I’ve been hearing more and more about “third wave” coffee the longer I’ve been around coffee Instagram and local coffee shops, but up until now, it was just a buzzword to me. One that conjured up images of a boujee, indie, combination coffee-shop-and-microroaster that served pour overs from a Chemex? Yes. Still, I didn’t have a clear idea of what third wave was actually supposed to mean. I turned to Google and did some research of my own, which I will now share with all of you. I’ll be linking the articles I read at the end of this post if you’d like to read for yourself.
First off, what were the first two waves? The first wave of coffee was just bringing coffee to the mainstream consumer– think Folger’s, preground, or the grocery story coffee aisle. Second wave is associated with Starbucks and other cafés that made coffee mainstream but started to also bring specialty coffee drinks and countries of origins to the forefront. However, third wave goes a step further– stemming from a more niche group of coffee enthusiasts that weren’t afraid to experiment more and focus on the nitty-gritty. Suddenly, grind size, roast level, country of origin and tasting notes mattered more than ever before.
Essentially, third wave coffee focuses more on the full experience of coffee than mainstream coffee chains. The third wave serves specialty coffee, which is the highest-rated category of coffee (above commercial grade coffee). However, specialty coffee isn’t necessarily third wave. Key priorities of third wave coffee include customer experience, meaningful relationships between the roaster and the grower, a focus on fair trade, and brewing methods. Manual brew methods and fresh roasts are king. A third wave barista gives the same attention to coffee as a sommelier might to wine. Beyond coffee, the aesthetics are hugely important.
Nowadays, there is even talk of a “fourth wave” of coffee as well somehow diving even further into microroasting and deeply analyzing coffee, but personally, the fourth dimension is where things start to get a little abstract for me. I’ll stick to third wave for now. Where do you all fall on the coffee spectrum? Do you appreciate the sophistication and nuance brought by the third wave movement or are you perfectly happy with grocery store coffee?