Coffee is an ever changing commodity. From bean to brew, the environment, taste, and appearance of the popular beverage transitions and adapts to the changing market. Roasters and brewers are continually challenged to innovate the classic morning cup of joe to meet the demands of the growing demographic of coffee consumers. The landmark transformations in consumer and market behavior of coffee is often referred to as a coffee wave.
As coffee grew in popularity, the first wave swept through the industry. Think Folgers and Maxwell House as brands associated with this wave. Coffee makers ushered in the commercialization of coffee consumption with the innovation of mass coffee roasting, distribution, and consumer marketing. The popularity of coffee soared with this wave as it became an easily accessible commodity for the consumer.
In an article in Time Magazine, Beth Kowitt writes, “There were many decades when restaurant coffee in the U.S. was almost universally watery and brackish. So when Starbucks stormed the nation in the 1990s with its richer, darker roasts and its lattes, it launched a coffee revolution.” Starbucks interrupted the status quo of the coffee industry. Second wave coffee introduced the world to specialty coffee. Coffee-based drinks such as americano, flat white, macchiato, and the latte became commonplace in the coffee market.
Consumers expected more than the first wave could offer. The first wave focused on the accessibility while the second wave dove deeper into the experience and flavors of the brew. Many of the specialty coffee shops we know today are a result of the second wave.
Currently, the third wave is interrupting the coffee market. Tim Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, in an article in Time Magazine commented on the shift second wave coffee producers (such as Starbucks) would have to make to keep up with the current market trends. Calkins says, ”Starbucks is going to have to figure out how you navigate a market that seems to be becoming a little bit more like beer.”
Consumers are continually raising the bar for brewers, roasters, and coffee distributors. Smaller roasters and distributors are coming onto the scene and making their mark in the coffee industry. In the second wave, specialty coffee-based drinks were in the spotlight. With the third wave, consumers are looking for excellence. Third wave is all about single origin coffee, freshness, roasting techniques and sustainable growing. The consumers more than any other time are interested in where and how their coffee was grown and roasted.
As we learn more about coffee, the demand for better coffee increases. Roasters, baristas, and home brewers are pushed to create a quality product while innovating and creating a distinctly excellent cup of coffee.