What is the First, Second and Third Coffee Wave?

The third wave refers to the current trend of specialty coffee preparation. Coffee is treated with the same respect as fine wine in all its preparation processes, from the initial cherry picking to roasting and brewing.

This approach to coffee is not new to the company. In fact, it is a resurgence of respect for coffee since the days when cans of ground coffee and instant coffee hit retail shelves, making coffee a caffeine "kicker" rather than a beverage to be enjoyed.


Theconcept of coffee waves is attributed to coffee expert Trish Rothgeb. She breaks down consumer attitudes towards coffee in modern history into what she calls coffee waves. She first published her idea in 2003 in The Flamekeeper magazine.

Each wave is defined by a particular approach to coffee and values or attitudes towards the beverage. The waves categorize the history of coffee consumption and production according to significant historical changes and may overlap. These changes have happened in the recent history of coffee drinking. Despite this, coffee drinking has a long tradition. After all, the first coffee houses were established at least as early as the 15th century. Thediscovery of the coffee tree itself is estimated to be around 850 AD.

The coffee waves are stages of a kind of "renaissance" in coffee consumption. They include complex changes in the approach to coffee as a raw material and developments in the whole coffee industry, i.e. as they say: "from plant to cup".

the first coffee wave the second coffee wave the third coffee wave
c. first half of the 20th century c. 1960s to 1990s ca. 1990s to present
high availability, no complicated preparation, quantity and convenience at the expense of quality experience of drinking quality coffee, increased interest in coffee, social function of cafés high quality coffee, sophisticated consumer, emphasis on product
instant coffee, home-ground coffee, mass production, commonly found in retail stores specialty coffee revolution, emergence of SCAA, coffee chains and coffee selection coffee education, identification of coffee uniqueness, sourcing ethics, direct trade
Coffee Wave and black coffee prepared using the popular Chemex method


The first stage is the phase of increasing coffee consumption. Coffee Wave creator Trish Rothgeb describes the first wave as a period of people before and after World War II who routinely brewed bad coffee, created poor quality instant coffees, and pressured for the lowest possible price. The roots of the first coffee wave go back to the 18th century. They can be traced back to a famous historical event in 1773 known as the "Boston Tea Party".


This famous historical milestone, in which American colonists destroyed over 300 cases of tea in protest against the British Empire, not only heralded the American Revolution, but also a change regarding coffee consumption and its place in society. Americans accepted coffee as a beverage of daily consumption, whereas the popularity of the traditional British beverage - tea - was declining.

The coffee plant, native to the tropical forests of what is now Ethiopia, found its 'way into the world'. It began to be cultivated in India, Indonesia and, from 1727, took root in Brazil. Gradually, coffee farms were established in Central and South America. The spread of the coffee plant meant an increase in coffee production, which was in great demand in the 19th century. Not only among coffee-loving Americans, but also in Europe.

Soldiers. Coffee tree seedlings sprouting upright.


Where there's demand, there's supply. Entrepreneurs have naturally responded to the growing trend in coffee drinking. Their vision of the coffee market meant both the affordability ofcoffee and its ease of preparation. Two coffee brands played a big role at the time: Folgers and Maxwell House. Within a short time, the products of these American companies became members of almost every household in the United States.

Originally, coffee was only available in a coffee shop or from the local roaster. The 19th century meant coffee that you could just pour hot water over and buy it in any shop at an affordable price. Thequality and taste ofthese mass-produced coffees have disappeared.

Convenience and affordability won outfor consumers . Despite this critical view of volume production, innovations in processing, packaging and marketing allowed the coffee industry to grow into the years to come.


Roasted ground coffee sealed in a vacuum-sealed can that made its way into most American kitchens. Foglers set out to expand coffee drinking from the upper to the middle classes of Americans.

Originally as the California-based Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills of the 1850s, they produced roasted ground coffee. J.A. Folger became an employee of the company as a young man of 15 and a full-fledged business partner in 1865. A few years later, in 1872, he bought the company and renamed it J.A. Fogler & Co. This was the birth ofmass marketing of coffee in the USA. In the 1960s, they released Instant Folgers instant coffee with great success. The company was subsequently bought by P&G and Foglers Coffee became the number one selling ground coffee in the US.

The Maxwell House Company was instrumental in popularizing coffee from the early 20th century onwards. Its founder Joel Cheek worked, with coffee distributor R.N. Smith, to create the perfect coffee blend. He offered this blend to the local Maxwell House Hotel to try. Guests at this hotel, which has hosted several U.S. presidents over the years, loved Cheek's coffee. The hotel became an exclusive customer and also had Cheek name his coffee blend as Maxwell House.

Maxwell House Coffee's sales strategy focused on advertising. As early as 1915, they started using the slogan: "good to the last drop". This phrase is believed to have been uttered by US President Theodore Roosevelt when he was drinking the coffee. The company's marketing budget in 1924 was a staggering $276,894. Advertising for Maxwell House Coffee was everywhere. In newspapers, radio and television, was the most famous coffee brand in the US until the 1990s.

A throwback to coffee history: the first coffee wave and Folgers ground coffee in cans.


Perhaps the most significant innovation came from shipbuilders who turned to coffee roasters, Austin and R.W. Hills, founders of Coffee Bros. In 1900, R.W. Hills created the vacuum packing process. The process removed air from coffee cans, resulting in fresher products.

This process has influenced the way coffee is delivered to this day. The source of coffee moved from local roasters to the retail grocery shelves of San Francisco, to Chicago, and eventually to New York City.


In the early 20th century, America was in its heyday! Modern industry was making and selling products that were time-saving. It was the time of frozen dinners, electric machines, hair dryers and instant coffee!

In 1903, Japanese-American Satori Kato applied his first process to make instant tea and coffee. It was the first U.S. patent called "Coffee Concentrate and Process for Making It", better known as "instant coffee" (U.S. Patent No. 735,777 - August 11, 1903). Instant coffee was quick, easy. It required almost no preparation. It was perfect for World War Isoldiers.

By 1938,Nestlé and Nescafé had become the most innovative instant coffee brands and sold their beverage to U.S. Army soldiers during World War II. By the 1970s, nearly one-third of imported coffee was processed into instant coffee.


One of the driving forces in the transition to the second wave was neighborhood reaction to the "bad coffee" that was sold during the first wave. Consumers yearned to know their coffee, its origins and to understand the unique roasting methods. Our vocabulary began to expand with the arrival of the second wave. Words like espresso, latte, French Press became common among coffee lovers .

Coffee shops became big business. The social experience of drinking coffee became more important than the artisanal process of producing it. The coffee that is most often associated with the illustration of second wave coffee is Starbucks.


After World War II, the perception of coffee began to turn back to quality. Drinking coffee again had a social function. There was a growing need to enjoy coffee. This included the quality of the raw material, the preparation and the experience of drinking coffee, which European cafés retained. Howard Schultz, owner of Starbucks, brought exactly this inspiration from Italy. He incorporated this trend into his plan to create a coffee shop as a place between work and home.

Before Schultz bought Starbucks and began creating iconic coffee shops across the world, Peet's Coffee & Tea was at the beginning of the specialty coffee revolution in the US. It was founded in 1966 by Alfred H. Peet, a Dutch-American entrepreneur. He roasted and sold freshly roasted coffee beans with an emphasis on quality, which is why he is said to have been "the Dutchman who taught America to drink coffee".

Well, he did. He passed on his love of coffee and its preparation to a trio of men (J.Baldwin, Z.Siegl, G.Bowker) who were inspired by him and opened a Starbucks in Seattle in 1971. Ten years later, H. Schultz visited it. In 1987, Starbucks was bought for $3.8 million. This brought pre-brewed coffee, espresso and lattes tothe coffee menu . The new coffee chain surpassed its growth goal in the 1990s by opening a new location every weekday and by 2000 had more than 3,000 locations.


A major figure in the coffee world immigrated to the U.S. from northern Europe, specifically Norway. Known as "the godmother of specialty coffee" - Erna Knutsen. She worked as a secretary for The BC Ireland Coffee Company Inc. At work she was exposed to both commodity coffees and the specialty coffee sector, which fascinated her. In the 1980's she started her own company, Knutsen Coffees, Ltd.

Celebrating Erna Knutsen's Specialty Coffees - Magazine 25 No.6 Available from: https://scanews.coffee/25-magazine/issue-6/english/celebrating-erna-knutsens-specialty-coffee

Erna shared her joy of coffee and inspired other coffee lovers. She was a founder, innovator and leader in the specialty coffee industry. She spent a lifetime promoting her idea that good coffee is quality coffee. She was one of the figures who gave birth to the Specialty Coffee Association of America - SCAA.


Thesecond coffee wave is a blend of old coffee shops and new marketing. American entrepreneurs in the first wave achieved an extremely rapid spread of the coffee drinking trend across social classes and made coffee a commonly sipped beverage. In the second wave, the popularisation of coffee was followed by theenhancement of the coffee drinking experience. This is influenced by the European coffee drinking culture and education in coffee selection.

Visiting a coffee shop becomes (again) a social necessity. People go for coffee together, discuss over coffee and solve life's problems. Coffee is a symbol of social life. Coffee is a companion throughout the day for every coffee lover. At the same time, a multitude of preparation techniques are attracting attention and awareness of the coffee of choice is spreading.

Starbucks strengthens people's relationship with coffee and names the cups for customers. The SCAA "names the bean packs" with information about the raw material, processing, and status as a choice coffee and spreads coffee knowledge. Perhaps the most illustrative way to introduce the second coffee wave is the Friends series. Typical of a group of friends sitting in a coffee shop over cups of different types of coffee drinks.

In the aforementioned cult series, the Friends not only indulge in coffee at the popular Central Perk coffee shop, but can be glimpsed in several episodes at Monica's Kitchen Chemex. Making coffee in Chemex is one of the alternative methods of coffee preparation.

The cult series Friends and the Central Perk café characterise the second coffee wave: the interest in coffee and its consumption in society.


While the first two coffee waves are eras in the evolution of coffee consumption, the third wave has become a movement. Itfocuses on theart of coffee preparation and reflects on the ethics of coffee sourcing. The third coffee wave focuses on the sophisticated coffee drinker, that is, the consumer who is interested in a great cup of coffee as well as the processes and methods involved and the raw material itself.

Thethird coffee wave concerns all coffee lovers, interested in the character of the coffee itself. Sometimes this trend is more a reaction to bad coffee and the way it has been promoted. Look at it this way: The first wave was all about availability to the masses on a national scale. With the second wave, coffee was better, marketing was the driving force. With the third wave, production and marketing took a back seat and theproduct became the focus.

With the new emphasis on transparency within the coffee industry, consumers can follow the happenings of their favorite coffee on the very farm from which it was harvested. Soil, altitude and processing method become important factors for a discerning clientele.

Most roasters and cafes associated with the third wave are small businesses, independently owned and operated. Roasters and cafes that roast their own coffee represent entrepreneurs who love great coffee and run a business where they have the opportunity to share it with other communities.


What is typical in third-wave cafes is their layout so that the barista is "in plain sight." Coffee preparation is seen as an art rather than a craft. So what could be more appealing to a guest than to watch an artist - a barista - at work.

The role of a barista in a coffee shop is not just about making a drink to order on your own. Third-wave baristas express their own opinion about coffee in their recipe - the drink. In the process ,they draw on their experience to get themost out of thecoffee beans.

From this view of the barista as a coffee artist, their professionalism is important. This includes a comprehensive knowledge of not only the preparation of the drink itself, but also an overview of the entire coffee processing and roasting process.


More than the consistency of flavours that coffee blendsguarantee , the third wave is looking forsingleorigin coffee. And more than that. People are discoveringthe diversity of flavours inso-called microlots or nanolots, i.e. coffee not only from a specific region and farm, but also from a specific area of that farm. Coffee processing is also evolving and new methods are being tried in response to the uniqueness of coffee.

To bring out the specific flavours of the coffee, roasters create new processes and adapt them to the coffee. By roasting more lightly , they emphasise the coffee's natural characteristics. The range of flavours in the coffee is typical of the third wave. Following this, SCAA experts have created a flavour wheel to identify the different aromas and flavours in coffee.

In the sense of the uniqueness of coffee, the trend of direct trade with the farmeris also developing. This guarantees transparency of coffee origin and leads to direct relationships and original ways of cooperation and communication between growers, roasters, baristas and customers. The transparency of these relationships leads to fair trade and a better product. Which also ties in with the requirement for sustainable and ethical coffee. Which is typical of the third wave.

Fair trade, transparency of coffee origin and processing.


There are also big companies that have made their name on third wave coffee. These include Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea in Chicago, Counter Culture Coffee in North Carolina, and Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland. They are known as the "Big Three." They exemplify thephilosophy and goal of the third wave.

Each is an advocate of quality products, direct trade, and business practices that suit both parties. They advocate thatcoffee education also plays an important role in business models. They believe that better consumer education strengthens the industry.


As you can see, coffee and the coffee industry have undergone a long evolution over the last 100 years. Successive phases have brought us to a time when coffee is not just a morning wake-up drug or an after-meal dessert drink. Today ,coffee is a real treat. Attention is paid to the origin, the method of preparation and all the variations in taste. And where will it go from here? Is there another, fourth wave?

If we have to define the fourth wave, perhaps the best way to describe it is this - it is the best combination of all three waves contributing to the rise of coffee.

In exploring the fourth wave, the descriptions are as varied as the coffee itself. What some define as the fourth wave, others refer to as the third. Perhaps the most balanced view is that we are experiencing a new wave and a fourth is yet to come. Whateveryour opinion on coffee waves, you have to admit thatright now coffee is in a great place.

Third Wave Coffee. Professional processes, coffee uniqueness and sourcing ethics.


  1. The first wave brought innovation to the coffee industry. The development of new delivery systems allowed companies to provide coffee to millions of people at once. Today, roasters have their own online businesses offering coffee from around the world.
  2. Specialty coffee shops have given coffee a new identity. What was once a pleasure at home has become a social affair that can be shared with friends. In the second wave, consumers have led companies like Starbucks and Caribou to the coffeehouse top spot.
  3. Today, the key to success is an emphasis on transparency and education. Success can be seen from both a business and social perspective. It's easy to see that you no longer have to have a big name to break into the market. Changing the guard in line with industry standards and practices has led to a more vigilant market and fair trade.