UK Coffee Revolution, the Third Wave?



Britain, famous around the world for its love of tea, is fast developing a penchant for coffee. While pubs are closing down at an alarming rate and the High Street is still recovering from the recession, coffee shops appear to be doing rather well. It is estimated that the UK coffee shop market grew by 7.5% in 2012 and is now worth an estimated £6 billion.

Don’t be fooled though, this is not a recent phenomenon. Britain has been a strong coffee-drinking nation for a number of years. There has been a recent transformation, however in the type of coffee Brits like to drink and the level of quality they expect.

The British public’s perception and taste for coffee has been steadily changing over the last two decades. It’s only over the last couple of years that Brits have developed a taste for gourmet (otherwise known as speciality) coffee. Industry experts believe this is down to the emergence of the ‘Third Wave’ of coffee. This term gets banded around quite a lot, but what does it actually mean?

Definitions of the ‘three waves’ of coffee vary. However, all definitions have the same basic principles.

The First Wave

The First Wave points to the growing popularity of coffee consumption after World War II, with the emergence of freeze-dried techniques. Coffee quality was often low and it was was mainly viewed as a commodity and as an instant ‘pick-me-up’ drink.


The Second Wave saw an improvement in coffee quality, kick-started by the emergence of global coffee chains. Starbucks entered the UK market in 1998 and the UK’s perception of coffee has gradually changed ever since. There has been a move to espresso based drinks such as the cappuccino and latte and a rise in the consumption of arabica coffee, as opposed to robusta. With the emergence of the Second Wave, people began to tailor drinks to their preferences and could even make great coffee at home, with gourmet espresso machines.

THE third wave

The famous Third Wave refers to the current trend of producing high-quality coffee. Coffee is now viewed as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, as opposed to a commodity. When people mention the UK Coffee Revolution, they are referring to the emergence of this so called Third Wave.

Consumers are now equipped with more knowledge regarding coffee, and demand better quality and more information about where their coffee comes from (bean to cup). Over the last decade, the coffee industry has evolved at all stages of the production process, from growing and harvesting, right up to brewing. Coffee roasters are now pushing to increase the quality of coffee by 0.1%. Many have found there is still lots of room for innovation by going straight to the source (the farms) and improving techniques there to improve the quality of the bean they eventually roast.

Some argue that the UK Coffee Revolution has been mainly a London Coffee Revolution, but this is no longer true. In many cities around the UK such as Edinburgh, Bath, Birmingham and Leeds (to name but a few), the UK Coffee Revolution is thriving. More high quality coffee shops are popping up around the country, with one of the best roasteries in the world based in Staffordshire.

The UK coffee industry is predicted to grow at a healthy rate in 2013 and the UK coffee revolution shows no sign of dissipating. Buckle up Britain, 2013 is going to be full of beans!


12 Responses

  1. Brian's Coffee Spot

    01/04/2013, 12:29 pm

    Interesting piece, as ever, Henry. You should add Bristol to your list of great coffee cities, but to be honest, as I’m finding, there are great coffee places popping up all over the country and not just in the big cities. In fact, the more I look, the more great places I find :-)


    • Dave

      01/12/2013, 01:30 pm

      Hi Brian,

      I’ve just moved to Bristol and am looking for some good places to go for coffee. Please could you recommend me a few? So far I’ve had a decent cup in Friska, Marco’s Olive Branch and The Boston Tea Party. Any other places to try would be very much appreciated.


      • Brian's Coffee Spot

        01/14/2013, 12:25 am

        Hi Dave,

        At the risk of blatant self-publicity, have a look at the Coffee Spot ( and check out the three places up there (two branches of the Boston Tea Party and Cafe Kino in Stokes Croft). Not yet written up but visited are two superb places that opened at the end of the year in the centre of town, Small Street Espresso (Small St) and Wild at Heart (one street over on Broad Street). Both are going on the Coffee Spot soon. I also have a soft spot for The Bristolian on Picton Street in Stokes Croft again.

        Friska and Marco’s Olive Branch are not ones I’ve come across. Where are they?


  2. Henry

    01/05/2013, 10:29 am

    Thanks Brian. I know! I’m really looking forward to exploring some of the other great coffee cities. With my work and studying I am slightly confined to London at the moment…so keep reviewing more places so I’m up to date!


  3. Jean |

    01/05/2013, 08:27 pm

    Henry, I’m a tea drinker (several times a day) who drinks coffee perhaps four times a month. But when I have it, I want organic fair trade coffee prepared well. You might be amused by a coffee-making technique I grew up with, described in my 20 July 2012 post about coffee and my preferred way of making it (French press).

    • Henry

      01/06/2013, 02:36 pm

      Hi Jean, I can see from your blog that you’re a pretty avid tea drinker! I’m a fan of the French Press although it’s not my preferred method of drinking coffee at home. I’m a big fan of the V60, but of late, I’ve become quite partial to my Aeropress.

      Have you got a favourite vegetarian recipe on your site? I’m looking to explore vegetarian food but I’m lacking in recipes!

  4. Gemma

    04/23/2013, 10:29 am

    Please tell me this was loosely inspired by Huntington’s (1991) Third Wave of Democratization. If it is, you are literally my new COFFEE HERO.

  5. Gemma

    04/23/2013, 12:51 pm

    Oh man. I’ll probably make you my new coffee hero anyways. I saw from your bio that you study politics, so made a bit of a far-fetched connection. In case you’re interested, this is what I was referring to: Apologies for academic geekiness, I promise I am actually a fellow coffee lover. You’ve got many of my favourite spots pretty much covered, but I’ll send you through some others that you may or may not have come across. Hope you’re enjoying UK Coffee Week!

    • Henry

      04/23/2013, 12:57 pm

      Nice one! That would have been pretty epic if I had been inspired by Mr Huntington but actually I didn’t come up with the term! It’s a general term that I can’t lay claim to. The books looks interesting though.

      Please do, I’m always on the hunt for new places :) You too!


Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published