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Coffee. The most consumed and popular drink in the world, with over 400 billion cups consumed each year. Yes, that’s a billion with a capital B. Coffee is actually the world’s second-most-valuable commodity exported by newly developing countries, coming only second to oil. So yes, coffee is a big deal, and it is probably a beverage that you and your friends are familiar with. 

But how did this coffee craze begin? How has it gained all of this popularity? Why has specialty coffee become so popular these past few years? And the biggest question of them all, how is the coffee you drink now better than the coffee your grandparents drank? In this blog post, we will discuss the evolution of coffee and how it came to be such a staple product consumed by the world. Let’s begin! 

The world has seen coffee trends come and go for a long time, but with the popularity of specialty coffee around the world and the evolution and growth of the coffee industry, these trends can be funneled into 3 main movements, more commonly known and referred to as “waves.” 

This term was first used in the Roasters Guild Publication, coined by Trish Rothgeb in 2002. Once a native of Oslo, she worked as a barista and roaster for 15 years in the Bay Area. She witnessed the activity in the Scandinavian coffee shops around her and realized that it was different. Oslovian baristas were putting a more serious focus on the quality of coffee. This was the beginning of a shift in trends.

1st Wave Coffee

The first wave of coffee can be traced back to the 1800s until the early 1970s. When the consumption of coffee started to expand in the 1960s, there was a sudden demand for it. Because of the need for coffee, there was no focus on quality. The first wave can be referred to as low-quality, commodity-style coffee. There was no sourcing transparency, more artificial taste, and a cheap price. There was heavy use of Robusta coffee which gave a more bitter taste. Think of it as diner coffee, the kind that you can get unlimited refills for fifty cents. 

First wave coffee’s strong point is that it tastes manufactured and gets large batch roasted. It doesn’t tell you where it was sourced, or how it was roasted. But this is its goal, first wave coffee does not want to convince you that it is a specialty coffee, it wants you to see it as a cheap, accessible, and convenient coffee.

2nd Wave Coffee

In 1971, in the cobblestone streets of Seattle’s Pike Place, a small coffee shop was founded by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker. This small coffee shop would soon become the coffee giant that we know today as Starbucks. The second wave of coffee can be attributed to brands like Starbucks, which completely changed up the cafe culture in the United States.  

Roasters and cafes like Starbucks brought light to a better coffee experience. They were able to introduce coffee lovers to a wider variety of coffee experiences. They were more transparent to the customers, informed them of the origin of the coffee and provided higher-quality beans. They also started using Arabica coffee which has a sweeter taste than Robusta. Even with this kind of new wave, the focus wasn’t on the coffee, but the experience. 

They were trying to shift the experience from the accessible and cheap, to specialty coffee, friendly staff, and the relaxing atmosphere of a cafe. To keep up with the demand, these big brands had a habit of over roasting the coffee to keep the taste consistent. This kind of change generated a lot of buzz and added a new level of interest in coffee and flavored drinks, but it did not change the roasting style, and taste. 

3rd Wave Coffee (Specialty Coffee)

The Specialty Coffee Association of America was founded in 1982, giving focus to a whole new style of roasting and with a new outlook towards coffee. The SCAA allowed a small community of coffee lovers to bring forth the importance of the coffee beans, lighter roasts, and bringing out the full flavor profiles of coffee. They figured out that coffee did not have to be confined to the bitter, and ashy representation it had. 

This wave began gaining traction and experienced a huge period of growth over the next few decades. More and more roasters and cafes began experimenting with roast levels, origins of beans, and exotic flavors. Eventually, this focus on specialty coffee and the third wave coffee spread and became prevalent in other parts of the world like Italy, and Scandinavian countries.

specialty coffee third wave 2

The simplest way to explain the third wave of coffee is that it is truly a way of being appreciative of a quality product. It is about the coffee beans, what we are drinking, and the way we think about it. In this process of creating specialty coffee, it is making the consumer understand that when you order your coffee, it doesn’t magically appear and get brewed by the barista. The roaster and the producer get credit as well. 

The SCAA actually scores coffee on a 100-point scale. If your coffee scores 60 or above, it is considered to be at a commercial-grade level. Anything 80 and up is considered “specialty coffee”

Third Wave Coffee or Specialty Coffee?

If you’ve done any research on the coffee you drink, you will see that the term “third wave coffee” and “specialty coffee” are always used interchangeably. This is because they are such similar topics and titles. Third wave coffee is the experience. That experience includes quality coffee, friendly environments at coffee shops, transparency, sustainability, tasting notes, and coming up with new brewing methods. Specialty coffee is what is served in that experience. Roasters take their jobs seriously, sourcing from the best regions and paying their respect to the beans. 


Here at Red Mug, we are passionate about the coffee we make. It is not just another drink to sell. We treat the roasting with respect and value the conversations and experience that we are proud to be a part of. Specialty coffee is a craft that we’ve been trying to master for over a decade. Failure by failure, success by success, we’ve been getting better and improving at what we do. In 2016, God opened the doors for us to open a storefront where we were able to provide our community with a tranquil environment to relax and connect. We want to keep serving our community while making great quality coffee.  

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