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The Third Wave of Coffee

In coffee houses nationwide, people gather for a sense of belonging to a shared experience as much for the love of coffee itself. Whether it’s the enticing aroma, the provocative flavor, or the wildly inspirational latte art, coffee is more than a drink — it’s a culture. Entire civilizations have been built around it because coffee quite literally invigorates. For some, it has the power to stoke ambition, pride, or desire. And when properly prepared, it delivers a soothing sense of contentment. In other words, coffee's characteristics mimic the vibrant range of human experience — full of Vice & Virtue.

Unfortunately, over-processing and industrialization have robbed most commercially available coffee of many characteristics that make it so enticing. But there’s a movement afoot to change that: The Third Wave of Coffee. Of course, in denoting something as third, it invites the question: What about the first two "waves"?

The First Wave

The first wave of coffee began in the mid-1800s at a time when technological innovations in food preservation, packaging, and processing prompted forward-looking entrepreneurs to seize upon the chance to leverage the available technology to turn coffee into profitable industry. Until then, coffee was largely a luxury reserved for the upper class, but gold-seeking Forty-Niner-cum-businessman W.H. Bovee founded the Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills with the goal of making coffee available to the middle-class. Another young gold-miner by the name of James Folger began working for Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mills in 1950. After Pioneer went bankrupt from the fallout of the Civil War, James used some of his gold-mining loot to strike a deal with Pioneer's creditors, bought out Pioneer's partners, and in 1872 renamed the venture "J.A. Folger & Co." — Folgers Coffee was born.

The burgeoning industry was further invigorated in 1900 with the advent of vacuum packaging by R.W. Hills of Hills Bros. Coffee. By removing air from coffee tins, Hills' invention meant coffee could stay fresher longer, and it soon began appearing on grocers' shelfs from San Francisco to New York. A mere three years later, Satori Kato, a Japanese-American, received the first U.S. patent for “instant coffee” (U.S. Patent No. 735,777 – August 11,1903). Because it didn’t require brewing equipment, instant coffee became a staple for the soldiers of WWI. Bolstered by massive marketing budgets from companies like Folgers and Maxwell House, innovations like vacuum packaging, instant coffee, and automatic drip brewers vaulted coffee sales into the stratosphere making coffee the world's most consumed beverage next to water. Yet quality suffers mightily under the harsh treatment of industrialization, which strips coffee of flavonoids, aromatics, and many of the compounds that give coffee its complex, delightful flavor.

The Second Wave

The first wave began to ebb as a new breed of more demanding consumer wanted more from their morning cup. Many had come to view mass-produced coffee as something to be tolerated, if not avoided altogether. Beginning largely as a repudiation of "bad" coffee, the second wave flowed in on the desires of consumers who wanted more than a mere morning boost of caffeine with a side of bitter astringency. Curious consumers began to explore the world of specialty coffee and express a need to know where their coffee originated. They sought to understand how roasting styles and preparation methods influenced the flavors and aroma of coffee. Owing much to the social experience of coffee-drinking, this knowledge began to borrow terminology and principles from the world of wine. Words like espresso, latte, and French Press gained in popularity as the second wave gained momentum.

But as with anything of value, entrepreneuring spirits seized upon a key aspect of the second wave's growing popularity: inaccessibility. Since most consumers lack the equipment and know-how to prepare fancy sounding beverages at home, this opened the door to enterprising moguls ready to supply specialty drinks to a mass market. Millions were seduced by the Siren song of Captain Ahab's first mate; that and nonsensical but fancy-sounding drink sizes chock-full of sugar, vanilla, caramel, peppermint, pumpkin-spice, etc., etc. Rather than enhancing the flavor of high-quality, specialty-grade coffees, adding syrups simply mask the fact that you're drinking coffee at all, or worse. When Consumer Reports rates the world's largest "specialty" coffee retailer behind McDonald's, deeming it to be "strong, but burnt and bitter," one can only feel that the word "specialty" has been hijacked.

This skepticism leaves many feeling that the second wave lost its way, supplanting social experience and expert marketing for high-quality coffee. Local coffee shops shifted into world-wide big business, luring consumers to convenient shops — too convenient — to drink their favorite "coffee" beverage. This tendency to mask, rather than appreciate, coffee as it could be (as it should be) ushered in another movement by those who simply want to share their love of really good coffee and let consumers know how incredibly great coffee really can be. Unadulterated coffee is now poised for a comeback.

The Third Wave

Simply put, when properly handled from “seed to cup,” specialty coffee is the product of an artisanal craft, much like wine, and not a run-of-the-mill foodstuff commodity. But to appreciate coffee’s artistry, one must partner with ethical vendors who exercise care at each stage of production: cultivating plants, harvesting methods, processing techniques — all of which occur long before a roaster can express his own skill and originality. By partnering with coffee growers and traders, Vice & Virtue Coffee aspires to see coffee reach the summit of culinary appreciation, where skilled baristas and roasters are afforded the status of sommeliers. When every element from seed to cup come together, one can truly appreciate the subtleties of flavor, the complexities of each varietal, and the climates of the growing regions, just as with fine wine.

Vice & Virtue has joined the movement of specialty coffee roasters dedicated to perfecting the craft of coffee roasting. Through our membership in the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), our roasters have completed the Roaster Pathway training dedicated to the art of roasting specialty coffees to perfection. Each batch of our coffee is expertly coaxed through the roasting process to milk the chemical reactions for all their worth, to preserve each varietal's unique characteristics, and to deliver the finest cup of coffee you've ever tasted. We order only the highest quality beans, sourced from some of the world's finest growers, and carefully nurture each batch through the Maillard reaction and roast development to ensure that you will never be disappointed. If you live in the Memphis area, we encourage you to taste for yourself.

— Our mission is to elevate your coffee. —

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