If you live near a hip city you already know the degree to which coffee has grown from a basic commodity to a practiced art. In a relatively short period of time we’ve witnessed the rise of second wave coffee in the form of Starbucks, Peets, flavored lattes and foamy cappuccinos, followed by the rise of third wave coffee in the form of Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Chemex pour overs and temperature regulated micro-foam. Confused? Spend a weekend in Portland, Oregon.
The basic trend centers around increased premiumization. Within these new formats, consumers are seeking distinct flavors and thoughtful experiences in their morning cup. The rise of Cold Brew coffee is a great example; what was once hot-brewed coffee cooled over ice in the second wave, has now transitioned into a cold-brewing process that maintains the unique flavor of the beans used in the process (for good or bad). Instead of the day-old coffee taste of iced coffee, the subtle flavors of cold brew provide consumers with an elevated experience (and elevated buzz). This nuance was fetishized by mustachioed early adopters, popularized by trend seeking millennials and normalized by the “iGeneration,” who are currently consuming more cold RTD coffee than hot.
Nuanced flavor characteristics are based on the beans, which is another important factor of third wave coffee. Shoppers are now asking themselves a variety of questions, including, Where and how were the beans grown, and how were the beans roasted and when?
Launches of whole bean products at retail have increased seven points to 18 percent of the total category in the past two years. Whole bean coffee means fresher coffee as the oils are not released until grinding.
Organic and ethically sourced coffees are widely recognized as purer of body and spirit; a full third of U.S. consumers, aged 16-44, define premium coffee as organic. Direct-trade coffee beans are the next degree of sourcing and can be more easily verified as ethically and environmentally friendly, as well as single sourced for retail. Single source beans from one specific location highlight the distinct flavors of that source and can be further roasted and prepared to emphasize desired characteristics.
The third wave has taken coffee consumption to a very fine grind and you may be wondering, Where can it go from here? According to Mintel, retail trends to look out for are only in their infancy.
Fermented coffee beans are just starting to garner attention; Afineur is selling fermented whole beans, claiming that the fermentation process rounds off bitter taste with lower acidity, provides sustained energy without the jitters, and is healthier overall due to the presence of vitamin B3,inositol and lower levels of acrylamide and phyto-estrogen (trigonelline).
The next iteration of at home freshness and control over the brewing process is in-home roasting. Kelvin Home Coffee Roaster and the Power Roaster air-roast small batches of raw beans to your exact specifications in about 10 minutes. Devices such as this will unlock a currently non-existent retail market for raw coffee beans and a whole new level of coffee-based artisanship.
In 2019, we’ll continue to see the mainstreaming of third wave coffee principles as premium products become the norm for younger generations. The fourth wave looks to open more interesting possibilities for catching a buzz.