As a new year dawns, we've got our eye on a few exciting players and trends we're expecting big and bigger things of in the coffee world in 2014.
Counter Culture Coffee
Venerated Durham, NC-based roaster Counter Culture Coffeehas staked a longtime claim in the specialty coffee landscape for nearly 20 years, famous both in the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic region as well as up and down the East Coast and nationally. (Once upon a time only a few years ago, all the finest cafes in New York City only served Counter Culture beans.) The company's still known for roasting high quality, fairly sourced beans while keeping end costs surprisingly low, but in the last year they've taken great strides forward in the industry.
From opening a swanky, Modbar-equipped New York City training lab in Soho that doubles as a public showroom (the company has never had, and has no plans to open, a retail cafe) last year to this year's plans to launch a San Francisco-based roasting facility and training lab, it would seem that this third-wave roaster is ready to catapult past its playing field.
The company boasts a roster of super-talented professionals, too, from roaster Tim Hill to former United States Barista Champion Katie Carguilo to reigning United States Brewer's Cup champion Erin McCarthy. Beyond their own successes, though, they've built strength on giving back to the coffee community: their latest achievement, an updated version of the Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel, a commonly used teaching tool for evaluating and discovering how to taste coffees, was released this year free of charge to the coffee-tasting public. What's next for these guys? We're all ears...and, well...tongues.
For anyone who's paid attention to changing espresso ideas in the last year or two, Ben Kaminsky's name shouldn't be new. This San Francisco based coffee thinker, formerly of Barismo, Ritual, and repeatedly winning the World Cup Taster's Championship, has been on a series of speaking tours in the last year to discuss his surprising-to-some ideas about the potential of espresso and the lengthened shot as an expanded, subtler, more elegant beverage than those tight, packed face-punches we've become used to in the modern era.
In this talk from last year's Nordic Barista Cup symposium on the challenges of espresso tasting and preparation, and how to improve coffee quality throughout. Known well in circles of coffee analysis, Kaminsky's full-court press on idea development in how to revolutionize espresso has already had an impact on the way it's being served internationally, and is upending the notion that espresso needs to be a challenging, inconsistent, acquired taste.
The Fetco Brewer
First you're thinking: what is a Fetco? And second, you're thinking, how is an automated, large-quantity coffee brewer going to move or shake anything? Isn't this a step away from the importance we've placed on the slow-motion, hand-brewed, personally crafted world of artisan coffee that signifies quality and taste?
Yes, it is—and isn't that a relief? Cafes from casual to high-falutin' have re-embraced this so-called "batch brewing" method as part of a well-rounded cafe program for its ease of use and balanced result in the cup. It isn't poured one-at-a-time, special-ordered, in a $150 Japanese kettle, but the outcome is consistent and worthy of today's finer coffees.
You'll see more and more specialty single origin coffees offered on Fetco for those who want a good coffee to go, and you'll also see more versatility with the brewer—iced coffee, concentrated and hot-brewed in Fetco machines over top of ice cubes, was a growing trend last summer in coffee shops who eschewed the flatter, less dynamic taste of overnight cold-brewing. Welcome back, automated brewer!
Sure, you've heard of neighborhood-grown New York City coffee chain Cafe Grumpy off and on for years, and seen it as a regular backdrop in Girls. But what the quietly growing coffee chain has done beyond—and including—breaking into prime time is an important example in the continually redifined specialty cafe landscape. Rather than growing quickly or taking on hefty outside investment, as have many national specialty roasters, Grumpy has kept about expanding its own business with little interest in fanfare, and a continued focus on sourcing, roasting and preparing great coffees. They also do their own baking.
This year will see the five-shop chain expand to a larger roasting facility behind their Greenpoint 'Girls' store, and add a sixth cafe in Grand Central Station—taking over where a Starbucks currently resides. If this isn't a little guy success story of slow and steady coming out on top, I don't know what is. Their increased roasting capacity will allow even more people to taste the fruits of their labor.
It's truly surprising that this has taken such a long time to gain traction in such a digital new world, but the intricacies of sourcing and distributing great, fresh coffees can be complex. Thanks to the ever-widening landscape of subscription coffee services, thoughtfully sourced and roasted coffees are now available to people all over the United States and beyond, whether there are great roasters and cafes in their town or not.
The growing list ranges from roasters that themselves operate as subscription-only, roast-to-order shops like Tonx, to subscription-sampler companies like Misto Box, Craft Coffee, Twice Coffee, Go Coffee Go, Hamptons Lane and more, who offer a selected variety of coffees each month either tailored to your tastes or to the spirit of exploration. No matter how easy great coffee is to come by where you live, there's something thrilling about getting something new on a regular basis—and in weather like this season's—something even more thrilling about not having to leave your house to get it.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is the creator of Nice Coffee Time, a book of photographs of the best coffee in the world, published by Presspop, is the New York City correspondent for Sprudge.com, and contributes to other outfits worldwide.