And that’s a wrap for the 2023 Build-Outs of Coffee! Our annual summer feature series highlighting the recently- and soon-to-be-open cafes from around the globe has come to a close after three months of thrills and Builds. But there’s still one last piece of business to get to before we officially close this chapter. We need to run it back and crunch the numbers as part of the Analytics of Autumn.
In what has become a yearly post-Build-Outs tradition, the Analytics of Autumn pulls back viewing lens from the individual coffee shop to take a broader look at the trends from this year’s crop of cafes. Through crunching the numbers, we can see a little bit about where the industry is heading—and as past Analytics have done—with startling accuracy.
So grab your protractors or your divining rods or your tea leaves—whatever your preferred means of predicting the future—and let’s find out where the wind is blowing, as told to us by the 2023 class of the Build-Outs of Coffee.
Where Are They Building?
There was a real coastal bias in this year’s Build-Outs, in particular in the Southwest and Northeast. Of the 32 total cafes we features this year, over a third of them came from one of those two areas. Six cafes can be found between Santa Barbara and San Diego, with four in the greater Los Angeles area. In the Northeast, five cafes could be found between Philadelphia and Albany, with the former being the most frequent.
Still, there were pockets of action, around Nashville and Denver and the Seattle/Vancouver area and even the UK—part of the six total non-US cafes this year, almost 20% of the total class—where multiple entries made their presence known.
If there was one geographical trend in this year’s Build-Outs, it was the re-emergence of the major metropolitan area as primary player. There was the occasional New Hartford, sure, but this year’s Builds were all about big cities: Phoenix, Chicago, NYC, Dallas, LA, Philly, Dublin, Denver, etc.
The Roast Curve Is Holding Steady
At this point it’s difficult to call it a trend. Everyone roasts. They have been for over half a decade now and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. This year, two-thirds of all entries roast their own coffee, which is pretty much right at the 68% average we’ve seen over the past five years of doing this sort of analysis. Of this year’s roasting ilk, 12 were first-time cafe owners with another nine now in their second (or more) location. Of the 11 non-roasting cafes, only three this year were multi-roasters.
2023 was the first year in quite some time where new cafe owners ruled the day. Perhaps still reeling a bit from the effects COVID-19 had on businesses, these past few years saw established brands continue to grow, outpacing newcomers. But this year turns the narrative on its head. Just under 60% of all Build-Outs in 2023 came from coffee businesses opening their first location.
The Gear Gap
La Marzocco and Mahlkönig. That’s it. That’s the tweet. Dynasties aren’t dynasties because they let anyone else win, and these two brands are tried-and-true dynasties in the coffee equipment realm. 16 of 29 espresso machines mentioned this year came from La Marzocco—19 if you include sister brand Modbar. And stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Linea reigns supreme. The nine total Lineas, two of which are Minis, far and away outpaced their nearest competitor, the Modbar. In past years, Nuova Simonelli and Synesso have seen upticks in their representation, but this year they combined for just four, with no single machine type making multiple appearances.
Following suit in the grinder category, Mahlkönig pretty much mopped the floor with the competition. 19 of the 35 grinders mentioned were from Mahlkönig; with the three Ditting grinders, a total 22 belong to the Hemro Group. Mazzer and Nuova Simonelli came in second and third with seven and four, respectively.
The EK43 alone accounted for 11 total grinders, and with the release of the all-new Omnia, the EK dominance is only going to increase next year. And it wasn’t the only Mahlkönig to top the list. The E65S and E80S took second and fourth with five and three units, respectively. Nuova Simonelli’s Mythos took third with four, and the Mazzer Robur tying the E80S just missing the podium.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Many of the trends we’ve seen in previous years continue. We’re seeing more cafes exist outside the traditional context: in vans and trucks and carts, inside multiple-use spaces like natural wine bars and dog cafes. The focus on community remains and for some cafes has codified as veritable outreach programs and communal spaces.
2023 has also shown that, for coffee shop owners, sustainability is not one grand gesture but a multi-faceted collection of smaller actions. For every cafe running on solar panels (and there were a few), there are multiple cafes focusing on upcycling and composting and limiting single use wares. Folks are buying local and turning to eco-friendly alt milks as the primary option. Coffee shops are selecting their equipment based on energy usage. For many cafe owners, sustainability comes in the form of relationships, in who they buy coffee from as well as how they retain employees via wages.
Still, there are predictions to be gleaned from the 2023 class of the Build-Outs of Coffee, but it is less of a what and more of a where. Last year, we boldly claimed that the coffee shop was ripe for disruption. Not in the tech bro, reinventing-a-wheel-that-doesn’t-need-reinvention sense of the word, but in the sense that specialty coffee for the past few years has been coalescing around the same ideas: a shift away from a gear focus and onto repeatability, sustainability, and community. None of these are bad things, mind you. But as trends so often go, once everyone is doing it, something new comes along to change everything.
And while we’re not really sure what that something is, we have a pretty good idea where to look for it. This year’s Builds, for the first time since the pandemic started, featured more first-time cafes than second locations, and this is where the innovation is most likely to happen. For the most part, brands with multiple outposts focus primarily on consistency across locations; it’s about repeating the experience that made them successful. It’s a good strategy, but it isn’t quite the breeding ground for wild new ideas. First-location cafes, on the other hand, that’s where you’re more likely to see a few chances being taken. New owners don’t necessarily have a blueprint that they adhere to and may take some big swings. They might whiff more often than not, but it only takes one to go yard for the entire game to change. The more first-time cafes, the more opportunities to take a big cut.