What is Second Wave Coffee?

Photo of author

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may receive a commission if you purchase using these links.

In the world of coffee, the Second Wave Coffee movement stands out as a pivotal change. Born in the tumultuous era of the 1960s and 70s, it reshaped our relationship with coffee, transforming it from a simple everyday drink to a crafted, artisanal experience.

What is Second Wave Coffee?

“Second Wave Coffee,” emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, marked a significant shift in coffee culture, focusing on quality, flavor, and the experience of coffee drinking. It introduced espresso-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, and coffee shops became social hubs. This movement transformed coffee from a basic commodity into an artisanal and cultural product, paving the way for more specialized Third and Fourth Wave approaches.

Historical Context

The second wave of coffee in the United States, mainly introduced in San Francisco, is credited to Alfred Peet1. He founded Peet’s Coffee in 1966 in Berkeley, close to San Francisco.

What Is 2Nd Wave Coffee

Peet introduced stronger, darker roasts than what was commonly available at the time, focusing on the quality and sourcing of his beans. His approach to coffee significantly influenced the founders of Starbucks, who later popularized the second wave coffee movement on a larger scale.

Peet’s emphasis on artisanal coffee and a more sophisticated approach to coffee drinking laid the groundwork for the specialty coffee culture that proliferated in the following decades.

The Shift from Basic Beverage to specialty Drink

The first wave of coffee focused on mass production, with popular brands like Folgers and Maxwell House exemplifying this approach. It was about convenience and availability, often the choice of older generations.

Maxwell House Coffee Print Ad From The 1930S
Maxwell House Coffee Print ad from the 1930s | Image Source

The second wave changed the scene, transforming coffee into an experience centered around quality and enjoyment. Coffee shops became popular spots, staffed by knowledgeable baristas who could share insights about different coffee types, roasting methods, and brewing techniques. This period also introduced espresso-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos, diversifying the coffee experience beyond just a caffeine fix.

Characteristics of 2nd Wave Coffee

The second wave of coffee marks a significant shift in coffee culture, introducing diverse espresso-based drinks and transforming coffee shops into social spaces.

Here are the main hallmarks of 2nd Wave Coffee:

  • Introduction of espresso-based drinks.
  • Rise of coffee chains and pre-packaged coffee options.
  • Emphasis on coffee shop ambiance as social hubs.
  • Introduction of flavored syrups and continued use of darker roasts.
  • Focus on consistency and quality in coffee production.
  • Increased emphasis on consumer education and barista expertise.
  • Enhanced marketing and branding efforts by coffee companies.

Let’s dive deeper into each characteristic to see how they influenced today’s coffee culture.

4 Espresso Based Drinks, With Latte Art In The Foam
Second wave coffee introduced lattes and cappuccinos to the United States

1. Espresso-Based Drinks

Second wave coffee shops broadened their menus beyond regular coffee, introducing espresso-based drinks like cappuccinos, lattes, and macchiatos, along with various flavored coffees and specialty drinks to suit different tastes.

2. Mass Production and Accessibility

This era marked the mass production and easier access to coffee. Coffee chains and pre-packaged coffee became common, allowing people to enjoy their favorite coffee easily at home or on the move.

3. Coffee Shop Experience

Coffeehouses during the Second Wave became popular social spots, known for their cozy ambiance. They offered a place for people to meet, chat, and relax, influencing urban social and design trends.

4. Flavored Syrups and Darker Roasts

The era introduced flavored syrups to coffee, adding new taste dimensions. However, it often stuck to the very dark roasting style of the first wave, resulting in darker and sometimes bitter coffee.

5. Emphasis on Consistency and Quality

There was a strong emphasis on ensuring consistent and high-quality coffee. Companies paid close attention to sourcing and roasting beans to guarantee a satisfying taste every time.

6. Coffee Education and Expertise

Coffee shops began educating customers about coffee, with baristas trained in brewing techniques and able to offer knowledgeable advice and recommendations.

A Female Barista In The 1980S
Baristas became a thing in the 70s and 80s

7. Branding and Marketing

The Second Wave also saw coffee companies invest in branding and marketing, creating unique brand identities and attractive packaging to draw in customers and foster brand loyalty.

Criticisms and Challenges

While the second wave of coffee brought remarkable innovations in coffee culture it also faced its share of challenges and criticisms.

Here are the some common criticisms of 2nd Wave Coffee:

  1. Coffee experience over coffee quality
  2. Market saturation and homogenization
  3. Environmental impact
  4. Ethical concerns
  5. Shift towards specialty coffee

Let’s dive deeper into these challenges:

1. Focus on Experience Over Quality

The second wave of coffee often emphasized the coffee drinking experience more than the quality of the coffee itself. This led to criticisms about the consistency and flavor of the coffee, and a lack of focus on single-origin beans and specialty roasts.

2. Market Overcrowding and Uniformity

The rapid growth of coffee chains during this era led to a saturated market and a uniform coffee shop experience, making it tough for independent cafes to compete with the larger chains’ resources and brand recognition.

3. Environmental Impact

The second wave faced criticism for its environmental impact, particularly due to the increased use of disposable cups and packaging, highlighting the need for more sustainable practices in the coffee industry.

4. Ethical Issues in Coffee Production

This period also brought to light ethical issues in coffee production, like fair trade practices and the treatment of coffee farmers, leading consumers to seek more ethically sourced and transparently traded coffees.

5. Shift Towards Specialty Coffee

Despite these challenges, the second wave laid the groundwork for the emergence of specialty coffee. This movement focused more on the quality and origin of coffee beans, and the skill of the barista, catering to a more discerning and informed group of coffee enthusiasts.


What is 2nd Wave Coffee?

2nd Wave Coffee refers to the coffee movement that began in the 1960s-70s, emphasizing high-quality beans, espresso drinks, and the coffee shop experience.

How did 2nd Wave Coffee change the coffee industry?

It transformed coffee from a commodity to an artisanal, experience-focused product, popularizing espresso drinks and coffee shop culture.

What are the characteristics of 2nd Wave Coffee?

Key characteristics include espresso-based drinks like lattes, darker roasts, flavored syrups, and a focus on the ambiance of coffee shops.

Who were the pioneers of 2nd Wave Coffee?

Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee are notable pioneers, introducing espresso drinks and a new culture around coffee consumption.

What’s the difference between 2nd and 3rd Wave Coffee?

While 2nd Wave Coffee focuses on the overall experience and popularization of coffee, 3rd Wave Coffee emphasizes the quality and origin of the coffee beans, along with artisanal brewing techniques.


The rise of specialty coffee brought about a shift in consumer preferences, with people becoming more interested in the specific details and nuances of their coffee. This led to a greater demand for single-origin beans, direct trade relationships, and artisanal brewing methods. As a result, the third wave of coffee emerged, marked by a renewed focus on sustainability, traceability, and the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee. The third wave continues to shape the coffee industry and inspire coffee enthusiasts around the world.


  1. Alfred Peet. (2023, August 16). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Peet
Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
With over two decades in the coffee industry, Kelsey is a seasoned professional barista with roots in Seattle and Santa Barbara. Accredited by The Coffee Association of America and a member of The Baristas Guild, he combines practical expertise with a profound understanding of coffee's history and cultural significance. Kelsey tries his best to balance family time with blogging time and fails miserably.