Consumer Coffee, it's History and the Rise of Specialty Coffee July 15, 2017 12:08



Coffee Tides: The four waves of Coffee defined

First wave of coffee

The first wave of coffee describes the post war boom in the consumption of brewed/drip coffee. Coffee was part of breakfast, lunch and dinner and as such reached levels of consumption that are higher than per capita consumption even today.

Second wave of coffee

Second wave could be aptly described as the Starbucks era, when North America was formally introduced to Italian espressos and cappuccinos. Soon other espresso based drinks like lattes, mochas, americanos, and the infamous caramel Macchiato also became part of the North American consumer lexicon, along with Tall, Grande, Vente and half-caf.

Third wave of coffee

Third wave or Artisan Coffee is one of the fastest growing segments in the coffee industry. It takes coffee beyond the green mermaid. Whether you think of it as the fine dining equivalent for coffee, or just passion in a cup, the energy that these young professionals show is inspiring. Third wave is a completely new approach to coffee that is obsessed with quality and freshness.

At the heart of third wave is a full-on frontal attack on the myths of coffee that previous waves built their business models on. Dismissed as a fad in the early years, the fact that third wave is still going strong after 15 years is a testament to the trending growth we witness today. The demographic is young, vibrant, tech savvy, social media addicted, foodie, fine spirits drinking, expensive bike riding, trendy but not too trendy, sophisticated, early adopter, street-wise consumer.

And that’s just the baristas.

Their customers are connoisseurs of the fine things in life, and they think carefully where they will spend their caffeine quotient for the day. In other words, quality counts, and coffee is more than just self medication, it’s a chance to savour and imbibe. For these consumers, what is actually in the cup is more important than the logo outside the cup.

Two and a half wave of coffee

In recent years we have seen the rise of two and a half wave. This wave looks and smells like third wave, but once you scratch beneath the surface, we realize that it is posing to be 3rd wave. Positioned between 2nd and 3rd wave, it is often the businesses with the most money to invest, pretending to be quality and posing as 3rd wave.

The posture is to have the look, feel and terminology of 3rd wave, but sorely lack in the quality and freshness of coffee and foods. The irony is, it often takes more money and effort to pretend to be good, rather than just being good.

Fourth wave of coffee

At the zenith of our coffee triangle is the 4th wave of coffee. In essence, this wave, some would argue, has almost a cult like following, where everything is about being fourth wave, and things like customer service, convenience, efficiency, cleanliness, and just simple politeness, are sacrificed in the pursuit of a purist ideal. So even if tiny countertop menus slow service, or are impossible for an aging population to read, the fourth waver would ignore all this, in the pursuit of some idealistic aesthetic.

Which wave of coffee do you drink? Did you progress through the waves or jump to single-origin espresso as your first-ever coffee drink?

Or, are you like the rest of us mere mortals…starting with a cream and sugar drip coffee and progressing through mocha, cappuccinos and the acidic single-origin espresso?

Let us know in the comments section below!