When it comes to the culture surrounding coffee and café history, the term ‘wave’ has been coined and used heavily. First, second and third wave coffee is defined by distinct characteristics and driving forces of the marketplace. This week we’ll dive in to First Wave Coffee, and the next waves we’ll discuss in successive weeks following. Without further adieu, let’s dive into the advent of coffee’s ascension to king of the cups.
While the exact date first wave coffee began is debatable, it lies somewhere in the 1800’s. After the Dutch proliferated coffee trees throughout the world in the 17th century, much of Western Europe took after the coffee craze. As we discussed last week, cafes and the café culture shook European societal norms to their roots. Suddenly, people of all classes, ages and professions were intermingling in a common place over a hot cup. The change in society coupled with a legitimate fondness for the brew drove coffee production to a monumental scale in a short amount of time.
Will H. Bovee changed the coffee industry in America, and the world, by selling pre-roasted ground coffee in tin cans. At the time, the 1850’s, coffee drinkers had to buy green beans, roast and grind the coffee themselves before having a cup. Taking away two arduous and lengthy steps in making coffee helped it become more accessible and easy to brew.
Moving into the 20th century, first coffee transitioned from an exotic and stimulating drink to a staple in every modern household’s morning. Far from taking place overnight, this shift in perception and consumption took several steps. Some of the first steps involved were innovations like vacuum sealing and instant coffee. Both furthered the viral spread of the brew. Combined with the prohibition of the 1920’s, coffee was on a meteoric rise.
Vacuum sealing kept coffee fresher for longer, allowing distribution from large coffee companies to grow. The method was developed by Hills Bros. Coffee and has become a staple for any perishable goods shipping. Another hallmark of first wave coffee was instant coffee. Invented by Japanese-American Satori Kato dehydrated coffee and made it soluble in water. Instant coffee’s ease of use and caffeine buzz made it indispensible as a battlefield ration of WWI, and at home the marketplace was dominated by novelty and convenience. This was the era of frozen dinners and electric razors—anything that could be ‘modernized’ was. Instant coffee became such a staple that, according to an article on craftbeverages.com, up to one third of coffee being imported in to the US at the time was being turned into instant coffee. (This trend took a notable nosedive after the 80’s, but we’ll talk more about that next week.)
While the initial reaction to coffee in Europe was marked and sweeping, America’s adoption of the beverage was greatly boosted by the aide of advertising agencies and two major coffee giants: Folgers and Maxwell House. Folgers had several notable advertisements such as their classic slogan “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup;” however, Maxwell House was the dominant advertiser of the era. In 1924 their advertising budget was $276,894. Adjusted for modern inflation rates, their budget was $809,353. The very next year, in a study of Consumer Goods, Maxwell House was cited as the most well-known coffee brand in the US.
Perhaps the final stage in first wave coffee was the introduction of the Mr. Coffee automatic drip brewer. Before the automatic drip brewer was invented in Germany in 1954, and then made popular with the Mr. Coffee version in the 1970’s the stovetop percolator was coffee making method de jour.
These combined facets of high-cost branding; at home drip machines and instant coffee, combined with an emphasis on ease & affordability all signal the hallmarks of first wave coffee. From the initial exposure to such a foreign concoction in Paris to entire cul-de-sacs waking up with Folgers in their cups, first wave coffee stretches the longest period of time. While it certainly established coffee as a necessity to modern day living, it is criticized for sacrificing flavor and transparency for a cheap brew. Today we’ve come a long way by having direct, handshake relationships with individual farmers and keeping the taste of our coffee at the highest priority. Though many of the practices of first wave coffee run contrary to what we strive to be as a coffee company, we have to admit that without first wave coffee it’s impossible to know if we’d still be around. All we can say is that now we’ve found a better way.