We are here to give you a bit of an overview of the different waves of coffee, to help clear up any confusion about what people are talking about when they reference these.
The first wave of coffee can be summarized by a single word - convenience. Coffee was everywhere, and was being provided “ready for the pot”.
There was little regard for where the beans came from, how they were roasted and the flavours produced through the roasting process. Stocking shelves with as much pre-ground coffee as possible was the goal.
Think of inexpensive tin cans with plastic lids across many shelves. Notable coffee brands like Maxwell House and Folgers were born during this time and quickly became household names.
While coffee consumption saw significant increases, there was a rising level of criticism as these brands were sacrificing the taste and quality of the coffee for convenience and mass production. If you’re anything like us, we can’t live without our daily dose of deliciousness!
Vacuum packaging was invented in 1900, and is something that we are proud to continue to practice over 120 years later! The process removed air from the coffee tins/bags, resulting in fresher beans.
Instant coffee was invented just 3 years later in 1903, by applying a dehydration process commonly used for soluble tea. This caffeine beverage was popular among the soldiers of World War I and Nestle had become the market leader for instant coffee by 1938. Nestle even supplied the American troops during World World II.
Road Fact: Approximately ⅓ of imported coffee was processed into instant coffee by the 1970s!
Coffee drinkers wanted more information about the coffee they were drinking by the 1980s and this saw the birth of what would become known as the 2nd wave of the coffee industry.
Consumers were interested in knowing about the origins of their coffee and having an understanding of the different roasting styles.
This shifted the view of coffee from a beverage to an experience. It has been said that there were influences from the wine and craft beer industries, with many common principles and applications between them.
This is also the time period where we started using commonly-used coffee terms such as espresso, latte, and French Press. While the second wave had a great social factor that drove its inception, it is often criticized for losing its vision of learning more about the origin of coffee beans for the social aspects of drinking coffee.
The term ‘third wave coffee’ has only been in use for the last two decades, and is characterized by coffee drinkers becoming interested in the actual character of the coffee. High-quality beans and diverse flavour profiles became signatures of this past era.
What do we mean by the character of the coffee?
We mean drinkers became interested in higher quality coffee, in the nuanced flavours that accompany each coffee and style of roast.
There was an increasing emphasis on more information from within the coffee industry, and consumers wanted to know the heritage of their favourite coffee. Was it from Costa Rica? Was it from Colombia? You may already be thinking of your favourite country or origin!
Everything from the country, the altitude it was grown at, the process used to take the seed from the coffee cherry, and the specific tasting notes - all started to become notable facts of interest.
Coffee during this time truly became a craft, similar to that of wine and craft beer. Coffee was viewed as a luxury experience, with a high emphasis on the brewing process. This wave saw the rise of independently owned and operated coffee roasters and shops.
This ‘new wave’ of coffee places an even larger emphasis on the transparency of the coffee industry and education for consumers. Roasting each batch of beans to perfection to bring out their robust and diverse flavours is a great way to describe how flavourful coffee from this wave is.
In our professional opinion, we think that the fourth wave of coffee will experience the most significant changes than any other wave. This is a time where delicious, high-quality coffee is being combined with an ever-growing social consciousness and need for social change.
Road Coffee works to resolve the systemic injustices and traditional values within the coffee supply chain industry by bringing coffee from a farmer’s hand to your hard and invested back into their land. At Road, we are proud to fit into this fourth wave of coffee, characterized by the direct trade partnerships with coffee farmers in emerging markets, with a direct reinvestment to those specific farmers and their families.
At its core, this is what our BeyondFair micro-loan program is about. Purchasing directly from farmers and paying them livable wages, above their costs of goods and reinvesting that money back into their family businesses. The Road team is involved every step of the coffee journey, and we are passionate about the deep relationships we have cultivated.
Author Jordan Calladine