Today Salon magazine posted their take on this whole “Hey baby, what’s your wave?” coffee business: Baristas gone wild: meet fourth-wave coffee – Coffee and tea – Salon.com. We most appreciated that they wrote the article from a coffee consumer’s perspective. What often gets lost in this feeding frenzy of hyperbole is that none of the hype matters unless it directly translates to a better shot in the cup — something we’ve been patiently waiting for since before any of this Third Wave business began. (And yes, we were cited in the article.)
That Salon used the title of “Baristas gone wild” is telling. It’s ironic that Trish Rothgeb (née Skeie) originally proposed her Third Wave treatise in a way that centered on coffee appreciation — i.e., primarily a consumer-driven phenomenon. After all, if it weren’t for the discriminating coffee consumers who support the market for Cup of Excellence coffees, better barista training, and improved brewing technology, none of this would reasonably exist.
Yet the term Third Wave was quickly commandeered by coffee purveyors for self-promotional and marketing purposes. Today, it continues to be pushed to marketing extremes by baristas, espresso machine manufacturers, and the like. The coffee consumer has been shoved aside and is almost entirely out of the picture now, despite the fact that none of this could exist without us. Hence the Third Wave stopped being about how we collectively enjoy coffee; it is now used primarily by people in the coffee business as a competitive weapon to verbally sword fight with each other.
All we ask is that whatever gets hyped, it better deliver in the cup. It must be more than new toys for baristas to play with and get excited about. The good news is that there are more and more places making better coffee through a greater awareness of the basics. The rising tide that lifts all boats, as it were. But when it comes to building the better espresso shot overall, the results are far less convincing — and far more self-congratulating.