The Changing Face of Coffee

Sep 28, 2015|

If you ever watched an episode of the classic television show M*A*S*H* you often saw scenes where the medical staff in the field were drinking coffee because it kept them warm and awake in combat zone. Preparation was minimal, served in the mess hall from giant metal vats or even brewed in a metal pot on top of a wood burning stove. As we celebrate National Coffee Day, it’s safe to say the world’s second-most consumed beverage has come a long way since the 1940s and 50s.

Many knowledgeable coffee watchers have come up with a method to show how the beverage has evolved through the years, using waves to categorize its movement from a simple drink to stay awake to a work of art.

Consumption vs. Enjoyment is usually how the first wave is described. This period was likely what you saw in the 1940s and 1950s, especially during wartime, and depicted by scenes in M*A*S*H*, where function was more of a factor than any level of taste.

The Second Wave was deemed as Choice and Enjoyment of Quality Coffee. This period likely started around the late 1950s and lingered into the early 1990s. In this era, consumers were able to enjoy a variety of options both at home and while dining out. Multiple varieties of coffee types and brands sprung up in this period, giving consumers options of roasts and flavors.

Pure Coffee Flavor as a Sensual Experience is how the Third Wave is defined. This likely took its roots in the mid-1990s and is still prevalent in some aspects today. If you wanted to use another entertainment icon as a reference of this era, check out reruns of the television show Friends. In this period coffee houses sprang up around the world while consumers began to appreciate the highest culinary forms of coffee and the different varieties it offered. In addition, the consumption of coffee became a social engagement and coffee houses a destination as well. This wave looks to be continuing in the future as exampled by the fact that if current trends continue, Britain will have more coffee shops than pubs by 2026.

Many coffee industry observers believe we are in the midst of a another shift in the tide and have entered the Fourth Wave in which the consumer is focused on coffee origin looking into the nuances of coffee based on the region its grown and focused on the farmer who grows it. You might believe the third and fourth waves could, and likely do, co-exist with the modern day consumer as coffee shops emphasize varietals from around the globe and local roasters as well.

Not only has it grown in its basic form over the past 60 years but coffee has also has seen a metamorphosis of innovation in that same time period, especially in the past decade. A food service establishment simply offering coffee on the menu is likely a thing of the past.

The coffee family has grown by leaps and bounds producing offshoots such as gourmet coffee, iced coffee and the newest member of the clan, cold brew coffee.

Gourmet coffee is defined by the National Coffee Association as traditional coffee consumed, hot or iced, which is brewed from premium whole bean or ground varieties. This includes espresso, latte and cappuccino and according to the NCA’s National Drinking Trends, 48% of all coffee consumed in the United States in 2014 was of the gourmet variety, up from 37% in 2011.

Another relatively young and fast rising off shoot of coffee is the iced version. Its core audience comes from the younger demographic according to NPD Crest, a leading industry research firm, found that over half (57%) of consumption of iced coffee comes from the 18-to-49-year-old consumer. Food service outlets are also starting to take notice, according to industry research firm Mintel’s statistics, U.S. foodservice outlets that serve iced coffee have increased from 19% in 2009 to 26% last year.

Cold Brew Coffee, which involves infusing 64 to 75 degrees water with ground beans over 14 to 18 hours before straining and bottling and then served over ice, is the newest craze among coffee coinsures and its rise to popularity has been meteoric. In just in the past year, sales of the cold coffee concoction have increased 115% according to research firm Mintel.

As we celebrate National Coffee Day, it’s easy to see how no beverage has evolved with the country like coffee has.

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