Specialty Coffee: Here Comes The Next Wave

We’ve come a long way since coffee was first widely consumed in the West…what’s next in our development and appreciation of the humble brew?

Remember what your coffee was like 10 years ago? We do… It was, to put it bluntly, overwhelmingly crap. (Sorry, but it was!)

We didn’t know it at the time, but coffee wasn’t nearly as good as it could be. Back then, coffee was, generally, merely a vessel for getting the hit of caffeine we so desperately needed, and it tasted ‘pretty good’. Well, as far as we knew (it all pretty much tasted the same, so we didn’t really have much to compare it to!).

But then, almost out of nowhere, something amazing happened — something that changed our expectations of coffee, for the better. Around the early 2000’s, what’s known as the ‘Third Wave’ of coffee started happening, and we’ve surfed that wave into a new era of amazing (albeit coffee-snobbery-inducing) coffee experiences!

The Third Wave celebrated coffee in a way we never had before. It treated coffee in a way that replicated how people had been treating wine for decades. It examined and developed coffee as a culinary experience: exploring the nuances of different varietals, origins, and roasts. The third wave saw us begin to celebrate coffee for all that it could be.

(For those playing at home, the First Wave is said to have been the preserving of coffee so that it could be shipped and ‘enjoyed’ around the world — think tinned coffee in WW1. The Second Wave was the commercialisation of coffee — think Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, and the big name brands behind the coffee everyone was drinking back in the ‘90s. It saw us move from Robusta to Arabica beans, and appreciate espresso in particular).

And now, many have voiced a call for the next wave. “We’re nailing coffee, and there must be something more!”, I can hear them scream…

We deal directly with a farmer in some faraway land, to ensure that the source of our coffee is perfectly managed and loved, so we can do the same in the roasting and brewing process. We meticulously examine and control the quality of what we drink, from farm to cup. We fiddle tirelessly with brewing methods, temperatures, pressures — basically anything we can change, we do — to see what amazing characteristics we can get out of each batch.

So what’s next? Matt Perger, coffee god (and, in this writer’s opinion, one of the smartest guys in coffee) reckons that automation and customer service are the features of this new wave. After working in specialty coffee for a number of years, I have to agree.

The recipes we’ve seen develop, the brew methods we’ve finally nailed, all mean nothing if the person drinking the coffee doesn’t get it, and doesn’t love it, every time. Automation doesn’t mean the death of the barista (thanks again Matt Perger!) — it means the barista has to be a knowledgable, amicable, friendly and welcoming introduction to your coffee experience. That’s the customer service side.

Automation equals consistency, and consistency is king. It’s something that’s been hammered home in all of my jobs in coffee. Repeatability, consistency. Get these right with a great brew, and you’re destined for great things.

So we’ll likely see a movement towards greater automation in commercial equipment. But here’s an interesting plot twist! -

Interestingly, somehow the home-brewer’s market has almost leapfrogged the commercial market in this regard with the *GASP* Nespressp(R) and other capsule machines.

These machines have a consistent dose, use consistent flow rates and consistent pressure profiles, and result in a consistent yield and a consistent product. Admittedly, they haven’t been the best so far. But they have, so far, focused on convenience over quality.

Fortunately, some minds in the specialty coffee world are starting to see that pods are not necessarily the devil’s handiwork. Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood have just now got into capsules! And so have a new Melbourne specialty coffee startup, Flinders Lane Specialty Coffee.

The latter, Flinders Lane Specialty Coffee, have been working with some of their favourite specialty coffee roasters from around Melbourne (the self-proclaimed coffee capital of the world) to develop unique roasting profiles to suit the brewing methods of Nespresso(R) machines.

After around 12 months of development, the founders of Flinders Lane Specialty Coffee have finally developed a product that meets their perfecting standards, and are really proud to have launched two coffees: a smooth, mild Brazilian with raw honey and caramel notes, and a more hearty, stone-fruit-sweet, hazelnut and cocoa noted Colombian. Both are available online now. To them, the flavour profiles are like no other capsules they’ve ever tasted. That’s pretty exciting.

The roasting profiles for these coffees is entirely unique. But after tireless effort, they’ve managed to honour the coffee they worked with, and celebrate it through what is ultimately, just another brewing method.

It’s an interesting development to see home brewing almost leapfrog commercial brewing experiences in this area of automation in specialty coffee, and we can’t wait to see — and be part of — the new developments that are heading our way.