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Food, Health & Fitness

COFFEE 101: WAVES IN A CUP OF INNOVATION

“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity — not a threat.” Steve Jobs

For something to survive and stand the test of time, constant innovation is necessary—regardless of whether it’s done intentionally or not. One thing that’s constant about human desire is that it changes. There is a shelf life for how long a product, a service, or an item can satisfy us. The same can be said about coffee. With the changes in the often demanding human requirements to experience things, it has to adapt, ride the waves, and go beyond the conventions of coffee experience.

A wave of coffee is a period in which specific characteristics are defined, and monumental changes are realized. A wave of coffee marks the start and the end of a season, usually influenced by product demand and persistent changes in consumer preferences.

Commodity coffee. The first wave

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When coffee became widely accessible in the 1800s, quality was not the main reason why people consumed it. Like in any product, service, or offering, access is the first thing we look into. This marked the first wave of coffee. It was all about consumer access. Though coffee is not for everyone, when it clicks, it sticks with you for as long as you can consume it.

The first wave of coffee is considered the lowest in terms of quality. It simply is not its primary focus; accessibility is. Coffee consumption grew exponentially despite some calling it an odd-tasting beverage. Not to mention that it happened when consumers were experiencing a change in their eating habits, thanks to the commodification of sugar in 1710 – 1770 CE. It didn’t take long for coffee to become one of the most globally traded commodities. In 2022, it surpassed sugar (8th) as the 7th most-traded commodity in the world.

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You can spot first-wave coffees in supermarket coffee aisles. They are usually commercially-produced coffee with artificial or natural-flavored beans that carry the words “gourmet” or “premium.” They are often super dark and bitter.

A new coffee experience. The second wave

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Two things that characterize second-wave coffee are variety and experience. Undeniably, the café culture evolved when mainstream coffee shops like Starbucks started to make waves. The second wave occurred through the surge in the availability of quality coffee in the market. They are often dubbed as “creative drinks” due to their unique flavors.

From the usual super dark and bitter coffee, the second wave captured more consumers with its variety in flavor. But most importantly, it focuses on the premium experience of getting a cup. The idea of going to an actual coffee shop, with baristas passionately preparing your coffee until it’s served to you, is one of the unique selling propositions of the second wave.

Running to a coffee shop to get a dose of caffeine before starting the day becomes a part of people’s daily lives. The shift in consumer interest, from having a cup of coffee in their kitchen to going to a cafe to experience a high level of customer service, conducive ambiance, and quality creative drinks, marked the success of the second wave of coffee. Still, it does not directly address the elephant in the room: where did the beans come from?

Higher culinary experience. The third wave

We started this story with the recognition of the ever-changing desires of humans. For the third wave of coffee, it is no longer just about the quality and experience. Eventually, consumers became more conscious of the finer details and story behind the coffee on their tables. Consumers became particular about the origin, sourcing transparency, and if they are processed responsibly.

Third-wave coffee was first coined in 1999. If the first wave is about commodity and the second wave focuses on variety and experience, the third wave is best associated with quality and the finer details of the coffee. Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood defined the third wave as “a higher culinary appreciation of coffee and all that it entails; a focus on subtleties of flavor, provenance, and process.

Though the second wave of coffee also introduced quality, its primary focus is on experience. The third wave ultimately puts quality as its principal focus, which includes the full availability of information. Sourcing transparency has become more common in most, if not all, third-wave coffee. Roast date, variety, style of processing, where it was harvested, high degree of origin transparency, and tasting notes are all indicated or disclosed. At this stage, serving quality coffee is no longer enough. Providing concise and complete background is a crucial point in marketing third-wave coffee.

Many would interchange third-wave coffee with specialty coffee. However, the third-wave coffee is a movement, not a type of coffee. It’s the mindset that coffee should be meticulously prepared and sourced ethically. Without losing grip on quality, the third wave is, by far, the most critical period in the coffee industry. It continues to highlight the importance of transparency, sustainability, and decorous coffee cultivation that could have prevented the coffee rust that took the glory days of many coffee-producing nations, including the Philippines. 

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