According to coffee connoisseurs, we’re now entering the fourth wave of coffee shops.  America’s obsession with coffee begun in the 1960s and 70s when big time coffee brands like Folgers and Maxwell House begun selling cheap and freshly grounded coffee.  Available in large quantities at a low price, coffee took off.  It wasn’t until Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks that the coffee shop took off.  Starbucks made a massive push in the late 1990s and early 2000s to grow into smaller and less trendy markets.  Soon, the mocha, cappuccino, latte, and frappe were household names.  Then, something interesting happened in the early to mid-2000s that changed the coffee shop.  Once dominated by Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, the coffee shop experienced a significant change.  Fueled by young people, the boutique coffee shop was born.  Those were the first three waves, however, it appears that we’re in the midst of the transition to the fourth wave.

The fourth wave will consist of uber-trendy cafes with locally sourced products, nitrogen infused java, and a focus on each individual beverage.  The fourth-wave is going to make it even harder to spot the trendiest and best coffee shops.  However, we’ve compiled a list of the top coffee shop trends emerging in 2017.  These trends could very well usher in the fourth wave of coffee.

(*List is not in any order)

Brands Built on Social Media

Sure, every coffee shop, restaurant, and brand that wants millennials and young people to buy their products or services understand the importance of social media.  However, the coffee shop is one establishment in which social media could be the deciding factor between success and failure.  Young people need something to share.  The next generation, the generation born from 1985 to 2000, loving showing off.  With Snapchat placing an importance on brand, location, and stories, trendy coffee shops need to take action and recognize that Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram are the easiest ways in which to promote their business.  There are multiple ways in which coffee shops and cafes can make their brands more shareable.  From custom coffee sleeves with cool designs and fun quotes to masterfully prepared food and drink, baristas and other employees need to stay creative.  Coffee shops that are unique and promote individualism will succeed in the fourth-wave.

Shareability will determine whether or not a coffee shop succeeds

Shareability will determine whether or not a coffee shop succeeds in the fourth-wave.

Social Values and Commitment to the Community

It’s not just a stereotype.  The trendiest coffee shops are socially progressive hotspots.  The patrons of fourth-wave coffee shops are socially conscience and committed to their communities.  Some coffee drinkers are so opposed to corporations and their unfair trade beans that they’ve boycotted Starbucks altogether.  If a coffee shop wants to succeed in the fourth-wave, they need to understand the importance of fair trade, organic, and non-GMO coffee.  Though people complain about the price of coffee, labeling coffee roasts as “fair trade” and “locally sourced” will often merit higher prices.  Not only can fair trade and organic beans generate more revenue and potentially more profit but they legitimately help alleviate unethical farming practices.  Coffee shops need to be invested in their communities and actively participate in local events.  Essentially, coffee shops and cafes need morals and ethics that reflect their customers.

Coffee shops need to show that they are committed to the community

Coffee shops need to show that they are committed to the community.

Cold and Nitro Brews

Cold brews, once thought to be a hipster-west coast fad, have withstood the test of time.  Cold brew coffee is taking the nation by storm.  Any coffee shop, cafe, or grocery that fails to embrace cold brew coffee will fail with consumers in the fourth wave of coffee.  Cold brew coffee involves brewing coffee slowly over a long period of time without heat.  The result is a very smooth and less acidic cold coffee.  Another emerging brew is nitro coffee.  Nitro brews are infused with nitrogen and brewed in a process similar to cold brew blends.  The result is a coffee with a Guinness-like consistency and bold flavor.

Nitrogen infused coffee is all the rage

Nitrogen infused coffee is all the rage.

RTD: Ready to Drink Coffee

Ready to drink coffee isn’t what you might think it means.  It doesn’t mean ditching pour-over brews for massive pots of coffee but rather, has to do with how coffee is packaged.  Typically, ready to drink coffee is a cold brew packaged in an aluminum can similar to an energy drink can.  Local cafes that manage to get their brand on their own line of ready to drink coffee will surely have an impact.  Not only is RTD effective branding but it saves the consumer time.

RTD or Ready to Drink Coffee is a major trend.

RTD or Ready to Drink Coffee is a major trend.


Before this article, you might not have even given any thought to the fact that there are time periods designating coffee trends.  We’re in the midst of the fourth wave of coffee.  It’s important that local coffee shops and cafes that were strong performers in the third wave take note.  Soon, indie music and pour over brews aren’t going to be enough.