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The Amazing History Of Coffee in Australia: What Are The First, Second & Third Waves All About?

third wave coffee australia - black and white image of 1960s australia

Third Wave Coffee in Australia – An Amazing History:

The First Wave

What the coffee industry refers to as the first wave in Australia started during the Second World War, when American servicemen – stationed here during the war in the Pacific – brought coffee to our shores.

Shortly after, in 1948, Nestlé introduced instant coffee to the Australian market…widening the popularity and demand of the beverage that had, until this point, really only been consumed by Italian immigrants in the form of espresso coffee.

For the first time, coffee became widely accessible through variants such as instant coffee, grocery-store tinned coffee and diner offerings. Consumers didn’t appear to understand elements of origin or different roast profiles and it was an era when coffee was made readily available at a low price. These were the hallmarks of Australia’s first wave.

The Second Wave

After the war, Italian immigrants started to introduce their roasting styles and espresso coffee to the wider population. This was seen in Melbourne in the 1950s and ‘60s when the Lygon Street precinct of Carlton became a popular area for Italians. They brought small coffee roasters from Italy and began roasting and supplying local bars and cafes. This was a time when we discovered locally that our coffee came from different origins and could be roasted and blended to offer different tastes and aromas – depending on our tastes.

It was also the period when coffee was no longer a generic ‘cup of coffee’, but with espresso providing a foundation for a wider choice of milk-based coffees.

The second wave spanned a number of decades, seeing Lavazza – one of Italy’s oldest roasters – becoming an international brand and distributing their roasted beans to other countries, including Australia. Additionally, coffee chains like Starbucks were created; sourcing, roasting and distributing their signature blend through their own retail cafes in North America and across the globe.

Locally, it saw the creation of iconic local brands like Mocopan and Grinders, with their roasted beans being later supplied to numerous independent bars and cafes around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

In the second wave, coffee became a luxury product rather than a necessity.

The Third Wave – and why it stands apart from the first two

The third wave occurred in parts of Europe and North America in the 2000s and then later in Australia. This was the period when the concept of ‘speciality coffee’ came of age.

In the third wave, we understand that an espresso isn’t just made by a barista. The producer and roaster also receive credit.” (Michael Flores)

The green beans are graded according to quality, their origins, their complexity and the chain of custody. The third wave sees roasters and consumers chasing taste profiles and focusing on single-origin beans to explore the nuances of that bean.

The third wave moves away from the more generic and blended roasting that still serves the wider espresso and milk-based consumer.

The third wave in coffee has been compared to the wine industry, where detail and profile is the main focus. It is the era for the connoisseur! It sees the micro roasters themselves filtering into the current restaurant and cafe sectors.

In summary, the third wave embodies the ‘appreciation of a quality product’ by both the consumer as well as the barista. Additionally, the ‘awareness’ of this quality right from the bean growers, the importers, the roasters, the baristas all the way to the consumer – is intrinsic to the current phase.

Increasing coffee quality, more direct trade, a greater emphasis on sustainability, lighter roast profiles, innovative brew methods – these are all synonymous with third wave coffee. These days, we chase sweetness, complexity, and distinctiveness in our brews – and we’re happy to pay more to get this because it has come hand-in-hand with vastly improved service levels. It’s all about making the consumer feel special and sharing stories of the journey from the bean to the cup.

Gilano Coffee sources their Filtro beans through speciality chains, as the single-origin speciality roast can be perfectly showcased using our Moccamaster system.