The Third Wave of Coffee and How It Came To Be

Melbourne and coffee. The two go hand in hand. And while the rest of the world experiences the so-called “third wave of coffee”, it’s a concept that many Melburnians have been accustomed to for quite some time. So what is this “third wave of coffee” you ask? And where does specialty coffee fit into all of this? Short history lesson incoming, I apologise in advance. 

The first mention of this illusive third wave of coffee comes from a 2002 article written by Trish Rothgeb for the Coffee Roasters Guild titled “Norway and Coffee”, that was penned during her time working as a barista in the Scandinavian nation. In it she explains her ideologies on the history of coffee and its movements.

“First Wave, Second Wave, Third Wave: this is how I think of contemporary coffee”.

This “First Wave” that Rothgeb refers to dates back to the early 19th century, when forward thinking entrepreneurs began to see coffee as a budding commodity with no ceiling on its potential. And although the treatment that coffee receives now in terms of affection and attention is second to none, the First Wave saw coffee as a mere caffeine kick for those drinking it, and nothing more than a business opportunity for those selling it. This First Wave often receives unwarranted criticism for it’s sacrificing of taste and quality so as to prioritize convenience and mass production. However it was here in the early 19th century that the foundation for contemporary coffee was established.


As the years went by and the amount of coffee consumed continued to soar, a new wave began to appear. This Second Wave saw an increased appreciation for the art and quality of coffee from consumers, as suppliers sought to make each cup a worthwhile experience for those drinking it. And the influx of post-War Italian immigrants only added to the excitement and early progression of Australia’s coffee scene. As coffee entrepreneur Peter Baskerville explains, the pioneering coffee scene in Australia can be heavily attributed to “Italian immigrants who loved their espresso coffee and wanted to share this experience with friends in their new-found home”. It was actually Italian immigrants Leo and Vildo Pellegrini who introduced Melbourne to its first espresso machine when they opened Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar back in 1954. The Lygon Street café still stands today and is one of Melbourne’s most iconic destinations. Pellegrini’s and The Paperback Books, Bourke Street, Melbourne, Victoria. Photograph by Debra McFadzean

The origins of beans and production methods were also being introduced to the market for the first time, in what is now known as “specialty coffee”. The Second Wave of coffee draws heavy influence from that of the wine industry in the outline of each bottles characteristics. Wine in a bottle shop has various features and aspects showcased, including varietal, region and era.  The knowledge that consumers now had of the origins of their coffee further added to the enjoyment of the coffee as an experience rather than just another beverage. While this Second Wave of coffee saw a significant shift in the industry, as well as the birth of Starbucks, the best of coffee was still yet to come.

“The Third Wave is, in many waves, a reaction. It is just as much as a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee”.

The Third Wave that Rothgeb speaks of is built up of sophisticated coffee lovers that have a desired interest in the character of the coffee itself. To put it this way: the First Wave was run by the consumer, as demand for coffee as a commodity was born. The second wave saw a heavier focus on the quality of coffee, with an even heavier focus on marketing this coffee as an experience. Now, the Third Wave has stripped everything back. No mass production. No heavy marketing. Just pure focus on the quality of coffee itself. If the quality of coffee is present, it markets itself.

Speciality coffee is at the pinnacle of the Third Wave. It’s the cream of the crop. The crème de la crème. It’s ST. ALi’s coffee. A café and roaster at the forefront of the coffee movement in Melbourne. Their beans are sourced through direct trade, purchased green and small batch roasted to bring customers the finest coffee available. Don’t believe us? Pop in to our Queen Street store and try it for yourself. We have an array of their speciality beans ready to be turned into a delicious cup of coffee.

As for when the next wave is coming, we’ll just have to wait and see. But one thing’s for sure; ST. ALi will be apart of it. And we’ll be there to supply it.

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