Coffee Waves

Author: Cheyenne Pittman

        Maybe some of you have heard the term “Third Wave Coffee.” Maybe you saw it on some trendy looking coffee shop in a hazy Portland neighborhood. Maybe, you have actually never heard the term but clicked on this post thinking that it was going to talk about coffee and surfing. Nonetheless, we wanted to write this post in order to clarify what each of the “Waves” mean.

Third Wave coffee is a movement, similar to the different waves of feminism that our world has seen in history, coffee has gone through incredible changes throughout time. You could compare these waves to the Industrial Revolutions as well, when the two different revolutions happened, they changed everything for good. The term wave was first coined by Trish Rothgeb in 2002 in the Roasters Guild Publication, defining the different movements of coffee. In order to talk about Third Wave, we should probably start by talking about the First and Second Waves. 

First Wave

First Wave Coffee, started in the 1800s, is the movement where coffee was essentially put on the map. It was spread around the world and consumed by the working class. This wave put vacuum sealed containers and instant coffee into people’s homes. The only thing that mattered about this coffee was its caffeine potential, there wasn't a care about where it came from or what brand it was. It was mostly bitter and roasted dark in order to have uniformity. Folgers, Maxwell House, and Mr. Coffee were some of the leading names that could have been found during this time. 

Second Wave

Second Wave Coffee started in the late 1960s and 70s. It is the movement that put large scale industrial coffee shops and brand names into the light. The powerhouses of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and Peets reigned champions of this wave. People began to care more about the name that was on the sleeve of their cup or on the outside of their coffee bag. The use of coffee tins seemed to decline as comfortable and cozy coffee shops increased. The prices of coffee were able to increase because the quality of coffee was going up and the ambiance that Starbucks and other shops produced seemed to justify the cost. Interestingly enough, in the U.S., alcohol sales were declining as more people spent their time lounging in coffee shops rather than bars. The focus wasn’t necessarily on the coffee itself but more the atmosphere of the coffee houses. Origins of the coffee were posted, but that didn't necessarily mean that the quality was increased by any exponential means. Second wave is also responsible for the invention of more espresso based drinks such as the frappuccino in order to appeal to larger audiences. 

Third Wave

Now that brings us to Third Wave Coffee, which is our current wave. “The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement towards good coffee.” -Trish R. Skeie. It is the current wave we are in now, where the coffee connoisseur was born. It came from a very niche market in the 1980s that started experimenting with different roast profiles. In 1982, the Specialty Coffee Association was born, which has given a platform for those who are focusing more on the bean itself. It’s focusing on fair trade rather than straight exploitation of the coffee farmers. This Third Wave has elevated coffee to the level of care that goes into wine. People are focusing more on the origin of the coffee, the tasting notes, and the ways in which it was brewed than ever before. The quality of the coffee is of utmost importance now. There aren't just a handful of coffee companies in this wave either, the small coffee shops found in their respective cities with baristas sporting tattoos and handsome beards are the new brand. 

Fourth Wave

Lastly, there seems to be a new wave in the workings. The Fourth Wave is a wave that seems to be slowly arriving but once it is here, there can truly be no going back. The Fourth Wave is exactly what the North Central Coffee Lab is striving for. Fourth Wave is focusing on every single person in the supply chain. Where the quality of the bean is equally as important as the quality of the working and living environments of the producers of the coffee farmers. The dream for this wave is that once farmers are paid what they need to thrive, there won’t be any going back to them being exploited. Fourth Wave strives to surpass fair trade and go to direct trade. Where the coffee farmers aren’t just surviving on what they are being paid for their product, but they are actually thriving.

Photo Credit: Brad Thalmann



Light, Michael Paul. “Trish Rothgeb Coined 'Third Wave' - and Is Now Looking toward Coffee's Future.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct. 2019,

Oksnevad, Dan. “The Differences Between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Wave Coffee.” Driven Coffee, 27 May 2019,

“WAVES OF COFFEE EXPLAINED.” Essense Coffee, 1 Oct. 2019, 

1 comment

  • Muchas gracias. ?Como puedo iniciar sesion?


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