A Brief History of the Coffee Revolution
We often take coffee for granted and just consider it to be a quick part of what would typically be described as a hectic work day. Those of us who work in the business of third wave coffee understand that there is an important part of it which remains relatively unknown: its history.
The story of coffee’s journey through North America has been hard fought and seen many ebbs & flows to get to where we are today, and learning about coffee’s own roots may allow us to appreciate our morning cup of joe that much more.
In this post, we will stick to the relevant origins of coffee’s introduction into North America and the subsequent “waves” which followed thereafter. First dubbed by Trish Rothgeb of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, these waves (first, second, and third) describe the evolutionary stages that coffee has undergone in its production and the quality/care the growers, roasters, and consumers put into the product.
First Wave: Coffee’s Manifest Destiny
Best described as a brave new world for its industry, coffee in North America first began in the early 19th century. It helped frontiersmen, farmers, and cowboys get a much needed rush of caffeine. This allowed them to keep moving for greater lengths of time, something vital to their way of life.
This era gave rise to major coffee brands in the mid-late 1800’s like Folgers and Maxwell House. These companies valued the mass producibility of coffee rather than the specific quality and uniqueness. This ultimately led to the use primarily of Robusta. Robusta is a type of coffee bean that is cheap to produce and distribute and has a very bitter taste. Thus, this wave tends to receive some criticism due to its distant or cold approach to the product. In hindsight, the need for fast and convenient consumption was most important. Think quantity over quality in this case.
Second Wave: The Birth of Coffee Appreciation & Corporate Coffee
From the mid-late 1900’s towards the early 2000’s, the needs of Americans slowly evolved into wants. Average consumers began rejecting the notion of quantity over quality. They started to push for a more refined focus on its origins and the various methods employed in roasting/pouring it. Initially, various brick-and-mortar shops fulfilled this desire until one rose above all the rest: Starbucks. Thusly, it became synonymous with the term ‘second wave coffee’.
At this point, many critics believe the second wave lost its way. This chain, and others, began to focus far more on the commercially applicable aspect of the product and less so on the quality-specific ways to grow & roast it. Commerciality and mass production began to take hold of the industry yet again. Except in this case, they took the competition into the storefronts rather than grocery stores. As a result, many mom-and-pop shops were bogged down by the competitive nature of these corporate giants.
Third Wave: The Renaissance of Coffee Appreciation
Despite being held down by corporate coffee for years, the local shops which were once hardly frequented in the wake of Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and It’s A Grind began to see a new influx of customers and moved quickly to meet (and exceed) their expectations. Intelligentsia Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee, and Stumptown Coffee Roasters pioneered the first third wave coffee shops. They not only managed to incorporate the social aspect which was so highly focused on at corporate stores, but they also tapped into what corporate coffee missed: the long-awaited desire of coffee to be considered an artisanal craft which deserves care & attention at every stage in its development.
As a result, these third wave coffee shops became incredibly precise in their knowledge of their product. Often, they can tell you the climate, soil, and altitude the beans were grown in. Also, many shops know how it was washed, packaged, shipped, roasted, and extracted. All of these can greatly alter the characteristics of how your coffee tastes.
Third wave coffee is where we find ourselves today. At Caffe Yolly, our relationship with our local roaster (Cuvee Coffee) and customers has never been stronger. Together, along with so many other third-wave shops in North America, we are exemplified by our personable relationship with our customers, as well as our ability to take pride in the product that we serve. We also understand that each bean has its own story to tell, and it’s our mission to tell it.