Coffee has come a long way in the last 25 years; however, the one thing that hasn't changed are morning coffee rituals shared through people world wide. Coffee has been a staple in households for over a century, so what makes your morning cup different compared to the generations before us.
Prior to 1995, there wasn't a uniformly accepted method to assess the complexity of flavors that may be within any given cup. Who remembers those classic (and catchy) jingles that echoed around our living room on unavoidable commercials. I'll admit, they were catchy and absolutely helped sell cans of pre-ground coffee. This coffee could have been roasted a year(s) earlier, and had a taste more generic than well generic coffee. This isn't to say that these companies were doing anything wrong, they were simply doing the best they could with what they had. The big names that dominated the 20th century were critical players in the evolution of how you get your coffee. The first wave was like a steam train starting out slow, and finishing like a hurricane.
There isn't a person alive today that can remember when coffee went from a delicacy to a necessity. Vacuum packaged coffee first rolled out in 1900, which was closely followed by Sori Kato's, a Japanese-American, innovation of "instant" coffee. This opened the doors for coffee to find its new home in kitchens everywhere. This era of coffee is traditionally known as the first wave.
The first wave lasted decades and was followed by, you guessed it, the second wave. The second wave is equally as important and continued to help shape the coffee landscape today. Second wave roasters gained popularity in the early 1970's. The goal was simple, raise the standards on the quality of the coffee.They did this by bringing freshness and quality to the mainstream. This had a wild side-effect on pop-culture, without the second wave there would be no "Central Perk" and who knows if Rachel and Ross would have ever tied the knot.
The third wave arguably began around the early 2000's. This wave brought to us the importance of everyone involved throughout the entire process. Fair trade and organic farms saw a rapid rise, roasters became very specific of where their beans came from and how they were processed. Baristas became a trained specialist, perfecting the drinks they made. And customer education on what the drinks they consumed grew in addition a hyper focus on customer service.
Today, roasters want to bring the best quality to you, the drinker, but also to the farmers who make it all possible. Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world, just behind oil; however, there are still farmers who are paid so little they couldn't afford a coffee. I'm sure the question you are wondering if you've made it this far is "well, are we in the fourth wave now?". This can be debated by coffee experts to great depths at any local coffee shop for hours without a clear answer. Is the fourth wave everything in the third wave, but with the addition of dissecting every scientific change that a coffee cherry goes through from the location grown, how the bean was processed, the changes of the bean throughout the roast and the impact of the slightest variation in the roast impacts the flavor profiles. Whether it's the discussion of the fourth wave, flying cars, or life on mars, I am just going to focus on roasting the best coffee I can.