Coffee: The Fourth Wave

The history of coffee can be defined as a series of epochs (time periods), or “Waves”.

Ever since the discovery of coffee some 1,300 years ago, as legends describe, coffee has evolved into the most widely used psychoactive substance on the planet. The early part of this evolution has focused on distribution and accessibility at the expense of quality, potency, and effectiveness.

The first wave of coffee began in the mid 1800’s with the invention of the first commercial coffee roaster. Prior to that time, people roasted their coffee at home with simple manually turned drums over an open fire. It took many years for commercial roasters to become profitable and change the habits of the masses. On the heels of the commercial roasters were new and improved methods of vacuum packing coffee that could be shipped and stored over longer periods of time. Instant coffee was also invented during this time.  All of these events together created what is known as the “First Wave” of coffee. The mass production and distribution of already roasted and already ground coffee, as well as the instant process (which enabled the consumer to simply add water to granules that were dissolved in the water producing an instant cup of coffee) had the effect of making coffee available to a wider market at the expense of quality and freshness.

The second wave of coffee is pretty much defined as the “Starbucks” wave. This was the introduction of espresso based drinks and the role of the “Barista” (Italian word for “bartender”, as in coffee bar, popular in Italy) into the U.S. market. The success of Starbucks caused this second wave to reach the entire planet.  The focus on this wave is on whole bean coffee, freshly ground and freshly brewed in an expensive and sophisticated espresso machine which creates the most potent extraction of any brewing method anywhere. This wave was a return to quality from the first wave which was solely focused on distribution. The coffee was now kept in whole bean form before grinding, brewing, and serving to the customer. More equipment is needed to create this kind of coffee as compared to the first wave where you just needed to add hot water.

The third wave of coffee began in the early part of this millennia, around 2002. Micro-roasting and the attention to the growing region, harvesting and processing methods, characterize this wave. Again, a return to quality have transformed the “Starbucks” era into this current third wave epoch. It is interesting to note that for the first time, “roast dates” are showing up on packaged specialty coffee and the recommendation of how long to let coffee “rest” after roasting has been shortened from months to weeks. Advances in farming and harvesting/processing has helped improve the quality of coffee a little bit, as have the innovations in espresso machines. However, not enough has been done in the area of “fresh roasting” to make the leap in quality necessary for coffee to evolve further, hence, the need for the “fourth wave”, a fresh roasting revolution.

I would officially mark the beginning of the “fourth wave” to the date June 2012. That was when my TEDx talk about coffee was first released. Although it took several years for my talk to become popular and attract over a million views, I have had consistent contact with my viewers since the very beginning. They report to me how I inspired them to look at coffee differently, and how I focused in on the “missing link” of what coffee is about and how to extract all its benefits in a simple and easy way. To this day I receive messages and requests on a daily basis, I have hit a nerve and people are realizing and understanding my message. There are many Home Roasting FB groups popping up and its members and what they are discussing are all part of this fresh roasting revolution that is taking place. People are realizing that the most important factor in making great coffee is fresh roasting it themselves. The old ideas of “resting” and “de-gassing” are slowly dying and will become an obsolete myth very soon as people are discovering that the truth is, fresh is best, in both taste and effect.

So now we have come full circle and gone back to the past as far as the practice of home roasting. But there is a big difference.

We have much better equipment now for roasting, grinding, and brewing, so as not to lose any benefits for the sake of convenience. Making coffee now can be simple, convenient, and affordable, with the additional capability of creating the best coffee in human history!

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