The fourth wave: What’s next in coffee?

Posted by Sextant Coffee on

Fourth Wave Coffee

The coffee industry – just like any other industry – is such that has experienced a series of movements that signaled certain trends and progressions over the years. The popularity of coffee was majorly witnessed in the US. The term – wave – has been used to describe these trends and progressions that have given great insight into the evolution of coffee. It was coined by Timothy Castle, a coffee historian in the early 1900s, which eventually caught on with the coffee industry. The initial exponential growth of coffee translated into the demand for specialty coffee, then the introduction of single-serve coffee machines, and the subsequent fourth wave coffee. Even though we are now about to be taken aboard in the fourth wave coffee, it will be discussed against the backdrop of the previous waves: that is, first wave, second wave, and third wave coffee. The waves center on certain changes such as the sources of coffee beans, mode of growth and harvest, the method of packaging and transportation, and the manner of roasting and treating fresh beans.

First wave coffee could be traced to the early 1900s when companies like Folgers and Maxwell House provided affordable coffee to the masses. Innovations such as instant coffee (that is, home-made coffee) and vacuum packaging (mass availability of fresh coffee over an extended period) that characterized that period made coffee inexpensive and an easy option for people whose desire was to easily make coffee at their homes just with a push of a button. They were not concerned about the source of coffee beans, the type of roast, and the flavor profile. This sacrifice of taste and quality for mass production constituted one of the criticisms against the first wave. No socioeconomic implications existed with the first wave coffee as the major distributors established a mere business partnership with their sources.

The second wave coffee was a reaction against the first wave. Thus, the driving force became specialty coffee, which contributed to the growth in café culture. Consumers desired to take some important variables into consideration: the origin of the kind of coffee they take, the variety, texture, terroir, flavor, and aroma of the coffee bean. They then enjoyed coffee as an experience – not just as a beverage. Thus, it became social. The social view of coffee made coffee shops a destination for people – especially those who hardly took wine – to socialize with both friends and strangers. The wine industry was seen as a great influence for this wave. This wave also saw the introduction of certain vocabularies such as French press, espresso, latte, etc.

The Third Wave coffee was more or less an artisanal approach, emphasizing on the sustainable coffee roasting and brewing methods. A more intense relationship was adopted by the coffee industry with the farmers. It focused more on the complete coffee experience: starting from the farming operations through the roasting process to low- or non-pressurized methods of brewing for more tasting flavors. This was also to achieve industry standards and sustainable practices for the coffee industry. Educational centers where people could easily have access to the knowledge of coffee roasting and brewing were established.

The three waves, dominating North America, revealed the relationship between consumers and the coffee product. They also paved the way for the fourth wave coffee.

Here comes another wave of coffee…

There have been many controversies trailing the current wave of the coffee industry in which we are. While many people have described the current wave as the Fourth Wave coffee, some have referred to it as the New Wave coffee while others view it as elusive. It has been alluded it to another golden age of coffee to be created by the current teeming kids. The fourth wave coffee is projected to witness more commercialization, compared to the first three waves. However, efforts could be made to ensure the coffee industry is focused on localization and people to bring producers into the glare of publicity. We also need to consider climate change and its impact on coffee beans farmers. This will determine our resources and purchasing power. Thus, the fourth wave coffee needs to focus on the strains of coffee that prove resistant to climate change and have long-term sustainability. Not only that, but we might also be heading towards the delivery of coffee to our doorsteps by drones. With all these, a better enjoyment of coffee more than ever is anticipated. Enjoy the current wave of coffee while it lasts.

fourth wave sextant coffee specialty coffee

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