Gen Z has a distinct desire to learn about coffee bean production and the supply chain. They want to know the details, and translate this knowledge into brewing quality coffee at home.
This new focus on artisanal coffee has seen established brands broaden consumer palates by educating them about terroir, growing altitude and bean variety.
The First Wave
The first wave happened 1900 when coffee became popularized in America en masse. Big companies like Folgers and Maxwell House made coffee for the masses and people enjoyed it – despite the fact that it was pretty mediocre by today’s standards. Coffee shops were mostly places where people could relax and chat. They also acted as a social gathering place for artists and musicians. They were called coffeehouses and people gathered there to discuss ideas and politics just as they had done in Europe back in the 1700’s. This first wave helped make coffee an everyday drink and a staple in the American diet.
The second wave started around the 1970’s as people began to appreciate coffee more and wanted more than just a regular cup of coffee. They wanted to taste different qualities and learn about the coffee beans’ origins. Local artisan roasters emerged to meet this growing demand and many coffeeshops became more than just a place to grab a quick cup of joe. These coffeeshops were often a gathering place for the community and the staff members provided a superior customer experience.
A rift started to grow between the large coffee corporations and the small local artisan coffee shops that offered up a different kind of brew. This rift was also due to the fact that the larger companies were selling prepackaged cups of coffee that were more convenient and cheaper to produce than a freshly brewed cup. This brew was known as the “to-go” cup and it caused a lot of controversy within the industry.
Many artisanal coffeeshops grew to have a French flavor and vibe inspired by their homeland and marketed themselves as being a place where you can enjoy a delicious, high quality cup of Joe in a relaxing atmosphere. The menus at these cafes included a wide variety of different coffee drinks and the staff would pour each cup of java with a lot of care. The coffeehouses also offered customers a selection of artisan breads and pastries that they could purchase and take home with them.
The Second Wave
The second wave of artisan coffee culture began to emerge in the late 1960’s. This era was marked by the birth of Peet’s Coffee and other new cafes that opened around the United States. These establishments introduced consumers to a wider variety of coffee-based drinks, including espresso beverages and French press coffee. Rather than the first wave’s focus on convenience, the second wave aimed to make coffee more of an experience.
Coffee beans were sourced more ethically and roasted in small batches to preserve their flavor and unique qualities. Unique brewing techniques were also introduced to enhance the coffee drinking experience. This era of coffee-based culture was also characterized by an increased emphasis on customer service and the development of a strong sense of community in these new coffee shops.
In the early-to-late 2000s, a rift in coffee’s second wave emerged between large corporate coffee companies and small local coffee businesses. These local entrepreneurs viewed themselves as “artisans” of their craft and wanted to maintain their connection with the consumer. This led to the creation of specialty coffee shop chains that offer a more diverse selection of coffee-based drinks and products.
These coffee shops aimed to differentiate themselves from the “big guys” through marketing tactics such as seasonal flavors, competitions like barista championships, and social media strategies that allow customers to find their tribe. Consumers in this era are not just looking for a cup of joe, but an experience that is unique to their local coffee shops and roasteries.
The third wave of artisanal coffee focuses on sustainability, fair trade, and direct-to-consumer relationships. This era of coffee is also concerned with the impact that the coffee industry has on its workers and the environment. It is not uncommon for third-wave coffee to be sourced from small growing regions that may not have the resources and infrastructure to supply larger corporate coffee companies. This enables the third-wave coffee entrepreneur to connect directly with the farmers and workers, providing an opportunity to improve living conditions and promote sustainability within the coffee industry.
The Third Wave
In this phase, coffee shops started to focus more on the quality of the product. They wanted to make a difference and offer people something that they would pay extra for, just like other high-end products. This meant changing how the coffee was prepared, making it more of a ritual that people could enjoy and a lot of experimentation in roasting styles. Singapore roasters you should look out for are listed in the link attached, so check it out!
At this point, the idea of artisanal coffee had become more than just about a drink, but also about an experience that people would want to share with friends and family. This is what led to the rise of café culture in Europe, where it was common to see people chatting together while enjoying their cup of coffee.
Unlike the big global coffee enterprises that came before, which focused on branding and expansion, these new shops put a large emphasis on the sourcing of their beans and the brewing methods used to prepare them. This meant that they were able to find the best and most unique coffees to sell, which boosted their popularity.
This also led to a greater focus on sustainability and responsibility in the industry, with some cafes only using coffee that has been Fairtrade or Rain Forest Alliance certified. Others use environmentally planting methods such as shade grown or bird friendly to ensure that their supply chain is responsible and ethical.
Another aspect that distinguishes third wave coffee is the emergence of more artisanal roasting techniques and practices, which helps to further enhance the flavour of their beans. The goal is to get the full range of aromas and flavours that are possible from the beans in a cup of coffee.
In addition to the coffee brewed itself, third wave coffee shops also now offer a range of different accessories that can be used to prepare it. This includes things such as cold brew systems, cafetieres and pour over coffee makers.
While the first and second waves made coffee accessible for the masses, the third wave pushed the marketing aside to let the coffee shine on its own. For many people, this has been an enjoyable journey as they have learned more about their coffee and where it comes from.
The Fourth Wave
For the first time in the history of coffee, consumers began to place a premium on the coffee itself. Small businesses and the farmers that stewarded their beans gained in value as consumers became more aware of the artisanal nature of their beverage. The second wave paved the way for third wave coffee to make its mark, as companies like Stumptown and Intelligentsia grew in popularity and established themselves as leaders of the movement. These companies made a name for themselves by focusing on the origin and production of their beverages, and they provided transparency to their customers. The third wave also saw the rise of fair trade practices and increased awareness of environmental impact.
With the rise of fourth wave coffee, consumers are demanding greater access to information about the region, terroir, and science behind coffee production. They expect to see this information on packaging and demand that their coffee companies source sustainable ingredients. However, Matthew believes that the fourth wave is more than just about the science of coffee and sustainability. He says that it is also about “commercialising specialty” by bringing coffee to a wider market.
This would include a larger range of coffee-related products, such as brewing equipment and cold brew drinks. It also includes coffee-related services, such as coffee tastings, barista training, and cupping events. Ultimately, this fourth wave could change the Western relationship with coffee. It may also bring about a shift in values towards coffee, such as connoisseurship or a pursuit of the “best” coffee.
While using waves to describe trends in the coffee industry has its merits, it is important to remember that it is always up to consumers to drive any wave to its full potential. As a consumer, you can play a role in the fourth wave by supporting the initiatives of the small business and farmers that are leading it. You can support the movement by purchasing coffee from sustainable sources, requesting that your favourite shops serve it, and visiting coffee farms. By doing so, you can help bring about a true craft coffee culture that benefits everyone involved in the process.