The Three Waves of Coffee: The History of Specialty Coffee

So if you are just getting into specialty coffee, you probably have wondered where we got our name from. You might have also heard “third wave” or “coffee came in three waves” at some point from a friend or from a different coffee blog. Well, this blog post is going to break down not only what is the meaning of “Third Wave” but also why we decided to name ourselves after a movement. 

Serving fresh brewed coffee at home.

A Lesson in the History of Coffee: 

Coffee has a long and very interesting history filled with urban legends, conspiracy, and people risking their lives to protect coffee. Perhaps we will do a longer post sometime going further into how coffee spread across the world from its birthplace in Ethiopia. 

Coffee’s First Wave: Getting Coffee to Consumers

We are going to start with the first wave of coffee. Looking back to the 1800’s coffee sales were skyrocketing and it was going through the process of commoditization. To put the rapid growth of coffee sales into perspective, Brazil produced only 30,000 bags of coffee in 1809, however, fast forward to 1871 and they were exporting 2,000,000 bags. During this period, coffee became easily accessible and available to everyone. Bags were starting to be vacuum packed and even though the quality wasn’t the best, everyone accepted it. There was no traceability or labels showing where the coffee’s origin was, or any flavor notes to be found in the first wave’s coffee.

The Second Wave of Coffee: The First Demand For Higher Quality Coffee

The growth of coffee was the fuel for the second wave of coffee. Consumers wanted to have different coffee options. They wanted their coffee to be roasted with a little more intent and care. Roasters started to label their coffee with more information and the quality was increased. However, the roasts were still pretty dark and there was a lot more that could be done to increase the quality of the coffee. This was happening around 1850-1900 and took us into the age of Starbucks and the modern style of coffee shops with their dark roasts, lattes, and blended drinks. At this point, you can still pretty much expect most coffee shops to be stuck in the second wave. 

The Third Wave: A Demand for Coffee to be Held to a Higher Standard

This is the movement we named our shop after. It came from a demand to hold coffee to a higher standard from the seed to the cup. Every step of coffee from farming, roasting, and brewing is pushed further than in the second wave.

As an industry, specialty coffee understands that farmers need to be paid fairly so that coffee has a bright future. This enables farmers to focus more on quality and spend more time ensuring every coffee cherry is picked at peak ripeness.

When sourcing coffee, specialty coffee roasters look for coffee that is sweet, bright, complex, and interesting. Then each coffee once bought, has a roast profile developed to be transparent and show the intrinsic qualities that each lot of coffee has. We want to show the full potential of every coffee and find where it has the best balance of flavor without losing any sweetness. This calls for a lighter roast profile so that flavors aren’t masked or covered up as the roast goes from light to medium, to dark. This allows for coffee to taste like almost anything imaginable, from incredibly fruity to a more heavy and sweet coffee that tastes like dessert. 


Our Name:

We named our shop after the movement because we wanted to bring specialty coffee to an area where it previously wasn’t found. We have a passion for educating people about coffee and helping people fall in love with coffee, just as much as we have. This is why we do home brewing classes, cuppings, and are always there to answers all of our customer’s questions. Education is incredibly helpful along the journey into specialty coffee, we not only understand this but believe it is one of the key components of our brand.