Waves of coffee

Have you ever heard the term waves of coffee? If you haven’t thats fine, it will be explained in depth in this article. Read on fellow coffee lover!

This article contents:

What are the waves of coffee? 

The term “Wave of coffee” refers to a period in time or stage in the coffee industry, there have been 3 in total. These waves represent big changes in the industry and also the changes in the global culture brought by coffee itself.

This term was coined by Trish Rothgeb back in 2002 published in the Roasters Guild Publication defining the three Coffee movements as “waves”.

Each wave initiates with a big change, to make a clear example one would compare these changes to the ones produced by the first or the second industrial revolutions, after these changes the world of industry was changed permanently, so as coffee has had disruptive changes after each wave.

Next, here’s an overview of each of the waves and then they will be explained in depth.

    • 1st Wave (1800s) Coffee becomes a commodity, its consumption grows exponentially.
    • 2nd Wave(1970)American coffee giant Starbucks transforms coffee culture.  
    •  3rd Wave(2000s): Coffee starts being purchased based on its production origin and its methods of production.

First Wave of Coffee

The first wave dates back to the 1800s when the consumption of coffee started to grow at exponential levels, this happened because finally people started to realize the potential behind this beverage and started buying it regularly. This brought a big opportunity for coffee entrepreneurs who saw a big opportunity and had exponential growth in their coffee sales.

The most important point of this wave was to make coffee a basic item that could be found in every household. In this period people cared only about getting the “caffeine kick” more than the quality, the origins of the coffee were not important as well as the flavor. The key factors were the convenience and accessibility of this product.

Important figures/companies: Folgers, Maxwell House, Mr. Coffee, Nescafé, Hill Bros Coffee, Satori Kato. 

Innovations: Instant Coffee, Vacuum packaging.


Second Wave of Coffee

The second wave started in the 1970s, around the time that Starbucks started growing and having more influence in the coffee industry. This wave happened mostly because coffee consumers started to appreciate coffee more and consequently wanted to taste better qualities and get to know the origins of their coffees.

Starbucks perfectly understood the fact that the market was aching to have a “different” coffee experience, a more social one, with coffee of better quality and thus coffee shops began to transform into places of a social encounter rather than just a place to take coffee to go.

During this period lots of beer and spirits companies started to see a decline in their sales mostly in the U.S. where the second wave started and grew faster than anywhere else in the world, they soon discovered that the responsible for their decline in sales was no other than Starbucks and the coffee shops that started appearing after the start of the second wave. 

This wave transformed the coffee culture into a more relaxed one. Starting with the change in the architecture and interior design of coffee shops, this was made so people felt more comfortable and also to justify the prices which started to rise mostly because the coffee sold in the second wave coffee shops was of higher quality.

Another characteristic of this wave is that coffee shops started creating more coffee-based drinks, such as frappuccinos and other inventions to appeal to the more general public and not just adults.

Important figures/companies: Starbucks, SCAA, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, George Howell, Howard Schultz.

Third Wave of Coffee

“The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee.” – Trish R. Skeie

The third wave of Coffee as a term was first used by Trish Rothgeb back in 2002 published in the Roasters Guild Publication defining the three Coffee movements as “waves”. This wave is made up of a much more sophisticated coffee consumer, a “coffee lover” as many of us consider ourselves.

Consumers in this wave are much more interested in having a great cup of coffee that suits the different tastes, as you can probably tell, in this wave coffee starts to have more and more similarities with wine, people care much more about the origins of the coffee, the processes involved and the way coffee is brewed.

An important feature of this wave is that of the Specialty Coffee which was a turning point on the coffee industry. The quality of the coffee became very important, and with it, a lot of other aspects of the coffee such as the formation and professionality of the barista, the traceability of the coffee beans, micro roasters and fair-trade coffee just to mention a few.

Baristas in this wave have earned a lot of respect because finally their knowledge is being put to use, they are the responsibles behind the creation of a great cup of coffee that could make your day better, before they were just considered as “coffee servers”, but the truth is that a good barista knows the whole process, from the selection of the green beans to the roasting, to the brewing and some times the preparation of a great drink.

Another important characteristic of the third wave is the industry’s focus on sustainability on the whole supply chain. With initiatives such as fair trade coffee which protects the coffee farmers by paying them a fair price, the usage of agricultural products that won’t be harmful to the consumers and the collaboration between all of the involved in the coffee industry to make it a more sustainable one, make the third wave more of a global stage that affects in a positive manner everyone involved in the coffee world from the farmer to the consumer, from the seed to the cup.

Important figures/companies: Specialty Coffee Asociation, Trish R., Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, Stumptown Roasters.


If you have any doubts, questions or some additional info please comment below, we will gladly read every comment and respond if necessary.

  • What is the difference between the second and the third wave in terms of the quality of the coffee? Does the consumer of the third wave have a different way of enjoying the coffee than in the second wave?

    • Good question, Tobias! The third wave is the realm of Specialty Coffee. So yes, there is a lot of difference in the quality of coffee between the two waves. The “Specialty Coffee” term was been conied to indicate a super high quality coffee with complete traceability, freshness and absence of defects. Consumers have also different ways to enjoy coffee: in some countries – like Italy – the third wave introduced new brewing methods like pour-over, aeropress, cold drip,… And you, what do you think about the third wave of coffee? Is it popular in your country? And what main innovation did it bring? It could be a pleasure to know your experience about it… 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *