The Waves — Part 2

The third wave and specialty coffee

The third wave is closely associated with specialty coffee, although the latter predates it by 20 years. Specialty coffee is a concept coined by Emma Knutsen in 1974. There is also talk of gourmet coffee, a high-quality coffee that is distinguished from standard coffees treated as commodities.

The fourth wave: science, inclusivity or scale?

With the fourth wave begins the controversy in the analysis of trends in the coffee industry with the focus on waves. Does it exist? And if there is, what is it? The fourth wave, if it exists, is still developing and it is difficult to define the characteristics of a process that has not crystallized well yet. There are different versions of what the fourth wave is, which have in common to overcome the disadvantages of the third wave.

Fourth wave 1

According to some analysts, the fourth wave is defined by a more scientific and less romantic approach. The aim is to understand in greater depth the different processes that coffee goes through from production to consumption and to measure and control them. The hours of fermentation, with or without oxygen, how it influences the cup profile. Analyse the chemical composition of coffee, how acidity, aroma, flavour, etc. differ. State-of-the-art technology in roasting, software to control roasting in detail and synchronize remote roasting between supplier and roaster. Recyclable and biodegradable packaging to reduce the environmental footprint. COVID-19, with the closure of many businesses and the boom in online sales, is accelerating the development of this new wave.

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Fourth wave 2

A very different analysis of what is being developed in the fourth wave is the focus on inclusiveness. If the third wave is dominated by a limited group of privileged people, the fourth wave wants to make the world of good coffee accessible to everyone, from the producer to the consumer, and all the professionals involved in the process, regardless of origin, race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Fourth wave 3

A third analysis of what is unfolding with the fourth wave emphasizes another weakness of the third wave: lack of scale. If you want to transform the industry, create a solution for millions of producers and workers, and reach millions of consumers, so that they change their attitude towards coffee, some economy of scale is needed.

The fifth wave: excellence

On the fourth wave there is no consensus if it exists and what it is, but Allegra World Coffee Portal has already launched the fifth wave concept, which looks a bit like a fusion of the first and third versions of the fourth wave and combines elements of the other waves.

The waves and the future

The analysis of trends in the coffee industry using the concept of waves has its value, but also its limitations. To begin with, it applies to the Western world and particularly the United States, it is not necessarily representative for the rest of the world. Then, the analysis has a bias towards coffee shops, since the second wave, while the largest amount of coffee is consumed at home.

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