Posted Tue Apr 1, 2014, 10:07am Subject: It has started--the 4th wave is coming...
I was convinced that we might never see a 4th wave in the coffee industry in the U.S.--at least, not in my lifetime. If you define each successive wave as a step toward better coffee, then surely there would be no room for a 4th wave to creep into the U.S. social consciousness until the 2nd and 3rd waves had run their course. And, considering that the 2nd wave was fighting tooth and nail to hold onto its dominion, serving up fatty sweet flavored coffee milkshakes to increasingly impatient American consumers who wanted to spend more time in their cars and at work than relaxing in a 3rd wave coffee house, waiting to savor the terroir flavors of their expertly prepared single origin coffee... well, it seemed the 3rd wave would really end up being just a side path until St*rbuck$ could reorient its business to capture that last bastion of counter culturalists (no pun intended).
And then, in 2012, and again in 2013, I heard about the successive generations of the Briggo robotic coffee vending machine. Here was a machine that not only made each step in the espresso brewing process a dedicated function for each robot, it promised to be upgradeable so as to continually improve its already very precise sensor-monitored functions until it could outperform human baristas over time. Add to that the prospect that St*rbuck$ was already using very poor automation to serve its impatient alpha males and alpha females, and you have the perfect recipe for the final demise of the 2nd wave.
Maybe St*rbuck$ saw it coming, but they had been planning for a major design overhaul and were already rolling out a new generation of stores internationally (Amsterdam) and now in the U.S. Their "new" idea is to try to embellish and differentiate their store interiors enough, so that each store has an enhanced appeal to the local population. In their Amsterdam store, they have even embraced the manual slow-brewed approach, integrating it as a design element in the store's lush interior. What this conveys to me is that St*rbuck$ is ready to reverse the trend of impatient Americans and try to get them to spend more time in their stores.
So what remains now is the thing that would eventually replace the 3rd wave coffee shop. Would it be the robotic coffee shop? That could happen, as more and more Americans complain about how much time it takes to get their slow-brewed coffee. Or perhaps a resurgence of the Italian style espresso shop, after too many Americans get sick of under-roasted coffee and admit that all they really wanted was a little sugar in their dark roasted espresso to take the edge off. Or will the new St*rbuck$ concept put the leisurely but extravagant coffee house back into the American psyche, harking back to their early days while stealing ever more customers from those formerly exotic now utilitarian 3rd wave establishments, who really just wanted a hipper place to hang out?
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