Coffee purchasing in modern times is truly wonderful. Regardless of this year’s troubles with the pandemic and many coffee shops closing, historically speaking there has never been a better time to be a coffee aficionado.
There are many ways for consumers to purchase coffee today. You can get it pre-ground and packaged so it is ready to brew at supermarkets. You can also buy whole beans from coffee shops and roasters if you prefer your coffee fresh. Recently, especially these last two decades, we have seen the rise and spread of specialty coffee roasters and online shopping. It is possible today to purchase coffee that is roasted to order, is from a single variety and a single farm. You can even know the name of the farmers if the roaster trades directly with them.
In this article we’ll go through a little bit of history to see how we got here and what it was like to purchase coffee through the centuries.
The First Coffeehouses
The earliest verifiable usage of coffee is in Yemen in the 15th century. It was first consumed by Sufis to aid them in being alert during their nighttime prayers and devotions to god.
Then it quickly spread north to cities like Mecca, Medina, and Cairo. Coffee houses started to proliferate in the Arabian peninsula until it was outlawed by a theological court in Mecca in 1511. By 1524, however, the Sultanate made it legal once again and the first coffee house in Istanbul was opened in 1554.
At this point Europeans hadn’t even heard of coffee. It took another 30 years for the coffee bean to be brought to Europe by Venice and its trade with Egypt. Soon after it became the drink of intellectuals and high society with many coffee houses opening throughout Europe over the next few centuries. By 1763 Venice alone accounted for 200 coffee houses.
In the Americas, the first coffee house to open was in Boston in 1676. They would go on to become the gathering places of the counterculture movement of the 20th century in the United States.
The Waves of Coffee Purchasing
So we took a look at when coffee began being served at coffee houses all over the globe. But we haven’t yet touched on when coffee really hit the shelves. The coffee industry refers to the different stages of coffee consumption as the waves.
The first wave
Until vacuum packaging was invented, coffee could only be purchased at the roasteries or coffee houses themselves. The reason being that roasted coffee has a two week window in which it creates an optimal brew. After that bitter flavours start to overpower everything else.
In 1900, R.W. Hills invented the process of vacuum packaging in the USA. This changed how products were packaged to this day. Coffee could now be packaged and shipped to any grocery shop and eventually supermarket in the country. Another innovation that would make coffee more affordable and convenient than ever before was instant coffee, created by Satori Kato. Companies like Nestlé would go on to popularise instant coffee and even supply the US Army during WWII.
During this period the automatic drip coffee machine was also invented and became widespread for its convenience.
The second wave
The main criticism of first wave coffee was that it sacrificed quality for convenience and mass production to keep the price down. The second wave was a reaction to this trend. Consumers wanted to know more about the different types of roasts and bean origins. This allowed them to enjoy coffee as more than just a useful beverage. Companies like Starbucks led the way in selling this new coffee experience.
When it was founded in 1971, Starbucks started as a coffee shop selling fresh coffee from freshly roasted beans. This model is much like third wave coffee shops. Eventually, however, Starbucks was bought by it’s ex-marketing director and pre-ground coffee, espressos and lattes were added to the menu.
By the year 2000 Starbucks had opened over 3000 locations. With it, other chains started all over the globe such as Costa and Caffè Nero in the UK. The social experience of coffee purchasing took precedence over the artisan process of producing coffee.
The third wave
These coffee movements were first called waves by Trish Rothgeb in an article for the Roasters Guild publication, The Flamekeeper. The third wave is a movement of coffee lovers appreciating good coffee instead of the marketing or the convenience. It is characterised by small, independently owned businesses and a high level of transparency in the origin of the bean and its method of production. These roasters are people who love good coffee and have made it their mission to share their passion for coffee with their communities.
The Invention of E-commerce
Ever since Mrs. Snowball purchased the first item through an online shopping system in 1984 the e-commerce industry has seen astronomical growth. It is now easier than ever to order anything from consumer electronics, groceries, parts for your hobby project, clothes and really anything you can think of online. That includes coffee purchasing online. In 2018 coffee was, according to Edge by Ascential, the most popular category within food & beverages on Amazon, with a total sales of 140 million dollars.
Online Coffee Platforms
Today platforms such as ours make it easier than ever to purchase coffee online. As part of the third wave we want coffee lovers to know all about its origins and appreciate all its characteristics. It is our mission to make the best coffee roasted in Switzerland available to everyone.
Online coffee purchasing is in your hands
This year has been hard on the coffee industry, especially independent coffee shops. With businesses closing or ordering way less coffee than usual it is up to consumers to protect the value chain of specialty coffee. Due to logistical constraints many coffees will not be available anymore if the demand goes down. If you love coffee as much as we do we encourage you to check out our shop and consider purchasing some coffee.