Coffee Culture: A Glimpse Into Coffee Culture Around The World


The History of Coffee Movements 

Our world has experienced coffee trends come and go for centuries, but the last few decades have represented a dynamic approach that has revolutionised the global coffee industry. Every coffee-lover has certainly heard the terms “coffee waves” or “coffee movements” in a coffee shop, through a friend, or online. But what do these terms mean? When did the first, second, and third wave happen, and what characteristics define each movement? You might also be wondering whether we are headed for the fourth wave. Let’s find out!

These coffee waves have naturally defined the coffee culture, consumer emphasis, production processes, bean quality, and a handful of other elements. By reading this article, you will get to understand how coffee is evolving and potentially predict where it’s headed.

  • 1st Wave: Coffee farming and consumption increased significantly
  • 2nd Wave: The defining of coffee enjoyment and rise of speciality coffee
  • 3rd Wave: Consumer emphasis drive appreciation of coffee origin and artisan

The First Wave Coffee

The first wave coffee movement started back in the 1800s when genius entrepreneurs like Maxwell House and Folgers saw a ready market for this commodity. The first wave focused more on availing coffee to the mass population and increasing convenience. On the flip side, these coffee brands and entrepreneurs paid less attention to taste and quality. This period was defined by a hot, ready market driven by profit optimisation and market share acquisition with little regards to consumer experience. Though most people frown upon the coffee quality in the first wave, the technical innovations in marketing, packaging, and processing became important catalysts that ushered the coffee industry into the second wave.

Vacuum packaging is perhaps the most distinctive innovation of the period. Introduced by shipbuilders turned coffee entrepreneurs, this packaging removed air from coffee tins, thus availing fresher beans in the market. Coffee lovers would easily access coffee tins in retail shelves and grocery stores.

Another major innovation was the birth of instant coffee. During the early 1900s, America experienced a surging movement in consumer goods that focused on producing ready-to-eat and time-saving packed products. It was the era of canned foods and instant coffee!! Satori Kato was a Japanese immigrant who invented instant coffee, a quick and easy model that got rid of brewing equipment. He supplied the WWI soldiers in 1917, who, without knowing, helped popularise his innovation. Nestle later modified the concept to come up with Nescafe instant coffee in 1938. Nestle supplied the U.S military with its beverage during WWII, and by mid-1900, Nescafe was a household name. 

Second Wave Coffee

The reaction to the "poor coffee" produced in the first wave became the main driving force in the second wave coffee transition. This movement started in the 1970s. This wave solidified the modern coffee culture, where consumers emphasise more on the coffee origin and appreciating the craftsmanship behind a good cup of coffee. In this wave, consumers wanted to get rid of “bad” first wave coffee and experience specific regional tastes and roasts. This led to the emergence of coffee shop culture. Starbucks spearheaded the transition, and its influence is evident when looking at the coffee shop history. 

More people began gathering at coffee shops and gradually forming the modern coffee shop culture, a social gathering for coffee lovers. Starbucks, alongside other coffee shops, geared the world into a quality-oriented coffee experience. 

Third Wave Coffee

The third wave coffee culture evolved from a niche community of coffee roasters in the 1980s. This community was more focused on coffee bean quality, including experimenting with lighter roast levels, introducing exotic flavours, and advanced barista skills.

The third coffee movement signifies the modern coffee world we are living in. The term “third wave” was coined in 2002 in an article by Trish Rothgeb (formerly called Trish Skeie). Rothgeb used the name “wave” to refer to significant transition periods.

The third wave coffee movement is characterised by the modern-day coffee lovers who are interested in coffee as a bean, and not just as enjoyment. The wave is more of an awakening and a reaction from the first and second waves. 

The first wave was all about mass production and availability. In the second movement, the quality was improved, but marketing the experience and brand awareness were the driving factors. In the third wave coffee culture, all the above factors take a backseat, and the product (coffee) becomes the main driving force. It also helps us understand the coffee shop history and appreciate how far we’ve come. 

The third wave coffee movement has brought transparency in the coffee industry and designed a new way of appreciating coffee as a diverse bean. Consumers can tell the exact farm from which their favourite coffee was grown, and even the farmer’s name. 

Is There a Fourth Wave?

While most coffee lovers dispute this possibility with an “enough already” attitude, no one really knows what the future holds. Others argue that generic coffee preferences could be the new phase of the transition into the fourth movement. 

Generic coffee preferences are coffee preferences and alternatives that are gaining influence across the globe. For example, the evolution of coffee drinking in China is still mid-way, and therefore, some people have not fully appreciated the diversity of coffee. This has led to a growing preference for milky beverages over speciality coffee in China. In the West, veganism is an influential culture that has seen an increased inclination to vegan milk. In other parts, like Mediterranean countries, strong espressos are the go-to coffee shots. Could this be a fourth wave forming? Is coffee slowly experiencing a division of preferences?