Have we reached the next wave of coffee?

Blog Plost #7

The coffee industry loves to talk about which wave we are approaching next. I think this is because it’s growing at such a rapid pace that industry experts are trying to rationalise the growth and understand where is worth investing. Whilst food and alcohol has been around forever, along with the cultures that support it, coffee is relatively new. Namely, as an industry.

For me, the coffee industry in the UK really started in 1998, when Starbucks opened its first store in London. This is called the second wave of coffee. When coffee shop chains started popping up, people started to consider quality in coffee. Starbucks made a home away from home, and added romanticism to a niche and mostly horrible drink. Coffee then had a lifestyle and enjoyment aspect to it. The beginning of a culture.

About 10 years later, the third wave came. Artisan. One of my least favourite industry buzzwords. Coffee was roasted in small batches with much more care. An antipodean approach to preparing coffee was adopted. Enter lighter roasts and the flat white. This is what got both me, and lots of other people, excited about coffee. Consumers started to define themselves on how they drank coffee.

This transitioned into the fourth wave of coffee. The science of coffee. It’s a pretty boring, but essential progression. Coffee aficionados became experts. TDS became common knowledge with baristas. Cafés and roasteries resembled chemistry labs. And it was all in the name of making tastier coffee. This wave pushed me into competing, and lifted the general standard of coffee massively. In my eyes, it also made the gap between consumer and barista bigger and made the average coffee lover disenchanted with the industry.

I think other people recognised this, took advantage and created the fifth wave of coffee. By taking the science of coffee, and making it more accessible. The aim of the science in coffee is to make a nicer cup, this doesn’t need to be non-inclusive, despite how some experts might make you think otherwise. Companies like Notes and Caravan took what they could from all of the previous waves to create a coffee culture like no other. Excellent coffee in a considered environment. For me, this has been the most refreshing wave in coffee, because it has reintroduced emotion into the drink.

Now where do we go if coffee culture seems perfected? The fifth wave showed us, there’s more to the coffee experience than the coffee itself, the environment you drink it in is arguably as important. I would rather drink an average coffee in comfort than necking a Panama Geisha on a rush hour tube. The pleasure of drinking coffee and the environment we’re in is part of the bigger picture of why we are drinking the coffee. Why did we start drinking coffee in the first place? My favourite coffee is when I most need one. Because of the way coffee makes me feel.

I think the next wave is the purpose of coffee. Wine culture is so rich not purely because of the process of how it’s made, it’s also because of how it makes us feel, and the memorable (or not so memorable) times we’ve had drinking it. On that note, I also feel it’s irresponsible for alcohol companies to not recognise that their product is a drug. Coffee makes us caffeinated. How are coffee companies not talking more about this?! I am in love and addicted to coffee, predominantly for how it makes me feel. Whilst I am hugely passionate about the coffee itself, my true love for coffee is found in its use and its effect. Coffee makes us focussed, dynamic and energetic. Characteristics that enable productivity and creativity. I think this is true coffee culture. The satisfying, incomparable effect coffee has. We want to champion what coffee helps create, not simply how the coffee is created.