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Catching the next wave of coffee - the waves of coffee explained

Similar to many parts of our everyday lives, things tend to come in stages, iterations or waves. Stages in a relationship, the iterations of smartphones and versions of a software. The same can be said about the development of coffee throughout time. Since the first time it was brewed in the 15th century, coffee has developed exponentially. Becoming the second most traded commodity in the world only after crude oil, coffee has not only developed into an entire industry, but has also become an inseparable part of today’s world economy. In the coffee community we tend to call these development periods as coffee waves, allowing for a clear distinction of when one wave crashes and the next begins to form. In this article we will discuss these waves, what they include, what sort of innovations took place, how they are different from one another and which wave Hiroia belongs to.

1st wave of coffee

This is when coffee became a commodity. The transition started to take place during the 1800s when coffee was beginning to be consumed by the masses. It transitioned from being a high class luxury to a middle class commodity. During this time the focus on the coffee was not in its quality or sourcing, but rather its price and accessibility. During this wave, coffee could usually be found in pre-ground packages on the shelves of supermarkets, diners, donut shops and in the houses of middle class households.

Large players in the coffee industry at this point included Folgers coffee, Maxwell House and others that decided to jump early onto the coffee train. They weren't concerned about the taste, as no one knew what coffee could become. It would usually be black and bitter, therefore it would be served with milk and sugar to balance out the flavor, and was brewed with the sole purpose of giving you a kick to wake up.

With the first wave of coffee came innovations such as instant coffee and vacuum packaging. As the name suggests, instant coffee was invented for something quicker and easier to brew while vacuum packaging “insured” the freshness of the coffee for a longer shelf life. These would make it easier to promote coffee to a wider audience, thus increasing consumption.

2nd wave of coffee

When discussing the second wave of coffee, we can just take a look at the history of Starbucks and what they had done during their initial growth. Around the 1970s when Starbucks first started gaining popularity, they introduced a new concept of combining the act of drinking coffee and where the act would take place. The “Third Space” concept was born, allowing people to drink their coffee at a different location outside of their homes or workplaces.

Coffee became more than just caffeine. It started to interest people in regards to origin and the variety of flavorful beverages coffee can be a part of. This included syrups and flavorings combined with espresso shots to create a new variety of “Specialty Coffee” beverages people never experienced before. Again, much like the preceding wave, the focus was not the quality of coffee as much as the experience it provided.
However, the difference between the first and second waves was the ability to enjoy coffee in a new environment. This innovative idea began the spread of cafes and coffee shops, offering customers a great coffee experience. Not focusing on the coffee profile necessarily but rather including coffee in the beverages being consumed. This prompted the use of Italian terms for coffee such as espresso, barista and decaf into the lexicon of coffee aficionados. These innovations still play a large role in today’s coffee culture.

3rd wave of coffee

First coined in 2002 by Trish Rothgeb in the Roasters Guild publication, Rothgeb mentioned “The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee.” This is when coffee lovers started shifting their focus from the experience of coffee to the actual coffee.

Across the entire supply chain, coffee started to share more similarities with wine. From the growing process of the beans to the taste in the cup, all the links of the chain underwent a transition. Things that weren’t previously discussed such as origin, roast level, fair trade, transparency, and brewing methods started taking the spotlight. Coffee lovers wanted to experiment with the beverage they were consuming, adjusting whatever they could to dial in their “perfect” cup. This led to a rise in coffee competitions, international coffee exhibitions and coffee communities being built with the sole purpose of discussing and developing the community they belong to.

Throughout the past two decades there have been a plethora of developments in the coffee industry, too many to count. Most of the significant innovations that can be attributed to the third wave of coffee are the transparency of coffee sourcing, single source beans, specific coffee profiles and notes, lighter roasts profiles, latte art and manual brewing such as pour over and French press.

4th wave of coffee

We are now on the brink of a new coffee wave, although some say it has already begun. Going into this new wave of coffee, we find ourselves curious about what it entails. In the past, every wave has had a major influence on the way we view and consume coffee.

In this new wave we can expect to see many exciting innovations such as IoT powered coffee ecosystems, the elimination of wasteful processes, and even augmented reality café environments to enjoy from the comfort of your home. The aforementioned developments have more to do with the coffee experience rather than the coffee itself, much like the preceding waves before it. Accuracy and precision play key roles in brewing coffee, water chemistry and ingredients become crucial elements in further developing coffee culture.

Here at Hiroia, we pride ourselves on belonging to this upcoming wave of coffee. With a role model like Hario, one of the key players in the 3rd wave of coffee, we have big shoes to fill. We develop powerful tools that can help expand the range of coffee profiles and gain a deeper understanding of the black bean juice we’ve all come to love. Tools like our Jimmy smart coffee scale and Samantha auto pour over coffee maker utilize the latest in IoT technology to increase the efficiency and productivity of coffee professionals. Through consistency and connectivity we are able to better understand the components that can create the perfect cup.


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