Alright, Let’s Take This One Wave at a Time...
Coffee took off in the United States around the mid-1800s, after the tax on imports was abolished in 1832, and coffee became more available. It’s cheapness caused it to eclipse tea as America’s favorite steamy caffeinated beverage.
The “waves” simply function to discern three distinct eras of coffee consumption across the U.S.
The First Wave
The United States, to no one’s surprise, were first to industrialize the coffee biz. The emergence of the first so-called “coffee giants” (Maxwell House, Folger) reflects America’s inclination toward big business. Sanders describes this as “a grim time. The maxi-producers saw big money in shoveling cheap, badly flavored beans to the masses with an emphasis on getting the biggest bang for your very measly buck.” And even though it tasted like sour sludge, America was instantly hooked.
I guess you could say the U.S. invented “crappy coffee.” Always ready to slaughter quality to save a buck or two.
The Second Wave
After a century of tolerating this putrid bitter piss-water, America had had enough. Fussy husbands became more critical of their crappy coffee, according to the ad to the right. Wives were even spanked for selecting poor quality coffee, punished by their fussy husbands for not "taste-testing it first" according to the even more sexist ad below. Those were real advertisements by the way.
Anyway, it all started with Alfred Peet. “Tired of terrible coffee and keen on what could come from well-roasted, well-sourced beans, Peet focused his efforts on small batches of artisanally roasted beans” (Sanders).
This prompted Alfred to open the first Peet’s in San Francisco, 1960, subsequently inspiring the Starbucks explosion, and thus introducing the world’s two most colossal coffee chains.
The most significant thing to take away from the second wave was the commencement of espresso drinks into American culture.
The Third Wave
We’re in the third wave now. Once the focus shifted to “sourcing from individual farms and co-ops and a lighter roasting style that accentuates the individual flavors of the beans” (Sanders), attention to detail and the pretentiousness now often associated with coffee skyrocketed. People care where their beans come from, which farm, which roaster, etc. People care about the quality. They care to use a particular type of milk, and prefer a particular foam-to-milk ratio, they get way too serious about their sweetener, and demand ridiculous modifications, such as I’ll have mine three-quarters decaf, please. Bitch, Ima caffeinate your ass straight back to Brighton, or wherever the hell you came from.
Thus were born the inevitable coffee snobs—they come with every beverage. You know those douchy assholes who can detect notes of this and that in their wine, down to where the goddamn grapes were grown. Well, so is now the case with coffee, whose “beans are [now] discussed like expensive bottles of wine” (Sanders).
Some “Local third-wavers include Sightglass, Ritual, Four Barrel, and Verve. If you've consumed a cup of any of these roasters, you've indulged in the glistening existence of third wave coffee” (Sanders).
The Fourth Wave
Whether or not the fourth wave is upon us is unclear. Some coffee shops claim to have made the transition, but the fourth wave has yet to be defined, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a bunch of bullshit.
Sanders, Noah. “Dear Coffee,” SF Weekly Blogs. Web. 26 Dec. 2011.