When the clouds hang low over St. Louis, the air on the east side of Forest Park fills with a strong, distinct aroma. In about a square mile, there are four coffee roasters, and when Ronnoco, Thomas, Kaldi, and Northwest all begin turning Coffea Arabica beans over high heat at the same time, they blanket the neighborhood with the scents of toasted bread, a wood fire, and a jungle after a light rain: the smell of roasting coffee.

Missourians love their coffee now as much as they did hundreds of years ago when the French first brought coffee to the shores of the Mississippi River. Indie coffee shops, boutique roasters, national brands, and regional roasters are pleasing customers all over the state.

“St. Louis is the original coffee town of America,” Dan Pabst says. Dan is Ronnoco Handcrafted Coffee’s specialty coffee consultant and one of Missouri’s few licensed Q graders, a certification he earned through rigorous testing with the Coffee Quality Institute. He moved to Missouri from Virginia to work for Ronnoco a few years ago.

When Ronnoco began roasting coffee more than 100 years ago, steamboats regularly delivered South American coffee beans to St. Louis, and the coffee fanned out to the rest of the country from here.

“By 1900, St. Louis was known throughout the world as a coffee capital,” says Katie Moon, with the Missouri History Museum.

Blueprint Coffee on the Delmar Loop has occasional public cuppings, or tastings.

Some of St. Louis’s historic coffee brands were Schotten Coffee, Old Judge Coffee, Allen-Rethemeyer Coffee, Hanley & Kinsella Coffee and Spice Co., C.“F. Blanke Tea & Coffee Company, and Safari. A few of those brands were ahead of their time: Schotten employed the first female executive of a coffee company, and Hanley limited its workers to just eight hours of labor a day. Many others, though, eschewed such clean business practices: several were caught adding fillers such as chicory or sawdust to their coffee.

These early 20th-century businesses used interesting marketing strategies. Blanke used representations of the legendary German demon Mephistopheles to sell its Faust brand of ground coffee and advertised the convenience of an early instant coffee, Blanke’s “Quick Cup” Fluid Coffee, in 1900. Another, Dana Brown’s Safari Coffee, marketed itself through the owner’s outlandish personality as he toured Africa hunting wild game. Many of them created unique ways of packaging their coffee, such as a metal box meant to be reused as a cake tin or a dollhouse.

“By the 1930s,” Katie says, “using preroasted, preground, prepackaged coffee had become the norm for households and businesses in St. Louis.” This type of coffee is what experts now call first-wave coffee.

The history of coffee in the United States is divided into three waves. Coffee’s second wave hit in the late 1960s, when Alfred Peet turned the industry on its head. A native of Holland, Peet came to the United States after World War II and couldn’t stomach American-style coffee. He brought the European coffee culture to his Berkeley, California, shop, roasting high-quality beans in small batches and serving espresso to Americans who were ready for this new way of enjoying coffee.

Mud House coffee shop trumpets its Gateway City roots.

This second wave brought about Starbucks in 1971 and other high-end coffeehouses, Dan says. “The original Starbucks in Seattle was also a big deal in the second wave and is how we know what lattes and cappuccinos are.”

Long before the rest of America queued up for trendy java, St. Louis’s Montileone’s Café Espresso in Gaslight Square acquired an espresso machine in the early ’60s. In 1987, Kirkwood baker Ken Rosenthal opened Saint Louis Bread Company on Manchester Road; it became Panera in 1997. Now a national chain of more than 2,000 bakerycafes, it was—and still is—a coffee force in America.

But now we’re in the third wave.

“Third-wave coffee is a movement hyper-focused on the details of each specific coffee to produce a product that is at its full potential of flavor and quality,” says Danielle Parrie, manager at Blip Coffee Roasters in Kansas City, one of the city’s popular coffee houses. “It is a focus on growing practices and fair business deals. It’s roasting beans and scientifically changing variables to create roast profiles for each specific coffee.”

The arrival of third-wave coffee has led to a coffee boom in Missouri. St. Louis currently has about 16 coffee roasters, which is getting close to the 20 roasters that were in business in 1910 during the city’s coffee heyday. Residents gush about sipping at Sump, where skulls adorn each black bag of roasted coffee and there is no cream-and-sugar station. Stay-at-home parents gather at Hartford Coffee near Tower Grove Park because of the shop’s huge play area for children. Hipsters crowd into Cherokee Street’s Mudhouse for coffee and brunch on the weekends. Even coffee trucks are a part of the scene, with Rise Coffee’s truck and the debut this year of Surge Coffee Truck, which will serve Park Avenue’s sustainably roasted coffee.

Oddly Correct in Kansas City has a tasting room, featuring a curated menu of black coffees, espresso, and housemade biscuits, breakfast sandwiches, and baked goods.

This revival extends beyond America’s original coffee capital, to Blip’s home in Kansas City and to smaller Missouri cities and towns where welcoming coffee shops serve locally roasted coffee in community gathering spaces. In Kansas City, people gather at Messenger Coffee, a spot that blogger Mary Bloch says is “part cafe, part roaster, part bakery [with] fabulous coffee, bread, and pastries.”

Kansas City is also home to Oddly Correct, which Epicurious.com named one of America’s Top 25 Coffee Shops, calling Kansas City “the best US coffee scene you’ve never heard of.” Kansas City is home to seven roasters. There are four in the Springfield area, and three in Columbia. You’ll find roasters in smaller Missouri cities, too, such as Jefferson City, Grandview, and Ironton, among others.

In the middle of the state in Warsaw, Cosmic Cafe has been recognized as having great coffee. Owner Shannon Noland decided to carry Missouri’s own Kaldi’s Coffee after touring its facility in 2006. “They offered me a black cup of coffee, and I said I needed cream and sugar,” she says. “They said, ‘We don’t do that here.’™” Shannon was skeptical, but the product won her over. “I drank three cups black; it was so good. I said if it’s that good black, it must be the best product.”

Blip’s Danielle Parrie says the brewing method also matters in the third wave. “It’s finding brew methods to extract flavors and emphasize and highlight characteristics and unique qualities of different beans,” she says. New brew methods are also fun, “specifically with cold-brewing coffee, such as the Kyoto system.” The system is “just a fancylooking glass utilizing gravity to make coffee,” Danielle says. There’s also the Nitro cold brew, she adds, “a classic toddy run through a tap system and made creamy with nitrogen.”

Mud House in St. Louis serves breakfast and lunch every day.

But Danielle believes coffee makers should carefully choose the right brew method for their product and not let flashy techniques detract from the coffee. “Consumers want the latest and greatest and have all the cool-looking concoctions they see on social media,” she says. “The wow factor is definitely something that people are willing to pay for. But I think the hype that they buy into can sort of distract from the actual product and factors, such as flavor.”

Danielle compares the popularity of third-wave coffee with that of craft beer. “Coff…ee is the next craft niche developing and similar to how we’ve seen a huge boom in microbreweries,” she says. “The market for coff…ee is enormous, far greater than that of alcohol, so I can’t imagine this boom dissipating.”

Ronnoco’s Dan Pabst says the upsurge of co…ffee shops in Missouri is happening partly because people want quality coff…ee and partly because people need a community gathering place. “There is a philosophy that all humans in society need three places: work, home, and number three,” he says. A good local co…ffee shop provides four things: “Delicious co…ffee, delicious food, and free internet,” Dan says, plus that community gathering place.

Third-wave coff…ee costs more than a dollar: this brew is a luxury. “Every industry will have its snobs, but there is a co…ffee for everybody,” Dan says.