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The Vertical, Lateral, Inaugural and Exceptional Cafes of 2016

It’s been another banner year for retail proliferation in specialty coffee, with scores of new shops reinforcing progress throughout the urban American landscape while equally inspiring outposts continue spreading the spirit further afield.

Of the latter, some are offering people in underserved markets their first taste of modern quality, while others simply provide a closer-to-home lifeline to commuters that yearn for the flavors of nearby metropolises. Yet no matter what the context, it’s never just one aspect of a cafe that makes it a standout destination.

A truly great cafe is a gestalt, a confluence of factors that elevate it above the din of commerce, hospitality and retail as usual. Excellence in coffee and service are of course the foundation, yet if that perfectionism doesn’t pervade all other aspects of the business, then it’s just another drop in the ocean, welcome though it still may be.

In any calendar year there will be plenty of new shops that excel in one area or another, whether it’s by way of an altruistic goal, lovely, sophisticated decor, groundbreaking equipment, geek-caliber staff or simply a well-known founder. And with the continued rise of disposable income in the U.S. theoretically bolstering the patronage to potentially keep all of these businesses afloat, of course not all of them will survive.

Location alone can make or break a shop no matter how great or middling its quality may be, while sometimes the factors contributing to a shop’s success or demise are more elusive. Yet as time go by, more and more enter the fray each year with high hopes and best intentions, and 2016 was no exception.

As we prepare to turn the page, here’s a look back at some of the truly remarkable cafe openings of the past twelve months, of which we reported upon so many that at least 30 of them are worthy of revisiting. Some are new retail ventures by established roasting companies, some are entirely new companies and some constitute expansion by existing retail brands, though all are exceptional in the evolution of that all-important final link in specialty coffee’s chain.

World Latte Art Champ Hiroshi Sawada Swirls Into Chicago

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Photo by Galdones Photography.

Japanese star barista brings style, creativity and unique coffee culture to Chicago

Rubies + Diamonds Pairs the Classic With Cutting Edge in Los Angeles

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BKON, creative food and a showcased high-quality Robusta

Two Hands Coffee in Austin Gives Farmers a Leg Up

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Photo by Janelle Whitehead (Instagram @hope4afrika)

The ideal outcome of the confluence of a university, a roastery, and a nonprofit social enterprise. Plus there’s beer.

With Dual Espresso Counters, Jubala Coffee Pulls a Double Shop

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Separate bars and different machines for “stay” and “to go”

Vigilante Coffee Unmasks Beautifully Remodeled DC-Area Flagship

Photo by Leo Murray

Photo by Leo Murray

Direct sourcing, barista-friendly workstation, live performances, roastery on display and curated brew methods for showcased coffees

1951 Coffee Plans to Employ and Empower Refugees

The plan is to train approximately 40 refugees annually, while employing another 10 to 15 in the café.

Some Good News from Flint as Wildroot Coffee Settles Down

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Against all odds, a quality shop emerges in the midst of the polluted water crisis in Flint, Mich.

Duck-Rabbit Coffee Changes Perceptions in Cleveland

Thought-provoking roastery on display with retail bar

Ethiopian Coffees and Brewing at Seattle’s Café Avole

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Seattle gets a taste of the birthplace of the bean

Colombian Coffees Find a New Nest at Pennsylvania’s Barranquero Cafe

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Exclusive producer-roaster-retailer connection

The La Marzocco Café and Showroom Opens in Seattle

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Photo by Jeremy Bittermann.

Pillar of espresso machine industry rotates an all-star international lineup of roasters for monthly bar takeovers

Dual Delights from Single Origins at Winans Chocolates + Coffee

Cafe provides a literal window into chocolate factory and coffee roastery

Identity Coffees In Sacramento: Where Every Employee Roasts, Cups and Serves

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Beautiful buildout, dedicated direct sourcing and thoroughly engaged staff

Texas Roaster Evocation Coffee Calls Forth a Flagship Cafe in Amarillo

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With roastery tasting room converted to training space, a new standalone flagship cafe becomes the front line

Gadgets, Repairs and Coffee at San Diego Multi-Roaster Multi-Retailer TechOutfitters

Co-retail combines two truest millennial loves: Coffee and devices

Cadillac Enlists Joe Coffee as Partner in Multi-Retail Concept Cadillac House in NYC

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Art, olfactory branding, coffee: the Cadillac of coffee shops

Camila Ramos Works All Day in Miami

Photo by Camila Ramos

Photo by Camila Ramos

Cuban-born star barista behind a custom stretch Marzocco

George Howell on His Company’s Exacting Third Cafe and the Problem with Cold Brew

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Industry legend strikes again

Larry’s Coffee Returns to Retail With 42 & Lawrence in Raleigh

Photo by Lori Langdon

Photo by Lori Langdon

Cooperative Coffees cofounding company opens its first cafe in 20 years

Groundwork Coffee Opening Multiple Portland Shops After Tin Man Acquisition

California-based company makes makes headway in the daunting Northwest

Red Horn Coffee and Brewing Brings the Best of Two Worlds to the Austin ‘Burbs

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A double lifeline for Austinites living farther afield

Steadfast Quality, Devoted to Workers, True to Producers: Loyal Coffee Comes to Colorado Springs

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A living Pantheon of coffee and talent, founded by six-headed barista dream team

Modbar Co-Founder Moves On to Summon Quality at Conjure Coffee

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Simplicity, complexity and style in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Chicago’s Groundswell Coffee Surges Into Offsite Roastery and New Cafés

Two new shops and a production upgrade for fast-growing company

Seattle’s Anchorhead Sails Beyond RTD into Full Service Cafe

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A young brand follows through on transcending its bottled cold brew launchpad

92-Year-Old Ferris Coffee Opens Fresh New Grand Rapids Shop

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A very old company vaults into the now

Commonwealth Coffee Takes Uncommon Approach to Service in First Retail Cafe

Photo by instagram.com/stephanie_may

Photo by instagram.com/stephanie_may

Top-shelf roaster’s first foray into retail offers full-on table service

Dark Matter Opens ‘Psychedelegant’ Meddle Bar in Chicago’s West Loop

Photo by Ahmed Ozsever

Photo by Ahmed Ozsever

Dazzling decor turns your mind to microfoam

Commonwealth Joe Spreads its Roasted Riches with Impressive D.C. Flagship

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Small-batch roaster’s beautiful shop designed around visible cupping room

Kainos Coffee Switches Gears with a Brick and Mortar in Portland OR

A new voice joins Portland’s polyphonic harmony of coffee

Campos Coffee to Open First US Cafe in Park City, Utah

After their La Marzocco Cafe takeover, they’re ready to commit for the long haul

Cafe Virtuoso Upgrades, Starts San Diego Coffee Training Institute

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A new nonprofit emerges to offer specialty coffee and job skills training to at-risk people

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