Third Wave Coffee: The New Frontier
Coffee’s transition from a commodity to an experience can be broken down into three waves. During the first wave, daily coffee drinking became widely adopted and therefore more easily accessible to consumers for home brewing; the second wave set the scene for cafe culture; and the third wave is where we are now - a complete redesign of the coffee experience. Second wave coffee set the scene by creating a more educated and impassioned consumer base, laying the framework for coffee to become a delicacy and a luxury.
So what does all this mean? Lately it’s been all about retraining the palate of the average coffee drinker to expect more from the experience. This begins with letting the consumer into the entire process - from farm to mug. Precision seems to be the overarching theme in third wave coffee. Single origin coffee beans have become coveted above blends. The process of developing the perfect cup of coffee starts with where and how the coffee plant is grown - the specific region, light, and soil all change its flavor profile. The roasting process has also become much more precise with small batch roasting gaining popularity lately. With farming and roasting of coffee beans so precise, of course the brewing process would match. From the fine- or coarseness of grind to the exact temperature of the water, every factor makes a difference in the finished product. With all of the specificity and precision that has come along with third wave coffee production, it still has managed to maintain its integrity as an art as well as a science. All of this turns coffee from a passivity into an activity, a commodity into a delicacy, and changes the experience from monotony to one of luxury.
What makes coffee special? Now comes the burning question: why coffee and not something else? Coffee is a daily use product, just like toothpaste or paper towels. But unlike those products, coffee is more than just a commodity. It’s something that consumers feel passionately about. It’s part of a ritual, and each person has their own individual taste in how they prefer to experience this ritual. Also unlike other everyday commodities, there is always a new way to innovate the coffee consumption experience. By changing the method of roasting, brewing, packaging, or serving coffee in seemingly endless combinations, there is always something new to try. It sets the experience apart from other mundane activities of daily life.
Consumer coffee began its first wave by becoming accessible, moved onto its second wave by changing the culture surrounding it, and moved into its third wave by personalizing the experience. There is no way to project exactly where it will go moving forward, but the possibilities are endless. Through all this we learn that there is so much more that goes into our morning cup than simply ground beans. Art, science, passion, history, and integrity have all moved coffee into what we know and love today.