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3rd wave coffee, coffee culture, high quality coffee - | Written by Janice Spencer

Coffee Culture in the 21st Century - High Quality Without the High Price

Espresso machine pouring coffee into cupThe evolution of coffee culture over the past two centuries is sometimes defined as a series of three, or possibly four ’waves’, each of them illustrating the changing trends and attitudes during different periods in time of the coffee-drinking population.

From the ‘first wave’ back in the 1800s, the likes of Folgers and Maxwell House were providing American households with convenient packs of roasted, ready to brew coffee, and by 1938, Nestlé had launched a soluble, powdered form of coffee, that became widely available after the Second World War. Although coffee fast became a popular beverage, there was rarely much thought given by consumers as to the quality of the beans, or where they may have originated.

The ‘second wave’, from the 1970s, saw the advent of large chain coffee shops, like Starbucks and Costa Coffee, on the high street, selling dark roasted coffees, and popularising flavoured coffees and latte art. For years, such establishments have been valued as places to socialise, or a pit stop for refreshment during shopping trips; the emphasis being more about the enjoyment of the coffee house experience, rather than the quality of the coffee itself.

At the beginning of the 21st century, a ‘third wave’ was evident from a change in people’s perception of coffee, with more importance attached to quality, and a keenness to learn about the origins of individual beans and their flavour profiles. There was also a heightened awareness of environmental issues and the ethics employed in coffee production. Some people began to adopt a mindset similar to that of a wine connoisseur, and independent, artisan coffee shops appeared, with knowledgeable baristas, and micro-roasted coffees on the menu. There was a lean towards a kind of traditional Italian coffee culture, and coffee house customers would more often opt for a refined, high quality espresso than an enormous, cream and sugar-laden, artificial-flavoured brew.

So where does this all lead, and what is, or what will be, the ‘fourth wave’ of coffee? One factor suggested as a catalyst for such change is the growth of e-commerce, and its impact on high street shopping. Many people today prefer to buy their own beans or freshly ground coffee to prepare at home themselves; ordering coffee online is quick and convenient, and it’s easy to acquire the necessary equipment to grind and brew their favourite coffee beans to just how they like them. And bearing in mind how many cups of quality coffee can be produced from a single bag, compared to the price one would pay at an artisan coffee shop, and the huge choice of coffees available online, it’s little wonder that the current demand for fresh, quality coffee is effectively being met this way.

No-one can be sure about how coffee culture may further evolve, but what we can be sure of is there’s never been a better time than now for coffee lovers to be able to appreciate high quality coffee, but without the high price.