The Way We Were | Specialty Coffee’s First Decade

By Donald N. Schoenholt, Gillies Coffee Co., SCAA Co-Founder

Ted Williams and millions of other young men came home from the Second World War in 1946. They went back to school or, as Ted did, they went back to work. They began families and they and their children, who became known as the Baby Boomers, were the driving economic force behind the decades long prosperity that followed in the United States. Good times brought buying power to the citizens of a nation that had known economic deprivation during a decade of depression, followed by years of war rationing. With the end of the war came television, added to radio, and the national magazines such as Look and Life, all offering new shiny household wares and packaged foods, including the reappearance of the coffee can.

Local brands, unable to afford the equipment upgrades or advertising dollars to buy the eyes and ears of consumers that their businesses could not reach with their product, faded, and were replaced with stronger brands. The competition for market share was fierce, causing producers to depend more on marketing (think Mad Men) and less on the coffee in the can. African and Asian coffeelands lost their traditional European customers during the war. They looked to America as the market for their Robusta produce, and American roasters began to incorporate these new ingredients into their blends. The home percolator aided the transition, as it partially obscured the shortcomings of these new blends. Alternative beverages, such as colas and ready-to-drink orange juice, bit into coffee sales. The final indignity was the large-scale marketing of spray dried instant coffee, whose taste, as luck would have it, was less degraded in processing when Robustas replaced Arabica blends.

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