What’s trending at coffee shops in 2023?

Our world seems to be moving at hyper speed. Chatbots are writing articles (but not this one), cars are starting to drive themselves, and we’re drinking cold brew from cans. It wasn’t long ago that Third Wave Coffee hit the scene, and words like “artisan,” “craft,” and “pour over” made their way into the mainstream population’s vocabulary. Now, one global pandemic and a new generation of coffee drinkers later, where does that leave us? Coffee shop culture and trends continue to evolve. What’s trending at coffee shops in 2023? What what can we anticipate for the future? 

pour over coffee with aero press

Big opportunities for coffee shop owners

The current coffee shop era isn’t easy to define. That’s because successful coffee shops are not (and shouldn’t be) formulaic.

A successful coffee shop might look like a standalone drive thru, a business hybrid (like Galindo’s), or a cultural experience (like Arwa Yemeni Coffee). 

One thing we always teach at Texas Coffee School is that coffee shops can no longer compete by one-upping each other with craftsmanship. In this era, quality is an expectation, not a differentiator. Coffee shops have to set themselves apart with their user experience, innovation, and their ability to offer a lifestyle within their brand. 

For us, this new era is filled with opportunities. We think it’s an amazing time for coffee shop owners to be creative, disruptive, and innovative–and find a loyal following in doing so.

Here are some coffee shop trends aspiring and current owners need to know:  

What trends mark our current coffee culture?  

The coffee industry is in the midst of a significant transformation, with trends emerging and evolving to meet the changing needs and preferences of customers. In 2023 and beyond, we can expect to see several key trends continuing to gain momentum:

Combining convenience and quality: 

One of the most interesting emerging trends in the coffee industry is the intersection of convenience and quality. In the post-pandemic world customers have been increasingly interested in taking their coffee to-go. Companies like Dutch Bros, Black Rock Coffee, Scooters, and 7 Brew have already realized this trend, and have been making sizable investments into growing their drive-thru footprint over the past 18 months. While these drive-thru coffee shops are convenient and have the right model at the right time, they often lack the perception of quality that “third wave” specialty coffee shops offer. This is particularly important for Gen Z, who value convenience but also expect high-quality products and creative user experiences.

The Challenge of Bridging the Gap

To bridge this gap between convenience and quality, “third-wave” specialty coffee shops must evolve their user experience to offer the same level of convenience as drive-thru coffee shops, while maintaining the high quality coffee, creativity, and experience that today’s customers expect. By combining the efficiency and convenience of drive-thru coffee shops with the quality and experience of “third wave” specialty coffee shops, a coffee brand could carve out a new category in the market, capturing the attention of Gen Z, and potentially becoming the next big brand.

Cold drink innovation: 

At many coffee shops, cold drink orders outnumber hot drink orders year round. (Cold drinks are a Gen Z favorite, too.) It’s one of the biggest evolutions in coffee and offers many opportunities for creativity. From flavors to textures, to new cold brew techniques, menus are no longer stuck on the same latte, cappuccino, and Americano. And it’s not just limited to coffee…

Health-beneficial drinks: 

The coffee industry is also seeing a growing demand for health-beneficial drinks. Young Americans, especially Gen Z, are increasingly looking for craft beverages that also offer health benefits, such as teas like matcha, and other non-coffee, or caffeinated drinks. This shift is a departure from the traditional coffee culture that has dominated the industry for so long, and presents an opportunity for coffee shops to diversify their offerings. Tea in particular is growing in popularity and seeing an exciting and innovative surge.

Ready to drink (RTD) coffee: 

On that note, there’s been a huge rise in RTD coffees. It’s something coffee shops can watch, as consumers are finding more ways to enjoy RTD coffees on the road, out and about, and at home. 

Visual appeal:

Another trend that is becoming more important than ever is the visual appeal of beverages. Today it takes more than the 3 most commonly poured latte art designs. For Gen Z, in particular, colorful, visually stunning, and TikTok-worthy beverages are a must-have. This trend is great for the industry. It allows coffee shops to stand out and appeal to the younger generation’s desire for creativity and uniqueness.

Drawing inspiration from outside the coffee industry: 

One of our favorite trends in the current wave of coffee is coffee crossovers: when coffee draws inspiration from other products, industries, or businesses. This is one of the best ways to disrupt an industry and become truly innovative. 

This happens with hybrid coffee shop models (coffee shops that also sell another product, like snow cones, motorcycles, or haircuts.) Or, it happens with products like Cuvee Cold Brew (who drew inspiration for nitro cold brew from his passion for craft beer on tap.) Truly, any element of your brand, user experience, floor plan, or menu doesn’t need to replicate another successful coffee shop. Instead, it could be inspired by your favorite gym, library, software system, comic book, game, or amusement park.  

Coffee shop in Austin, TX

How to thrive in the current coffee culture: 

Now is a great time to learn from all the coffee trends of the past and pave a new way for the future of your coffee shop. Here are some opportunities you should be on the lookout for:  

  • Is there an opportunity for aspiring coffee shop owners to bring the quality and craftsmanship of third wave coffee to the convenience of a stand-alone drive thru? We think so. 
  • Could a new type of RTD coffee give us (better quality) the same convenience of the instant coffee of the 1960s? Yes, it’s already here.  
  • Could a business owner add a coffee program that brings in a totally new revenue stream? Many of you are already doing it. 

And, of course, there may never be a better opportunity than right now to create something completely new and different. 

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