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.
Japanese star barista brings style, creativity and unique coffee culture to Chicago
BKON, creative food and a showcased high-quality Robusta
The ideal outcome of the confluence of a university, a roastery, and a nonprofit social enterprise. Plus there’s beer.
Separate bars and different machines for “stay” and “to go”
Direct sourcing, barista-friendly workstation, live performances, roastery on display and curated brew methods for showcased coffees
The plan is to train approximately 40 refugees annually, while employing another 10 to 15 in the café.
Against all odds, a quality shop emerges in the midst of the polluted water crisis in Flint, Mich.
Thought-provoking roastery on display with retail bar
Seattle gets a taste of the birthplace of the bean
Exclusive producer-roaster-retailer connection
Pillar of espresso machine industry rotates an all-star international lineup of roasters for monthly bar takeovers
Cafe provides a literal window into chocolate factory and coffee roastery
Beautiful buildout, dedicated direct sourcing and thoroughly engaged staff
With roastery tasting room converted to training space, a new standalone flagship cafe becomes the front line
Co-retail combines two truest millennial loves: Coffee and devices
Art, olfactory branding, coffee: the Cadillac of coffee shops
Cuban-born star barista behind a custom stretch Marzocco
Industry legend strikes again
Cooperative Coffees cofounding company opens its first cafe in 20 years
California-based company makes makes headway in the daunting Northwest
A double lifeline for Austinites living farther afield
A living Pantheon of coffee and talent, founded by six-headed barista dream team
Simplicity, complexity and style in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Two new shops and a production upgrade for fast-growing company
A young brand follows through on transcending its bottled cold brew launchpad
A very old company vaults into the now
Top-shelf roaster’s first foray into retail offers full-on table service
Dazzling decor turns your mind to microfoam
Small-batch roaster’s beautiful shop designed around visible cupping room
A new voice joins Portland’s polyphonic harmony of coffee
After their La Marzocco Cafe takeover, they’re ready to commit for the long haul
A new nonprofit emerges to offer specialty coffee and job skills training to at-risk people