ABOUT 15 YEARS AGO, a handful of small-time roasters set out to revolutionize their industry by approaching a cup of coffee with a chef’s reverence for ingredients and a bartender’s flair for presentation. They pioneered a direct-trade system, sourcing beans straight from farms around the world. Thanks to their efforts, America fell in love with flavorful, fragrant single-origin coffees and expertly crafted cappuccinos made with milk so creamy and sweet that sugar became unnecessary.
Those once-scrappy roasters—Blue Bottle,Counter Culture, Intelligentsia and Stumptown—have now grown from regional companies with cult followings to national players with global profiles. In 2014, Google Ventures, Morgan Stanley and other investors raised $26 million for Blue Bottle. When the company opened in Tokyo earlier this year, there was a three-hour, Apple Store–like wait to get in the door. Stumptown, meanwhile, is now sold at the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers.
But as these purveyors grow into mature, influential organizations, the next class of innovators is surfacing. Populated by veterans of those first pioneering brands, this new guard isn’t reinventing coffee so much as continuing a transformation already underway. Small, creative and hyperlocal, they’re sourcing even more adventurously and sustainably, importing the best beans from the farthest corners of the earth. And they’re opening in ever-smaller cities, turning America’s long-brewing revolution into a full-blown indie coffee diaspora.