UPDATED: Mon 13th Jan, 2020. We have updated this post, introducing Bread Ahead, The Invigatorium and Roasting Plant.


There are only a few things better than good, fresh coffee and most of them are inappropriate to mention here.

From fuelling the hungover workforces of Peckham’s workshops, galleries and trendy independents, to satiating the caffeine-hungry, pastry-obsessed customers of the Middle East, to the image-conscious, health-focussed Gen Z of Seoul fashion elite, coffee has taken over the world.

The most recent research from Project Café UK 2018 (data from the Allegra World Coffee Portal) says that the £9.6bn UK coffee shop market grew by 7.3% in turnover during 2017, making it one of the UK’s strongest performing sectors. This is partly driven by an expansion in the number of total coffee shops, adding 1,215 stores over the last 12 months to reach 24,061, representing 5.3% growth.

Whether you’re a graphic or interior designer looking for inspiration for your next café safari, or you’re part of a new or existing café brand trying to build something competitive for 2020 and beyond, here are some ideas.

Bread Ahead

Break Ahead started as a bakery and bakery school in 2013 in Borough Market, and has since expanded to other sites across London. The new flagship at Wembley Park is excellent.

Bread Ahead, Wembley. Image courtesy of The Nudge.

Home to the first Bread Ahead restaurant, this new iteration of the concept is a combination of a coffee shop, restaurant, and bread school (located on the overhead mezzanine). This mixing of features and functions makes Bread Ahead at Wembley special. It’s also quite beautiful, balancing a natural material pallet and airy, bright atmosphere with the occasional luxurious flourish.

The Invigatorium

Located in San Diego, this new coffee concept from the beer brewers and coffee roasters at Modern Times is a reaction to the minimalist tendencies in restaurant and coffee shop design of modern times. The centrepiece has to be the life-size velociraptor stood glaring down over the row of tap handles.

The Invigatorium, San Diago. Image courtesy of Daily Coffee News.

A brightly coloured floor-to-ceiling pixel art wall featuring Godzilla injects the space with vibrancy, and the many decorative elements build the coffee shop into a playful, immersive environment that is fun and full of flair. Overall, there’s a general speakeasy tiki bar vibe, with bamboo bar and tropical greenery. It’s over the top in all the best ways, and demonstrates that there are always distinct design options available when you’re considering how to create/evolve your concept.

Roasting Plant

This is a NYC-founded coffee roasting business that has set out to create the best tasting cup of coffee. Their USP is Javabot, an immersive roastery-café experience where the customer selects their bean and hits “GO”, where the beans are funnelled automatically into a grinder, and the output of which is then funnelled on to the brewing station.

Roasting Plant, London Bridge. Image Courtesy of Kinnersley Kent Design.

The London Bridge store is exceptionally well-executed, and the theatre created by turning what is usually an automatic, thoughtless experience, and turning it into a something that requires a thoughtful human interaction is effective. It’s a multisensory experience, too, as the sound of beans passing from their initial container, up through the ceiling and off to be ground up, is quite the thrill.

Omotesando Koffee

Omotesando is not just your average, pretty, independent coffee shop. Conceptually, it takes its dues from the Oriental tea houses of Japan, providing a one-on-one coffee experience for true connoisseurs who want to explore the relationship between the bean, the barista and the final consumption to the maximum.

Omotesando Koffee

It achieves this through an aesthetic that is considered and bold, taking Japanese minimalism to the next degree, with cubic counter and a wooden, natural interior.

Omotesando Koffee bar

Dressed in a lab coat, Kunitomo is the barista offering his customers “Ichigo Ichie” (Once in a lifetime). The idea is that “This one cup, for this one person, might be the last coffee they ever drink,” explains Kunitomo. “So we want to make the best coffee we can for that particular person every time. Each moment is important, and we might never meet that customer again.”

Omotesando Koffee poor

Barista and customer interact face to face, sharing in this once in a lifetime experience.

TSP737, Seoul, South Korea

Twosome place is a coffeehouse chain in S Korea with over 500 stores. Recently, they have launched an upscale premium espresso stand called TSP 737 and it seems to be going down to critical acclaim.

Twosome Place 737 espresso

Specifically designed for serious coffee drinkers, TSP 737 allows costumers to pair espresso-based ranges of four coffee categories:

  • Espresso Black: Black espresso
  • Espresso White: Espresso + milk
  • Espresso Fun: Espresso + sesame milk/ nutty chocolate/ lemon juice/ Vegan oat milk etc.
  • Espresso Booze: Espresso + martini, whisky, British ale…

Coffees are ordered using a selection of coloured cards that help to describe the correct coffee configuration, emphasising personalisation. In addition, coffee-making products can be purchased, and there is an environmental twist, as products take advantage of waste coffee.

Aesthetically, the store has a remarkably clean, ultra-modern look, perhaps in stark contrast to many Western coffee shops, which tend to fetishize natural, organic materials and soft furnishings.

Inspired by European town squares, Creative Spatial Designer, Jonghwan Baek, WGNB, says We got the motif from the square of Europe, which is the center of the city and the everyday passage of many people. We want you to feel another small square in the square. The narrow bar, which you can meet when you enter the store, becomes a square in the square where you choose coffee, make coffee, read books, listen to music or talk to each other.

Baek continues, “Inspired by the elements of the plaza, such as clock towers, streetlights, and columns, we used various objects such as lights and chairs and people walk inside and outside like the plaza and take a lively rest.”

Twosome Place 737 glassware

Here, the brand takes inspiration from the periodic table of elements, with signage minimally designed in elemental fashion, and glassware given the appearance of scientific measuring beakers. In terms of the exterior, its transparent glass façade is gently lit to create a theatrical atmosphere, and the muted red that runs throughout the store spills out onto the street, guiding the customer towards a low central bar where the baristas take centre stage, and the coffee-making process is observed by eager customers.

Twosome place 737

The new era of coffee

Both of these projects demonstrate a growing international trend in coffee towards brands—new and established—producing more individualised, specialised coffee offerings that provide more than a casual place to have a drink, do some work or have a social encounter.

Instead, they provide tailored experiences for customers who want to be educated and entertained.

According to Kyung Mi Kong, Designer at CADA Design, “coffee is a tool that enables us to enjoy a small luxury through our all five of our senses.” She continues, good coffee shops “aren’t just about the singular. They’re about the holistic journey from the taste qualities of the coffee, the method of presentation, the storytelling, staff interaction, the sounds, the textures, etc.” Continuing, she says that honesty in presentation is crucial for a long-lasting concept: “places with an authentic and clear direction seem to last longer.”

This is echoed by Nathalie Vanderiet, fellow Interior Designer at CADA, who says that increasingly, “from an interiors point of view, I think there is no set formula for coffee shops to be successful. But something the popular ones seem to have in common is a sense of honesty. And that goes from the packaging all the way to the interior and the furniture.” Vanderiet explains.

According to Kong, honesty is the most important ingredient: “Today’s customers already have a high awareness and understanding of good and bad brands.” She says “if the brand’s core values are at the centre of their offering, customers will empathise, become loyal and return again and again. As a result, the core value must be explicit and central, so that other design and experiential elements can follow consistently.”

So, take heed, coffee heads. Coffee shop designers around the world, if you’d like some help from the experts, our coffee shop designers have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Get in touch with us today to see if we can help turn your next project into a reality.

Follow Nathalie on insta: @msmeticulicious

Follow Kyung Mi on insta: @weslykm

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