First Wave Coffee
The first wave of coffee was a dark time indeed. Since the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the United States had started to favour coffee as its hot beverage of choice. As consumption grew, the focus was on quantity, not quality. Coffee was a commodity, and from 1800 to the 1970's, became a staple in most households. Coffee was cheap, convenient, and accessible for most people, the flavour and origins did not matter. Think Folgers and Maxwell House.
Second Wave Coffee
In the late 60's and early 70's companies like Peet's and Starbucks started to sell higher quality coffee (although still roasted pretty dark), and to focus more on the individual flavours coming from each origin. The new wave of coffee companies also started creating new drinks with flavoured syrups, and coffee shops started springing up in many communities. Coffee drinking became a more relaxed, social activity.
Third Wave Coffee
Third wave coffee started in the 80's with roasters, cafés and baristas focusing on the quality and source of the beans, and lighter roasts to bring out more flavourful characteristics of each origin. The Specialty Coffee Association of America was founded, and this quality first approach grew significantly in Australia and Scandinavia.
Third wave consumers are much more interested in the many flavours of coffee, than just getting a caffeine hit. Coffee started to resemble the craft movements of beer and whisky, customers were interested in the farm processes, the sustainability of the supply chain, and how the coffee was roasted.
The profession of the barista has also come on leaps and bounds in the past few decades. Baristas are now expected to know all about the origins of each coffee, TDS and extraction yields, and also need to be skilled in latte art. A great barista is what makes a great café!
In an ever warming climate, sustainability and responsibility are also key to the Third Wave movement. Both Fairtrade and Rain Forest Alliance certifications create sustainable supply chains, and ensure that farm workers are paid fairly. And more environmentally planting methods such as shade growing amongst other trees and bird friendly coffees are becoming more popular.
Today we generally refer to the third wave market as just 'Specialty Coffee'.
As well as learning about the farm origins, the bean processing, and the interesting flavour notes, the specialty coffee industry is also coming up with innovative and exciting ways to brew and enjoy coffee too.
This 'Fourth Wave' is all about the science and attention to detail when brewing. If you don't know what I mean, take a look at Diego Campos and his 2021 World Barista Championship winning concoctions. An exciting coffee genius at work.