THREE WAVES OF COFFEE

V obdobju hitrega interneta in neustavljive globalizacije se trendi menjavajo hitreje kot ministri slovenskih vlad. Specialty Coffee na prvi pogled deluje kot nek hipsterski trend, ki mu bo prej ali slej odbila zadnja ura, a dejstvo je, da je izraz že leta 1974 (fun fact: tri leta po ustanovitvi ameriškega giganta Starbucks) prva uporabila Ema Knutsen v reviji Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. To pomeni, da je specialty kava približno 15 let starejša od povprečnega hipsterja.

But specialty coffee is not so much a trend as it is a movement, or the basic ingredient of a movement. People have been on the hunt for premium coffee for decades before the term was coined. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Hotel de Crillon, one of the oldest palace hotels in Paris, which adorns with its neoclassical façade the famous Place de la Concorde, is said to have offered its guests only coffee from micro-lots in certain regions of Guatemala.

Café Terrace at Night – oil painting by Vincent van Gogh (1888)

The First Wave

The Parisian hotel was definitely ahead of its time. At the break of the century, coffee culture was still in its first wave. It was an era of quantity over quality; when big companies were fighting for market dominance; when coffee began to appear in every household because all that mattered was that you got that daily fix of caffeine. Small roasters were still present but hidden away in small neighborhoods.

Yet it was also a period of important discoveries and inventions that paved the way for today's coffee culture. In 1905, Desiderio Pavoni upgraded the existing espresso machine, 3 years later the German Melitta Bentz patented the first coffee filter, in 1926 the renowned magazine Science Newsletter declared coffee a health-boosting beverage, and in 1946 Achille Gaggia further modernised the espresso machine and enabled espresso brewing with natural foam.

This was also the birth of the coffee house as we know it today. Well, without Wi-Fi. As early as the Enlightenment in the 17th century, philosophers, intellectuals and other individuals with an interest in political debate gathered in cafés, laying a strong foundation for coffee culture, even though some monarchs of course repressed such cafés. But the desire to express oneself remained strong and the coffee houses endured. Today, when we think of a romantic café, we think of a Parisian café with small round tables bathing in sunshine, with a view of the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame, and with jazz . Crème de la crème of the artistic and intellectual scene in the first half of the 20th century gathered in such cafés.

An old ad encouraging users to buy roasted coffee (taken from Home Coffee Roasting, Kenneth Davids)

1910 Espresso machine La Pavoni

The Second Wave

In Paris after WWII, existentialist philosophers and other artists carried on the café culture, while in the USA, the Beat Generation was at the helm, setting the pace of the American cultural and political space. Cafés also became hot spots where students organised protests against the Vietnam War.

Philosophers and protesters clearly did not want to discuss the meaning of life or organise an uprising over a cup of bad coffee. Just as society evolved after the war, coffee took the next step as well. If the first wave was all about commercialisation and making coffee accessible to everyone, the second wave already heralds a greater awareness of coffee drinking.

In the 1960s, the roaster Peet’s Coffee & Tea started to import better quality coffee and sell roasted beans - just like Rjavi Tukan today. Its actions and success were the inspiration for the founders of the giant Starbucks. Although many coffee lovers today frown upon Starbucks because the emphasis was/is more on the variety of coffee drinks, the interior design and the friendliness of the baristas rather than on the quality of the coffee itself, the chain nevertheless increased public interest in coffee (it is even rumored to have been blamed for the reduced income of liquor producers).

 

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir relishing some coffee

The Third Wave

Starbucks, Peet's and some other coffee shops and roasters were the harbingers of the third wave. Some roasters were experimenting with roasting levels and actively seeking the best, elusive profile of a particular coffee already in the 80s. These pioneers laid the foundations for the third wave, a movement of which we are still a part today (although many speak of a fourth, even a fifth wave).

Specialty Coffee characterises the third wave, so the two phrases are not synonymous. While specialty coffee is only used to describe a higher quality coffee, third wave is a phrase that describes a movement. Imagine you are at a concert: the music you are enjoying is specialty coffee, and the venue with the light-show and the sound system is the third wave.

The third wave is marked by a love of coffee, sometimes almost as a hostile reaction to the insensitive treatment of coffee in the past. The coffee bean with all its characteristics and history is finally put to the fore. It is an experience. Baristas are not just waiters, they take you on a real journey through the lands of origin with their in-depth knowledge and a superbly prepared cup of coffee. And it is this experience that is the main characteristic of the third wave.

The movement is also characterised by traceability, sustainability, ethically sourced coffee and innovation in coffee preparation. A cup of coffee may therefore be a little more expensive, but the loving care for the coffee bean at every step of its journey from a coffee tree to a cup guarantees a unique experience. The essence of the third wave is therefore both coffee and the way we drink it.

So take a minute longer with your next cup of coffee and fully indulge in the pleasurable complexity offered by the best beans.