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It’s Denver Post Official: Coffee Is Riding ...

It’s Denver Post Official: Coffee Is Riding The Fourth Wave

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The Denver Post dropped a bombshell this morning, officially declaring specialty coffee is in the “fourth wave” of innovation, ideas, and practices. This marks the end of an era for some, who have long considered specialty coffee to be in its “third wave” of development.

The first wave.

The first wave.

The news came out in a Denver Post story about a Hong Kong-based company, Smartco International, teaming up with Colorado schools to create innovative brew methods. Early in the article, Smartco Vice President Brian Gross lays it all out (emphasis ours):

“It’s called the fourth wave of coffee. A lot of automatic machines were actually ruining the coffee, but that’s what the third wave was. The new process gives you a chance to appreciate the real flavors.”
The second wave.

The second wave.

The program itself sounds pretty cool, tasking students from Adams City High School and the Metropolitan State University of Denver with creating new brewers for ideal coffee consumption. It’s a design project with real-world applications, and the schools have brought in World Aeropress and Brewers Cup Champion Andy Sprenger to assist students seeking to learn more about roasting, brewing, and tasting.

But the Denver Post article closes with this loose explanation of coffee “waves”:

First wave: Marked by the start of instant coffee, such as Folgers, when anyone could boil water at home and make coffee.

Second wave: Seen as the start of expensive specialty coffee at shops, and Mr. Coffee machines at home.

Third wave: Coffee started to be treated like wine, and espresso and single-serve machines emerged for home use.

Fourth wave: A new focus on the whole coffee experience beginning at the farming operations through roasting and brewing. A barista’s job started becoming an art. There is also a focus on low- or non-pressurized brewing methods to allow for tasting more flavors.

Third wave.

Third wave.

We reached out to Trish Rothgeb, the coffee luminary who coined the term “third wave coffee” back in 2002. Rothgeb, who owns Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, had this to say about Smartco Vice President Brian Gross and his wave claims:

The paper should do some research instead of taking one guy’s word for it.

Read the whole article here. Comments are open.


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  2. Nathanael

    4 February

    So, the First Wave was the beginning of time to 1965. The Second Wave was 1966 to 2001, and the Third Wave was 2002 to 2014?

    I predict the Fourth Wave lasts until 2020, and after that, we start measuring waves by Barista Camps.

  3. darrin daniel

    3 February

    OMG. I can’t believe I missed it…is it too late to catch it or do I have to wait for the 5th…

    • Amanda Marie

      5 February

      Right? Just when you think you’re starting to get a feel for things…

  4. A Critic

    3 February

    This “Fourth Wave” is nothing that we weren’t doing in the third wave a decade ago. It’s really just the Third Wave without the vestiges of the Second Wave. It is not something completely revolutionary.

  5. patrick

    3 February

    at what point do we get beyond waves? trish was spot on in 2002 with the up and coming new coffee movement and coined a great term. with so much experimentation and tech progressing in our industry it seems contrived to try to label anything as fourth wave.

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