The Fourth Wave Coffee Movement

Photo: Matt Sampson, Omakase, Discourse Coffee, Sister Bay, WI









“Who can take a sunrise (who can take a sunrise)
Sprinkle it with dew (sprinkle it with dew)
Cover it with choc’late and a miracle or two
The Fourth Wave Coffee Man (the Coffee Man”

Discourse: A Liquid Workshop in Sister Bay, WI, approaches fourth wave coffee by elevating the quality and experience of an espresso drink to an art form. Their mad scientist-artist baristas use unique ingredients like reconstituted strawberry, black grape gel, olive oil snow, and different types of fogs and essences captured in nature. Depending on the menu, customers could find themselves sipping a latte based on the memory of a childhood trip to the beach, or an espresso shot based on a missed punch in a dark nightclub.

Like many people, you could be asking yourself, how did we get here? The state of coffee consumption, like other cultural and sociological forces, can best be described in a series of waves beginning in the 19th century.


S U R F ‘ S  U P

The first wave of coffee describes the time between 1900 and 1960 when brands like Folgers and Maxwell House were innovating the business for convenience and mass production. These brands made coffee widely available and because of them, it’s popularity really took off. Consumers were now able to open a tin and enjoy a pleasantly bitter cup with very little hassle and at a very low cost.



The second wave of coffee describes the reaction consumers had towards decades of this mass-produced coffee. In the 1970s, coffee drinkers started experimenting with “specialty roasts”. Coffee was starting to be marketed as more of an experience than just a grocery product. Starbucks launched, Peet’s coffee launched, and second wave coffee took hold as customers started frequenting coffee shops.



Like the second-wave backlash to the mass-produced coffee of the first, the third wave was a reaction to 30 years of corporate coffee chains opening on every street corner. In 2002, the focus switched from producing and marketing coffee to the coffee itself. Independently owned cafes began studying things like soil, growing altitude, and processing techniques. Cafe owners, baristas, and roasters starting looking into every aspect of the process in order to craft the best single cup of coffee possible.


T H E  W A V E  O F  T H E  F U T U R E

Today a century of innovation, experimentation, and meeting consumer demand has led coffee to the top of its game. We are now in coffee’s fourth wave, which is a wave that is still defining itself.

It is said that fourth wave coffee is the best of all waves combined. Today, not only is the quality of the coffee incredibly important but so becomes the experience of drinking it. The fourth wave encourages a new way of looking at coffee and an experimental attitude.


H A N G   L O O S E

The possibilities of what fourth wave coffee can be are only limited to the borders of the barista’s imagination and the ingredients they can conjure up. Fourth wave coffee is not only meant to be experienced through taste but also felt through the lens of one’s own heart.


“Who can take espresso (who can take espresso)
Wrap it in a sigh (wrap it in a sigh)
Soak it in the sun and make a groovy lemon pie
The Fourth Wave Coffee Man (the Coffee Man)” 

– Adapted from “The Candy Man” written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.

Author: Catazoa

Illustrator and Multimedia Artist

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