By Bharat Sethi,
One-seventh of the world, or 1 billion human beings on this planet, love their daily cup of freshly brewed coffee. The saga of the love affair between human beings and coffee beans is centuries old. Many trends have come and gone in this long-standing relationship. These trends have sometimes caused a wave, which has encompassed whole decades and shaped how coffee is consumed.
As an entrepreneur who has devoted a lot of time to understanding this complex conjunction of coffee, culture, and people, I can say that one of the most preferred beverages in the world is still far from its saturation point. I believe that the fourth wave is just around the corner. However, with International Coffee Day approaching, it makes sense to trace the wonderful journey of coffee from being a bean on a tree to being the cup of joy that you sip.
The wave rider: How coffee evolved?
The waves of coffee are focused specifically on how consumers interact with coffee as a consumable good, and that has changed significantly and swiftly with other historical and cultural trends around the world. There have been three distinct “waves of coffee,” or eras, in the coffee segment. Broadly speaking, the first wave covers the rise of ready-to-brew coffee in the 19th century, and the second wave refers to the rise of specialty coffee makers. The third wave of coffee essentially evolved coffee from a beverage that was consumed to a beverage that is appreciated. With that comes a renewed focus on the individual flavor of the coffee bean; a desire to discover the “story” of each bean and enjoy its subtle eccentricities.
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The first wave: The caffeine convenience
The initial spike may be traced back to the early nineteenth century, when individuals began purchasing coffee on a more regular basis after realizing its potential. As a result, business owners in the coffee industry saw a major opening, and their sales increased dramatically. The primary goal of this trend was to normalize coffee as a staple commodity. It was a time when people were more concerned with receiving their “caffeine boost” than they were with the coffee’s quality, origins, or taste. The product’s accessibility and ease of use were the two most important criteria. To me, the first wave was completely unique since it was about establishing coffee as an essential commodity for families, like other condiments like rice and wheat.
According to historical records, coffee was of the lowest grade and was known as “commodity coffee.” Consider Folgers, Maxwell House, Green Mountain Coffee, and other brands with a weak emphasis on quality and source disclosure. According to me, the first wave of coffee does not attempt to persuade you that it is in any way exceptional. In fact, for decades, the majority of people in many industrialized nations were unaware that coffee beans came from a plant. Why? Because first wave coffee tasted like it was produced in a factory, not on a farm. There is no (or very little) indication of the origin nation or farm, no information about how the coffee was prepared, and the emphasis was nearly always on accessibility. Instant coffee and vacuum packaging were introduced in this era.
The second wave: Coffee culture steams into reality
The second wave of coffee was the age where coffee, people, and culture formed a bond. It won’t be wrong to say that this wave was one of the reasons why we stereotype and picture a CEO or an employee in a commercial backdrop with a laptop and a coffee holder by his/her side. The second wave was ushered in when global coffee chains rapidly expanded and attained a larger share of the coffee market. This trend started mostly because customers began to value coffee more and, as a result, wanted to taste its higher properties and discover the origins of their coffees. Such elaborate coffee stations successfully grasped and explored the market’s need for a “unique” experience. People wanted a fancier atmosphere with a much higher grade of coffee. As a result, coffee shops started to become more than just places to get a quick caffeine fix. They became places where people could meet and talk.
For contemporary coffee-based brands and entrepreneurs like me, this wave was the one that enabled us in the contemporary age to open profitable businesses. This happened as the second wave was the turning point where coffee was commercialized and brands collided to be crowned as consumers’ preference. Coffee shops were designed for social gatherings, and there was an increase in the price of coffee, which people were willing to pay for the quality they got. In order to appeal to a broader audience than simply adults, coffee shops began to produce additional coffee-based beverages, such as Frappuccino’s and other creations.
The third wave: The renaissance of coffee
The third wave of coffee is all about its renaissance. The established essence of coffee was a common commodity in the first wave, and then the coffee culture that encompassed us in the second wave, and the third wave brought unique changes too. Today, we are a part of a new generation of coffee drinkers who are considerably more discerning than our predecessors are. Just like wine culture, coffee has started to have connoisseurs. To be honest, it’s tough to pin down the characteristics of a particular era when you’re living in the thick of it, but the third wave of coffee is generally agreed upon to be one in which farmers and consumers alike paid even closer attention to aspects like sustainable farming techniques, ethical sourcing, ethical processing, and the social and environmental effects of coffee production. Put in simpler terms, third-wave coffee is characterized by its higher quality, more immediate sales, and stronger commitment to sustainability, lighter roast flavors, and revolutionary brewing processes. In our coffee, we pursue a sweet aftertaste, distinctive flavors, and a unique character. Customers have no problem paying the premium for this.
Vantage View: On the verge of a fourth wave
The origins and nuanced features of coffee beans have never been more significant, and many coffee businesses are becoming inventive about how they show them off. Many entrepreneurs today are leveraging the power of e-commerce and enhancing characteristics within their physical stores to create never-seen-before experiences. The fourth wave is all about people—the producers and the roasters—and their experiments to create complex coffee with layers of flavors.
The fourth wave of coffee will be distinct for various markets. In India, the coffee drinkers can be divided into two segments: The first segment is for drinkers who have an imperative routine to get a necessary kick of caffeine in their systems. They prefer coffee and the associated sociable culture that creates connections and conversations. The other category of drinkers includes connoisseurs who try to delve into the intricate details of the science behind the coffee beans. They try to explore the characteristics like plant-based coffee or the beans’ being 100% Arabica, Robusta, etc. Caffeine innovation brands that are capable of altering the modern day coffee culture and are bold enough to bring in something new for both the casual drinkers and the connoisseurs will be the leaders of the market when the fourth wave settles itself.
(The author is Founder & CEO, Rage Coffee. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)