Home » The Three Waves of Coffee: What are they? (Story)

The Three Waves of Coffee: What are they? (Story)

As a staunch coffee lover, I was so shocked the day I heard the story behind the coffee waves.

It is a fascinating way to understand how coffee has evolved throughout history.

So if you find yourself in this same situation of wanting to know everything about this topic, don’t worry, I have decided to write this article to tell you everything you need to know about coffee waves.

Let’s start, as always, at the beginning.

What are the 3 Waves of Coffee?

Coffee waves refer to a period of time or a stage in the coffee industry. Specifically, there have been three coffee waves in history.

These stages called “waves” refer to important changes in the coffee industry worldwide, as well as to the cultural changes generated as a result of the coffee itself.

This term was coined by Trish Rothgeb in 2002 in the Roasters Guild publication, the first to define the three coffee movements as “waves.”

Like other historical divisions to measure time stages, each wave begins with a great change. For example, just as the world changed after the first industrial revolution and changed again after the second, the coffee industry transformed after each of these three waves. Each of them implied a novel and disruptive change.

Broadly speaking, these were the three waves of coffee:

  1. First wave of coffee (1800s) : coffee becomes a commodity, its consumption grows exponentially.
  2. Second Wave of Coffee (1970) : American coffee giant Starbucks transforms coffee culture.
  3. Third wave of coffee (2000s) : coffee begins to be bought according to its origin of cultivation and its production methods.

Now, are you ready to know in-depth what these changes refer to?

The first wave dates back to 1800 when coffee consumption began to grow at exponential levels. This growth is explained in that finally people began to realize the potential behind this infusion and began to buy it regularly.

The increase in demand for coffee was, of course, perceived as a great opportunity by coffee entrepreneurs.

The most important point of this wave was to make coffee a basic, accessible item that could be found in every home. This is how instant coffee came about, vacuum packed.

However, at this time the origin of the plant and the quality of the coffee were not elements taken into account, but rather this drink was chosen to obtain the energy rush that caffeine provides.

These were some of the most important companies dedicated to the coffee industry in this period: Folgers, Maxwell House, Mr. CoffeeNescaféHill Bros Coffee, Satori Kato.

The second wave of coffee

The second wave began in the 1970s when the Starbucks coffee chain began to grow and have more influence in the industry.

This wave occurred, mainly, because coffee consumers began to appreciate coffee more and, consequently, they began to demand not only a better quality coffee but also to know where the bean from which they were brewing came from.

Although today it is considered obvious, what Starbucks understood perfectly at that time was such a great novelty that it revolutionized the way of drinking coffee: this hot drink should imply a different experience, social and with quality coffee.

This second wave is characterized by the opening of many new coffee shops. However, Starbucks was the first to realize that a coffee shop could and should be a meeting place instead of having a coffee shop for people to simply go for coffee.

This change of perspective regarding coffee consumption was so important and so successful that many companies dedicated to the sale of beer and spirits suffered a sharp decline in their sales, especially in the United States, the country that gave birth to Starbucks.

This wave transformed the coffee culture. And this evolution gave rise to the change in the architecture and the interior design of the coffee shops, which began to have the objective of making people feel more comfortable and at ease. In addition, improving the experience within the coffee shops also worked as a strategy to justify the prices that began to increase due to the better quality of the coffee.

In turn, this second wave brought with it another innovation: the creation of new coffee-based beverages, such as frappuccinos, with the goal of attracting a younger audience and not just an adult audience.

These were some of the most important companies dedicated to the coffee industry in this period: Starbucks, SCAA, Peet’s Coffee & TeaGeorge Howell.

The third wave of coffee

This wave is based on a much more sophisticated coffee consumer, a “coffee lover” as many of us consider ourselves.

In fact, in this third wave, it is possible to compare coffee with wine. Consumers are much more concerned about their origins, the growing and production processes, and the brand, as it is a hallmark of their quality. Similarly, the training and professionalism of the barista, the traceability of coffee beans, micro-roasters, and “fair trade” coffee became key factors.

An important feature of this wave is specialty coffee, which marked a major turning point in the coffee industry.

On the other hand, the industry’s focus on the sustainability of the entire production chain also became a substantial element in this third wave.

Which of all these new elements seems to you the most important when choosing one coffee or another?




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