To start discussing the 4th wave of coffee consumption, we need to look back on the first three waves, widely known in the coffee market. The first wave took place around 1800, when coffee started to be more explored by the industry. Before coffee could become a widely consumed drink, it needed to become well known. Therefore, during the first wave people started to be introduced to it. Back then, information on where the coffee was produced was irrelevant to consumers. Also, its selling price was very low, and there was almost no change in price between one product to another. As it was a global movement, the first wave had no particular epicenter, though its main consumer markets were the United States and Europe.
The second wave, on the other hand, can be characterized as an increase in the consumption of quality coffees. At this stage, we can consider the United States as the epicenter of the second wave, given that it was where the now worldly famous Starbucks emerged. After its launch, they started disseminating the habit of drinking coffee not only at home, but also at coffee shops. These spaces became a popular spot to meet friends or work. Ever since then, Arabica coffees became more prominent and some characteristics, such as the countries where the beans are produced and their roasting style, started to gain value. Additionally, espresso coffee began to gain notoriety.
Around that time, as changes in the culture of drinking coffee started to take place, the expression “specialty coffee” was coined. The coffees considered special were the ones originated from unique geographic microclimates, which resulted in beans with exceptional and exclusive sensory profiles. Thereafter, coffee consumption became a more valuable and sophisticated habit. The third wave was a movement led by small coffee shops and micro-roasters. The epicenter of this wave continued to be the United States and, little by little, it spread all over the world. This time, the focus was on the people that were directly involved with the preparation of coffee; be it baristas or micro-roasters. The coffee shops that would serve filtered coffees began to receive more recognition. With the increasing study and preparation from professionals, consumers began to give more value to the final product. In consequence, the producing regions, the farms, among other information, became relevant to the consumer when purchasing. Moving forward, the coffee culture got transformed, which raised the quality bar, propelled specialist training and attracted a new generation of consumers who started to see drinking coffee as a habit of a more lighthearted lifestyle.
Nowadays we can consider that we are moving towards a transition between waves. However, one of the greatest differences between the fourth wave and the other ones is that now producers have faces, names and a voice. They are not only “extras” in the production process anymore, but essential elements instead and their life story and their family matter a lot. Besides that, specialty coffees have transitioned from being a niche market to being sold in large supermarket chains, which democratized access to it. In the United States, the coffee market is already well-established. There, coffee beans can easily be found in the grocery store, ranging in diversity, level of quality and variety of roast. Considered the second largest global coffee market, Brazil has also gone through significant changes over the years. Major brands that previously only focused on the commodities segment have created specific product lines for specialty coffees. Their goal is to follow the market trends and make their product accessible to consumers. The difference is that the coffee sold in most places in Brazil is still roasted/ground, not the packed beans. Also, unlike the USA, in Brazil it is still difficult to find grinders on supermarket shelves. That is why besides promoting access to sale channels, it is also important to establish a culture of consumption. This way, the experience of coffee roasting is increasingly accessible to customers.