Our outlet is a coffee theatre, an exhibition that people can come and explore”, says Phoa Kia Boon. Known as Kia, the Malaysian designer and businessman opened his second The New Black café at the end of last year, in London. Self-described as having the “most audacious” selection of coffees from around the world served by “rockstar baristas”, the first one opened in Singapore in 2012. Both feature cutting-edge technology in a slick environment that might initially overwhelm customers with the multitude of coffee choices on offer. But, says Kia, who places great emphasis on personalised customer service, “We want to say to our customers: coffee is complex, but come inside and let us help you through it.”

The New Black is indicative of the increasing move to consider coffee as an engineered or designed food material that can be enhanced using exacting technology, a turn away from the typical craft approach of artisanal hipster coffee culture. Rather than treating coffee as an untouchable black gold that has woken up the world for centuries and therefore shouldn’t be tampered with, this fourth wave is deconstructing our morning fix. At the one extreme is an explosion of start-ups pedalling a class of Frankenstein coffees infused with everything from vitamins and probiotics to the cancer-preventing glucoraphanin molecule found in broccoli. On the other side of the spectrum, coffee as a warm beverage is being reinvented as cold-brewed soda, craft beer and wine, mocktails, and even beauty products.

Starbucks Reserve bar in Wrigleyville, Chicago
Then there are the baristas and the coffee gurus, whose wares are featured at The New Black. One of these is Patrik Rolf Karlsson, who, having worked at prestigious roasters da Matteo in Göteborg (Sweden) and Five Elephants in Berlin, has established a reputation for being able to manipulate coffee flavours at will. Late last year he finally set up his own roastery, April Coffee, in Copenhagen. One of his first projects was 1683, a bespoke blend celebrating Gaggenau’s commitment to coffee culture and the launch of its fully automatic espresso machine. Germany’s leading brand of professional-grade domestic appliances, their Black Forest roots inspired a blend that evokes the region’s divine cake of the same name, which Karlsson achieved using chocolaty El Salvadorian Bourbon beans together with cherry-tasting Kenyan Peaberry beans.

Karlsson says that his biggest coffee inspiration comes from Tim Wendelboe, widely known for developing the Noma coffee experience in Copenhagen. What René Redzepi has done for Noma’s crockery, Wendelboe has done with the design of the coffee cups, having created a bespoke set in collaboration with Kristin Hærnes Ihlen from Physical Design and por- celain brand Figgjo Oslo. The three different cup types can be used with the various sorts of coffee to enhance or suppress the particular aromas and flavours. And he promotes playing with the cups to trick your guests. Even more ground-breaking, however, is the close relationship Wendelboe has developed with the farms where he sources his beans.

The London Coffee Festival 2017 *; photo: Ludovic-Rossignol-Isanovic
In 2015, he took this a step further and bought a Colombian plantation, Finca el Suelo, where he is collaborating with top local barista Diego Campos. The pair experiments with how diverse organic farming substances – such as customised high-nitrogen fertiliser containing wood chips, chicken manure, and cow dung – can influence the taste and quality of the bean. Just as the growing conditions of the grapes influences a wine vintage, the soil acidity, sunshine, humidity, rainfall, altitude, distance from the equator, actual plant varietal, and harvesting and drying conditions of coffee beans all contribute to the flavour.

For skilled coffee cuppers, as with wine tasters, all of these factors can be discerned in the tast- ing. It’s not just the bean, though. After all, 98% of the drink is water – its quality and purity, but also its temperature, not to mention the myriad brewing techniques, each contribute to what the cupper experiences when loudly slurping their coffee. That’s right, slurping. After swirling and sniffing the brew, the recommended method for extracting the maximum flavour and aroma is exaggerated slurping, which essentially sprays the coffee across the palate.

Coffee MastersTM tournament at The London Coffee Festival 2017
Coffee MastersTM tournament at The London Coffee Festival 2017
Body, acidity, finish, and balance are the key qualities when evaluating a coffee’s taste. Body is measured by the physical sensation of the coffee in the mouth – its richness, heaviness, and thickness – and is determined by the natural oils it contains. Acidity doesn’t actually have anything to do with acid levels but rather refers to that pleasurable sharp feeling in the back of the mouth. The sensation that lingers is the finish. And how all of these elements work together without any of them dominating, determines the balance. The full ‘sensory lexicon’ or flavour wheel developed by World Coffee Research can be overwhelming, which is why it is recommended to start keeping notes on what we drink and what we like.

As for the fifth wave of coffee, some have argued that it is Wendelboe’s return to the farm and to developing a more sustainable coffee industry. Certainly, returning to the farm factors into it – Starbucks too is launching an immersive visitor centre on its Costa Rica plantation (due to open in 2018), while its flagship stores increasingly look more like pubs, with cold-brew served on tap. But sustainability is a long way off.

Taking a sideways-glance at the revolution in craft beer or even 3D printing, the ‘next wave’ was starter kits. When everyone goes home and begins experimenting, making mistakes, and stumbling across aspects they really like, not only are new things discovered but consumers also become highly knowledgeable connoisseurs. Learning the sensory lexicon of cupping becomes effortless when you are able to stand in your own kitchen, making and tasting every option on a daily basis. This is the game changer that fully automatic espresso machines like Gaggenau’s new 400 series proposes. Precision controls for setting strength levels, water temperature, coffee-to-milk ratio and cup size, as well as interchangeable bean containers, make emulating the masters as easy as pressing a button. Perhaps this is the next wave for coffee, going from the café back to the home, where everyone is his or her own barista and flavour prospector.


* Over the past six years, The London Coffee Festival (held in April) has grown into the largest coffee and artisanal food event in the UK; in 2017, it welcomed over 30,000 visitors. Aside from cutting-edge roasteries and cafés plying their wares, 20 baristas compete in the global Coffee MastersTM tournament, evaluating their prowess at cupping, brewing, latte art, and bean blending, as well as making a signature drink, producing 10 different e resso-based drinks in nine minutes, and identifying the origins of the bean.

This article appeared in DAM62. Order your personal copy.
Coffee MastersTM, the fast-paced, multi-discipline global barista tournament, at The London Coffee Festival 2017
Patrik Rolf Karlsson of April Coffee
Tim Wendelboe hand-sele ing his beans; photo: Benjamin A. Ward
Gaggenau’s 1683 coffee blend by Patrik Rolf Karlsson