2015 was an exciting year for coffee innovation; we saw Spotify and Nestlé utilize cafés for engaging brand activations, we saw the rise of alternative brewing methods such as cold brew coffee as well as out-of-the-ordinary flavour combinations like salted coffee.
Looking forward into 2016, one has to wonder what’s next for coffee?
Nine coffee experts predicted what’s in store for coffee trends and their answers get us excited for coffee fueled year ahead.
1. Emphasis on Ice
“In my opinion, hot coffee had the focus of innovation during the past decade, with a huge number of flavor innovations. However, in the last couple of years, the light has started to shine on cold coffee drinks, and I think we are just getting started.”
— Diane Aylsworth, director of cold brew at Stumptown
2. Sweet Signatures
“The trend we noticed is the rise in signature sweetened drinks. Not too long ago, it wasn’t uncommon that specialty cafes weren’t carrying even milk and sugar… We have found that our past signature drinks, the Apple Betty and Espresso Julep, were a big hit with our customers and well-received in the coffee community.”
— Amelia Evens, retail general manager at Toby’s Estate
3. Who needs heat?
“I’m just going to say it…the Fourth Wave of coffee is cold. People are finding new and better ways to brew coffee without heat, and it’s exciting. The cold brew craze of the last couple years is just the beginning, and that’s why I wanted to get moving on my Draft Latte — an iced latte with textured milk and cold brewed coffee served from a tap. No heat involved. With the response we’ve seen to the Draft Latte, I guarantee we’re going to see a major shift in the industry towards cold coffee drinks.”
— Todd, CEO and head coffee geek at La Colombe
4. Quality Control
“In the coffee industry, the quality of the coffee and the increasing importance of specialty coffee beverages are two trends that are helping to shape the future. Whether a customer is an experienced coffee drinker or is enjoying their first cup, there is a greater expectation for authentic, handcrafted, high-quality coffee beverages… Additionally, specialty coffee and espresso-based beverages have been growing in importance.”
— Chris Fuqua, vice president, Dunkin’ Donuts Brand Marketing & Global Consumer Insights & Product Innovation
5. All Eyes on Water
“My main hope is that the next big thing [will] have nothing to do with cold-brewed coffee. I think that the next big thing in coffee will be water. I know that sounds odd and not very groundbreaking, but there has been a lot of talk recently about what you’re using to brew your coffee. I believe that the industry as a whole will start looking more intimately at our water and using this ingredient in different ways. I imagine we aren’t far off from a cafe offering a flight of one coffee brewed with three different water sources, or water that measures three different levels of TDS [Total Dissolved Solids]. Not only do I think the industry is thinking this way, I also find it a very approachable concept for the consumer that is often overlooked. Coffee is only 2% of the beverage; water is 98%. I think people may start to shift their focus to the 98%.”
— Amanda Byron, director of coffee at Joe Coffee
6. Innovation is Everything
“The amazing thing about coffee is that it’s been around for 1,200 years, and we’re still coming up with new ways to drink it. At Starbucks, we’re constantly uncovering new ways for our customers to learn more about coffee and the craft of brewing — piquing curiosity about what, exactly, is in each cup. The menu at the Starbucks Reserve® Roastery & Tasting Room in Seattle is a great example; some of the most popular items include beverages you can only find at the Roastery, like the Shakerato Bianco and Iced Sparkling Espresso with Mint, in addition to our coffee tasting flights.”
– Starbucks Spokesperson
7. Paying Tribute
“Chicory with coffee is making a comeback, especially in cold brew. [This mixture is] from New Orleans originally [and was] a necessity during the Civil War to make coffee supplies last longer.
Global local culture beverages making their way into the mainstream, [such as] Vietnam coffee with condensed milk and Thai iced tea.
The role of the barista continues to expand; now, they’re more central to the beverage-making process versus just being a server — they are more of a mixologist.
Retention programs at the origin where coffee is grown, to inspire the next generation of coffee farmers to remain in the coffee sector and continue to drive quality… They typically only see the agricultural side and not the consumer side.”
— Jay Isais, senior director of coffee at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf
8. Fun Flavours
“First, it’s notable that palates are changing (or ‘acclimating’ is perhaps more accurate) to the flavor and profile of quality ‘specialty’ coffee. It’ll continue to happen, but we are certainly seeing it happen in major city centers. Customers know their way around better coffee — and baristi have learned more as well. The pendulum has swung, and folks aren’t as infatuated with honoring the bean in such a purist and (at times) insufferable way.
In food, too, we are seeing preferences change a bit — the bitter, acrid, and sharp have a place they perhaps didn’t have before, as do dry, medicinal, and herbaceous flavors… Case in point: Espresso tonics (tonic Americanos) were something that had a bit of murmur almost four years ago…but it wasn’t happening yet. Folks weren’t on board. We dug it, but we knew it was kind of odd, too. “
— César Vega of Café Integral
9. New & Old Varieties
“What I see [as] the next big thing in coffee…is probably a combination of new varieties and new origins: I think coffee professionals are becoming more open to the notion of new and rediscovered coffee varieties in the face of devastation, like we’ve seen with coffee-leaf rust disease in Central America. Until recently, many folks in the industry turned up their noses at cultivars like Castillo from Colombia, or Catimor (and its related hybrids); now that we have…seen the obstacles we face in coffee due to the species’ relatively limited gene pool, I think we’re also coming to reevaluate our preconceived notions about new and new-to-us types of coffee. It might be what ends up saving coffee, after all.”
— Erin Meister, coffee expert
Read the full trend report on Refinery 29