Like most folks, I had a lot of hope going into 2021. I optimistically believed that the end of the pandemic was near and internalized common platitudes of the time: phrases like “nothing can be as bad as 2020,” or “hot vaxxed summer” gave us something to look forward to.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m trying to remain cautiously prudent when I think about 2022. I almost don’t want to say the year “2022” out loud in case I jinx it. But through turmoil and struggle, we must find moments of joy and happiness — and one of the biggest sources of pride for me is how much more connected I feel to my home coffee brewing game.
Most people have been forced to reexamine their relationship with coffee, and have likely built a deeper bond to their morning ritual. Coffee provides a moment of consistency in a weird time, and through it all, there have been incredible moments of innovation, sea changes in the way we think, and simply delightful new products that remind me how capable coffee is of sparking real, positive change.
Here’s just a snippet of what I’m looking forward to in 2022.
1. The Return of Half-Caf
Many of us already know how delicious decaf can be, but caffeine doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing experience. Instead of buying two separate bags of coffee and crafting your own makeshift blend, more and more roasters are exploring half-caf blends, picking two or more coffees to intentionally blend together to create a half-caf coffee that is delicious, sweet, and provides only a moderate buzz.
When I worked as a barista through the 2010s, even talking about decaf or half-caf felt irreverent — phrases like “death before decaf” caught on and a number of stores I worked in either had subpar decaf options or none at all.
I think what excites me about this trend in particular is that it acknowledges the broader spectrum of coffee drinkers and that they deserve to have tasty, delicious coffee — especially because it’s very possible and not too difficult to craft a half-caf or low-caffeine blend for folks. I’ve seen some roasters selling half-caf blends on their websites, and I hope more cafés take this energy into their stores and more places will offer exceptional decaf and half-caf options.
Introducing our first half-caf blend!
Equator 50/50 Half-Caf Blend ($20.60)
2. Continued Transparency
The COVID-19 pandemic means we’ve all relied on social media and digital platforms more than ever. While the endless Zoom meetings are not necessarily a welcome part of my “new normal,” the increased reliance on digital forms of communication has created an infrastructure for farmers and producers to communicate directly with roasters and consumers, using apps like Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram to tell their stories.
This isn’t necessarily a trend ushered in by the pandemic — we recently shared stories from young coffee producers and some discussed how important social media was for their businesses, and many farmers were already using digital platforms to share their experiences and stay connected to their consumers. However, this year has primed folks to seek out more information online and ask bigger questions. Digital platforms have the power to close the gap between producers and consumers and help drinkers understand where their coffee comes from.
3. Digital Events
On a similar note, 2021 showed us that we don’t need to be in person to enjoy coffee together. Many events have shifted to online-only platforms, including Glitter Cat Barista, Leaderboard Coffee, and The Barista League.
Digital events allow people from all over the world to participate in exciting coffee happenings and allows for active engagement without physically having to travel somewhere. Roasters are also hopping on the digital coffee event train, hosting tastings and cuppings through Instagram Lives, creating at-home tasting experiences, and bringing drinkers behind-the-scenes on the journey coffee takes from the roasting machine to the final cup.
4. Signature Drinks
There was a time where I thought the fewer things a coffee shop had on their menu, the better. In 2012, I remember hearing about a coffee shop that would open with no milk or sugar for patrons to add to their coffees — and I remember thinking that was the coolest thing in the world. For a moment in time, I think I believed that for coffee to be truly appreciated, it had to be stripped of anything that could “dilute” it.
A lot has changed since then, including the idea that we don’t have to be so strict about how we drink our coffee. More coffee shops are having fun with their menu offerings, including a proliferation of signature drinks: drinks that go beyond the standard lattes and cappuccinos and use flavors, syrups, and other ingredients to make something incredible.
This has especially been spurred by social media (perhaps you’re noticing a theme) where folks can make videos and reels of their favorite recipes and share them widely with others. This could also be related to the increase in viral TikTok videos and exhaustive Starbucks orders. While I can’t say for certain, there is something really grounding about seeing more fun and exciting signature drinks on shop menus. There’s also lots of room to explore the world of signature beverages at home with homemade syrups and fun add-ins.
5. Coffee Cocktails
Who knew this would be the season the espresso martini would return with a vengeance? Coffee has always been an excellent base for spirit-forward cocktails, but the espresso martini, a relic of ‘90s cocktail culture, decided to roar back into relevancy this summer. Now that specialty coffee has had twenty years to evolve and grow, the modern version of the espresso martini is now tastier than ever.
Espresso martinis are just the beginning for coffee-based cocktails. Coffee pairs well with a variety of spirits, leaving room for a plethora of riffs on old classics or totally new concoctions. Now that specialty coffee is more widespread than it was in the ‘90s, folks are more clued into the nuances of coffee and finding ways to pair it in drinks.
If you want to flex your mixology skills at home, start by reading the flavor notes on the bag and building from there. If you’re enjoying a Brazilian coffee, maybe a drink with chocolate notes could be a smash. Or the aromatic notes of a Ethiopian coffee could be highlighted in a floral gin drink. You can even try building cocktails with brands like Good Vodka, who use cascara discards to make their spirits.
6. Achieving Carbon Neutrality
This may be a heavy prediction to end on, and perhaps this is more of a goal rather than a trend for 2022. Brands have announced their intention of working towards carbon neutrality in the next ten years, and smaller roasters and green importers are finding ways they can make small changes to positively impact the environment.
For a company to set a goal towards carbon neutrality means to balance its actions that emit carbon with its actions that offset emissions. Coffee roasters can do this in a number of ways: contribute to non-profits that plant trees, or look into sustainable packaging, invest in more plant-based milks, or use more energy efficient tools when roasting.
I’m hopeful and excited for what 2022 will offer us coffee lovers and drinkers. If anything, I always find comfort in the first sip I take every morning, and it’s a reminder that no matter what’s happening or changing around us, it’s important to take a moment for ourselves and honor what brings us joy.
Here’s to a year of change, growth, and discovery — and amazing coffee! See you in 2022!