Hot Sips from CoffeeCon 2014: 5 Predictions for the Future of Brew

Butter in the cup, China on the brain, and more revelations from Saturday’s hyper-caffeinated convention

CoffeeCon 2014 came to Silver Lake on Saturday, November 8, uniting L.A.’s caffeine connoisseurs with the lovable bean nerds who’ve been fueling coffee’s so-called “third wave.” (Cheat sheet: first wave = Folgers; second wave = Starbucks; third wave = Intelligensia.) Coffee keeps getting more delicious—and more expensive—so we spent seven hours getting jacked up on free java in hopes that we might turn clairvoyant and predict the future of the movement. Instead, we found experts to do that last part for us.

1. We’ll be buttering our roast
Cream and sugar are out with the café cognoscenti, but a newer coffee additive is churning up the scene where hipster meets hippie: butter. We know this sounds inadvisably decadent (and possibly gross) but a scientist told us it’s OK. Lela Buttery—real name—owns Venice Beach café Another Kind of Sunrise, where she applies her background as a biologist to filling mugs with a delightful combo of ghee, coconut oil, and Handlebar brew. The flavor profile is somehow both rich and crisp, and the benefits are real. Those good fats not only provide omegas, but create a “carpool lane for the caffeine,” serving up a more even-keeled, longer-lasting buzz.

2. Our coffeemakers will have Wi-Fi
Your ornately mustachioed neighbor likes to brag about the superiority of his 22-step pour-over, but what if you could hit a button and make a cup as good or better? Quality home coffee gear is making the move from analog to digital and Joe Behm is one of the genius geeks leading the push. His Brazen Plus auto-drip is already smart enough to adjust its temperature depending on your elevation. The next upgrade? Wi-Fi that provides access to batch-specific brew recipes designed to extract the “maximum potential of the bean.” If that sounds fantastical, take note: Bluetooth coffee scales and tablet-toting commercial brewers are already here.

3. China could clean us out
At a panel on the future of the beverage, Klatch Coffee co-owner Heather Perry gave voice to a seemingly common fear: If coffee explodes in the Far East, there may not be enough beans in the world to support humanity’s habit. Nescaféand Starbucks have been spending scads to push their product into what’s traditionally been tea’s territory. Those first- and second-wave interests are finding purchase and fast-tracking the drink’s evolution in populous China, but coffee is already a scarce resource. Coffee critic Kenneth Davids says 70 percent of the global supply comes from small producers. Farming is hard, drought is real, and that scale is steep.

4. Coffee will sell out all over again
Big Java is also interested in domestic business, and hardly blind to the fact that American tastes (and price points) are changing. Perry predicts major corps take a “Two-Buck Chuck” approach as an entré to the specialty coffee market. In other words, in the same way that Trader Joe’s made pretty okay wine accessible by barreling grapes that elite wineries didn’t want, the Nestlés of the world will soon be pumping out better-than-bad coffee product to people who don’t want to pay $7 for an excellent cup. Meanwhile, indies like Blue Bottle and Stumptown are receiving many millions in venture capital to stay ahead of the curve.

5. The Fourth Wave is coming
What does it all mean? These advancements point to a larger trend. We asked Neil Day, a Silicon Valley vet and the founder of the Perfect Coffee home delivery service, what coffee’s potential “fourth wave” would look like and he said this: “It’d be taking the developments of third wave and making them truly pervasive—”which is to say, easy and affordable”—so that whether you’re at home, in the office, or at a restaurant, you can experience quality. Also, not only making great coffee well, but making normal coffee more delicious.” Of course, if the tech fails to rise to the occasion, you can always just throw some butter in your mug.