Every wave ushers in a new herd of customers, new territory for innovation and advancement, so people often look for waves in a lake and force themselves to see mirages that never make it to the beach. Some forecasters are already onto the sixth wave of coffee though I don’t think anyone is entirely buying into it. To see a wave, you must first know what you are looking for by understanding the previous waves. So let us review the known three waves of coffee.
Before any waves began rippling, the coffee scene in the US was pretty bleak. We were a self-proclaimed country of coffee drinkers, as our defecting British roots would force us to be a symbol of national pride and identity. We were the products of manifest destiny and the Western spirit of the rugged individual. This influenced our coffee culture by making it a culture of the individual rather than a social occasion. Cowboy coffee was what it was called, and it consisted of home-roasting coffee beans over an open fire and stepping grounds in a wet pot until it made mud enough to keep you awake. It was not a drink of pleasure but of utilitarian means. There were three major ports where coffee was received – New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco. So it should be no surprise that San Francisco was the birthplace of the first wave.
There were no real coffee brands at that time, and most people purchased green coffee and cooked it themselves. There was no internet in the eighteen hundreds, so people had to fend for themselves. That is until the invention of the vacuum-sealed container. This simple product innovation allowed coffee roasters to package and sell ground coffee and keep it fresh to distribute to grocery store shelves across the country. The preservative packaging allowed the emergence of the first national coffee brands – Folgers, Arbuckles, and Hills Brothers. National distribution allowed everyone in the states to brew coffee easily at home without being a master roaster. This was the first wave.
In the late nineteen sixties, another revolution was brewing in the progressive community of Berkley. Dissatisfied with the quality and options provided by the existing monopoly of the contemporary roasters of the time, Alfred Peet began forging his own path. Peet wanted to know where coffee originated and the difference between coffee grown in Ethiopia and Brazil. Furthermore, he wanted to taste fresh roasted whole-bean coffee rather than just the standard pre-ground canned coffee. This pursuit began opening the minds of many on the west coast and eventually inspired the founders of Starbucks.
Starbucks created the first popular cafe concept in the US. They established a social version of coffee culture that did not exist in the US. Deconstructing the cafe of coffee from the first wave and creating an out-of-home experience defines the second wave.
Look out for my next coffee article to discover what causes the Third Wave, where it hits, and who’s next.