The roastery cafe model continued its ascent in leaps and bounds this year, making it harder to draw clear lines between specialty coffee retail and production in a categorical sense. There’s plenty of evidence of this trend in our guide to the biggest cafe openings of 2018.
More and more retail cafes are bringing roasting operations in-house, in full view of patrons, while strictly wholesale and private label roasters are also increasingly opening their labs for programs and events that bring consumers and clients in. And from both sides of this diminishing divide, messaging about the importance of responsible compensation for farmers is increasingly audible.
So even while this critical message is ultimately bad news, the good news is that in 2018 there were at least more opportunities to share it; and by bringing consumers closer to more steps in the coffee process, the far end of the supply chain also starts to seem a little bit closer.
Industrial transparency may only one aspect in an assiduously wrought retail environment, but beautiful chords can still be struck without necessarily nailing every note. From the color palette to the transactional flow to the equipment, menu, branding and everything else, it’s a lot to bring together, and yet at the end of the day, a core principle of togetherness itself can be a shop’s most attractive attribute.
Togetherness this year, at its best, meant connections between consumers, coffee companies and coffee farmers, although there were other fun cultural convergences occurring. In 2018 we saw more bridging of day and night, for example, with stronger beer, cocktail and food menus. Manual pourover options and batch brew also seemed better able to coexist this year, given technological advancements on both fronts. And structurally, an emphasis on communal tables and shared spaces happened more often, designed to compel humans to acknowledge and perhaps even interact with one another.
In other recent years, a wave of coffee-inclusive co-retail ventures that sought to capitalize on coffee’s potential as a lifestyle brand component resulted in some establishments that, from the outside at least, seem a bit wonky — the coffee shop bank branch, coffee shop gadget repair, coffee shop ad agency, et cetera. This year, however, the focus seemed more on the cohesion of the core products — cold coffee creations or coffee cocktails — more so than forcing two retail concepts together through coffee.
The togetherness of beer and coffee has especially come to a head, so to speak, going well beyond the bottled confines of collaborative beverages. Breweries that also roast coffee, roasting companies that share space with breweries, and various permutations thereabouts have proliferated from coast to coast. If ever there were two products that could bring different people happily to one table, it’s beer and coffee.
Coffee in 2018 gave us a refreshing sense of togetherness, one that was much needed given the stark divisions defining political climates throughout the world — not the least of which in the United States. The specialty coffee industry seems to persevere, answering the call of community in almost any form it takes, while sounding another call in support of the faraway workers and communities upon which this industry depends. Here’s to hoping for more of that in 2019. On a more operational level, here’s what else we think we might see more or less of in the year to come:
- While roasting companies may not have the wherewithal to branch out into beer, more breweries and brewpubs will also roast coffee
- Cafes won’t abandon wi-fi, though outlets will grow fewer and tabletops will get narrower
- Vegan milk consumption will continue to rise, but something else will come to challenge oat milk. Could it be rye? Sesame? Let’s try monkey puzzle. Why not?