What are Coffee Waves?

What are Coffee Waves?

Posted by Meera Nair on

You have obviously heard of the term “third-wave coffee”. But what exactly does a coffee wave mean? Coffee waves are nothing but specific periods of time in the coffee industry that are distinct from one another on the basis of innovation, trends, and developments in the field of coffee.

The fourth coffee wave is currently underway. Let’s examine what each coffee wave brought to the forefront.


First Coffee Wave 

The mid-20th century marked the beginning of the coffee waves as coffee entered the beverage scene the world over. 

During this time, the affordability of coffee and convenience were the major defining factors. Coffee was mass-produced in the form of ground coffee to cater to the consumers so there weren’t many varieties in blends.

First-wave coffees were mostly dark roasts that would taste bitter. These were sold in bulk to restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets.

People consumed coffee for its caffeine quotient and the boost of energy it gave instead of appreciating the essence of it, i.e. the aroma and flavour. 

At this stage of the industry, minimal information was being disseminated about the origin or processing of coffee. There also wasn’t much of a focus on coffee quality.


Second Coffee Wave

In the 70s, the second coffee wave began. The Specialty Coffee Association was established in 1982 to boost the development of the specialty coffee market. 

second coffee wave

As this movement progressed, there was a shift in the way coffee was perceived. It went from instant coffee sold in supermarkets to increased interest in the traceability of coffee beans. Fairtrade and ethically grown coffee became super important to the community.

This was the time when single origin coffees took root as a viable product to be bought and sold. Coffee farmers and producers alike realised that people were becoming more and more appreciative of single origins.

There was greater attention paid to nuances in roast profiles, bean flavours, and brewing methods.

The industry witnessed the rise of individual brands aiming for higher quality coffee than in the first wave. Chain brands like Starbucks cropped up all over America. This was the start of what was to be a revolutionary change in the global F&B industry - for many countries, a switch from drinking only tea to coffee as well.


Third-Wave Coffee

If there was ever a time that was crucial to the evolution of coffee, it’s the third wave. 

Coffee consumers have become far more knowledgeable and sophisticated in their tastes. This is when the specialty coffee movement gained the most momentum. People were willing to pay more for good quality coffee.

A cornerstone of the third-wave movement is improved relationships within the supply chain.  At all levels, sustainability became a matter of consequence. You could find ultra-specialty coffee from small farms and roasters paving the way. 

There were many changes in the way coffee was consumed as well as prepared. Lighter roasts became a favourite amongst a section of the market. Manual brewing techniques such as pour-overs and French press were also popularised.

Coffee roasters and companies began to focus on educating consumers during this wave of developments in coffee.


Fourth Wave of Coffee

The fourth wave is characterised by an increase in brewing specialty coffee at home. The focus on being able to make coffee at home began as a consequence of the pandemic that forced café-goers to find alternatives for their daily coffee.

fourth coffee wave

This wave is driven by Gen-Z, who depict a keen desire to know more about coffee, its source, and its cultivation.

To enhance their coffee experience, many began investing in premium coffee makers that could brew splendid specialty coffee.

The rise of cold coffee drinks, especially ready-to-drink products such as canned or bottled cold brew are common characteristics of the fourth wave. Even cold coffee brewing techniques such as flash brewing were introduced.

While major coffee chains once dominated the market along with independent coffeehouses, now niche coffee brands are coming up. They focus on more transparent and new-age marketing to appeal to the youth.





Keeping in mind the vast potential of the coffee industry and the technological advancements of the future, we can presume that more coffee waves are to be expected in the coming decades.

Stay tuned to our blog for more coffee information and updates.

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