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Which Coffee Wave Are You Riding?

March 20, 2011

The coffee culture is fluid in the US, never really standing still. The intense competition between coffee shops creates the need to rise higher, do more, source better beans, provide more ambiance…in a never-ending coffee war. Several articles in the last few months, the most recent being last week, hit on the concept of the wave as applied to coffees. An article on philly.com discussed the local competition in Philadelphia. The writer described how there have been three waves in the coffee culture. First we had the Folgers and Maxwell House wave of standard fare. The Seattle coffee giant burst forth on the scene, raising the bar on coffee culture, its social aspects, coffee’s menu development, and taste (though some will dispute this point.) This is the second wave, which focused on blends and dark roasts – anybody hear Starbucks? In Philadelphia, as in other cities, there are local chains to challenge Starbucks, also second wave. At present, the third wave has come crashing in, bringing with it more showmanship and coffee made-to-order, with the focus moving to pour-overs, single-origin beans, and more meticulous techniques. All of this results in another upgrade of quality and cost. Not all coffee shop owners are happy about the third wave, as the article points out. Those who led the second wavers are intimidated by the new third wavers threatening to overtake them. That’s just the way of business. Perhaps this is about snobbery, or more educated palates that demand more special attention to detail. Maybe it reflects the higher levels of disposable income available to today’s coffee connoisseurs. Or do we just need something more to argue and debate over, as a diversion from the complex problems out in the world - that world outside our coffee shop getaway, our haven against the stresses of life? Applying the wave metaphors to our home coffee routine would result in descriptions similar to the coffee scene depictions. The Folgers type coffees and percolators - the first wave. Moka pots and espresso machines are the second wave, and pour-overs and siphons define the third wave. But these are just numbers in coffee evolution history, not labels. Whatever wave you’re on, enjoy the ride.






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