 report, analyst Jennifer Zegler notes:

“Tremendous potential lies in appealing to the 18-24 year old group of consumers who are more adventurous in their coffee drinking habits. Markets should take inspiration from the nearly insatiable curiosity about new coffee types, beverages, brands and flavors exhibited by younger consumers and translate that energy into new marketing, innovations, and educational tasting that could appeal to all ages.”

Though the opportunity for flavored coffee and flavored coffeehouse beverages is clear, restaurant and retail operators interested in adding these beverages may be wary about the need to have an army of coffee carafes. To avoid this, many operators are turning to single-serve coffee systems, such as pod machines or pour-over (hand pour) coffee pots. Single-serve systems allow operators to brew an endless variety of flavored beverages one cup at a time, without taking up a lot of counter space. They also enable operators to happily serve a customer who wants just one flavored cup without brewing (and likely wasting) an entire pot. Another important benefit of single-serve is that customers are always ensured their coffee is the freshest it can be, a quality that is extremely valuable to customers.

Whatever the tactic, providing coffee-loving consumers a variety of flavored coffee and flavored coffeehouse beverages to choose from gives them another reason to visit—and perhaps more reasons to visit more often.