By now, you have probably heard the term "third wave coffee," but did you really understand what does it mean? Learn more what is it all about and how each coffee wave can be explained.
The "waves" terminology is given to a product/service when it is sold in a different way from what we were familiar with. The market amplifies the quality of the newly developed/modified product as well as ensures that it can reach as many groups of people. Waves are focusing on products to be more than just a commodity.
The different coffee waves consider the coffee to be part of an artisanal food community, just like wine. The different waves are focused on improving the coffee, the way it is served, and the overall education around it. As the waves have progressed over the years, there was an improvement to the overall taste and quality of the coffee in each phase, whether it was mild or drastic change.
FIRST WAVE: GROWING COFFEE CONSUMPTION
The first wave revolves around the increasing popularity of coffee from a commodity to a must have home staple. In this phase, coffee entrepreneurs wanted to make sure that every home across the globe had easily accessible coffee. Mainly focusing on convenience, ease of use and affordable mass production.
Originally, mass producers were more focused on having coffee enter every home rather than they were concerned about the actual taste and quality of the coffee. The ‘First Wavers’ were profit-driven and constantly looking for new ways to increase consumption, while saving on cost. This was also the time when traditional instant coffee brands were most popular and loved. Now we know that most of their products are made from inferior Robusta beans roasted in huge spray dried batches. This production method saves them money, but sacrifices taste and quality. In today's time, instant coffee is yet again increasing in popularity, while consumers looking for third wave (explanation next) criteria in instant coffee as well. This is also the reason for the rise in new instant coffee startups, such as Waka Coffee.
SECOND WAVE: ENJOYING SPECIALTY COFFEE
If in the first wave people were buying coffee because they needed it fast, in the second wave all what people wanted is to take it as slowly as possible. The second wave brings in more of the coffee-to-cup experience, allowing consumers to learn about the coffee origins and the different roasting styles.
This was also the time when “latte,” “espresso,” and “barista” got into our everyday-life vocabulary. The second wave represents the birth of the espresso bars and large coffee shops we are so familiar with nowadays. It is when coffee became cool and trendy as it was branded more as an upscale product, with big big emphasis on the overall coffee experience.
THIRD WAVE: CRAFT AND SPECIALITY COFFEE
This is when coffee became known as part of the artisanal food world. This wave represents the movement of producing only high-quality coffee with transparency into the entire coffee supply chain and processing. It showcases the coffee culture in a similar way as wine, chocolate, or traditional tea making.
This wave causes others to appreciate the individual tastes, aromas, and flavors of the coffee and puts great emphasis on the story and origin of the beans. It is also when new criteria and flavors were emerged in the coffee industry, such as light roast coffees, non-blended coffees, direct-trade coffee, and visual aesthetics -- aka latte art.
FOURTH WAVE: TECHNOLOGY AND COFFEE INNOVATION?
Officially, the fourth wave has not begun yet, but coffee experts are already trying to guess what will it be about?
Some coffee connoisseurs think they have a general idea for what the coffee industry will be in the next decade or so. One assumption is that it will be all about e-commerce, direct to consumer coffee and how technology and coffee interchange.
According to a 2017 Statista report, only 15% of coffee purchases were done online, compared to 73% in grocery stores. There is no doubt that more and more coffee orders will be generated online, which will result in more product innovation in the coffee industry to fit the new e-commerce advantages.
Technology will also play a big role in the new coffee wave. Coffee ordering apps are already huge, but as usage increases so the things we will be able to do with those apps. Perhaps skipping the coffee shop and ordering fresh latte at home? Technology will also expand what we can do with coffee. CBD coffee, spiked coffee and nitro coffee are only the beginning.
What do you thing could be the fourth wave of coffee?