Third wave of coffee

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Third wave coffee treats coffee beans as an artisanal ingredient and seeks to convey the flavor in the brewed coffee.

The third wave of coffee refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee plant growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers, traders, and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting, at times called "microroasting" (by analogy with microbrew beer), to skilled brewing.

Third wave coffee aspires to the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee, so that one may appreciate subtleties of flavor, varietal, and growing region – similar to other complex consumable plant-derived products such as wine, tea, chocolate, and cannabis. Distinctive features of third wave coffee include direct trade coffee, high-quality beans (see specialty coffee for scale), single-origin coffee (as opposed to blends), lighter roasts, and latte art. It also includes revivals of alternative methods of coffee preparation, such as vacuum coffee and pour-over brewing devices such as the Chemex and Hario V60.

The term "Third Wave" was coined in 2002, and refers chiefly to the American phenomenon, particularly from the 1990s and continuing today, but with some roots in the 1980s, 1970s, and 1960s. Similar movements exist in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. More broadly, third wave coffee can be seen as part of the specialty coffee movement.

History of term[edit]

Trish Rothgeb (formerly Skeie) of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters first wrote about the third wave of coffee in a November 2002 article[1] of The Flamekeeper, a newsletter of the Roaster's Guild, a trade guild of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Nicholas Cho of Murky Coffee further defined the third wave of coffee in an often-referenced online article[2] and earlier in his interview in March 2005 on National Public Radio's All Things Considered program.[3] More recently, the third wave of coffee has been chronicled by publications such as The New York Times,[4][5][6] LA Weekly,[7][8][9] Los Angeles Times,[10][11] La Opinión[12] and The Guardian.[13]

In March 2008, Pulitzer Prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold of the LA Weekly defined the third wave of coffee by saying:

The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table, and the second was the proliferation, starting in the 1960s at Peet's and moving smartly through the Starbucks grande decaf latte, of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.[7]

The earlier term "specialty coffee" was coined in 1974, and refers narrowly to high-quality beans scoring 80 points or more on a 100-point scale.

By region[edit]

United States[edit]

In the US, the market is very diverse. Most third wave coffee is served in independently owned and operated coffee shops. There are a large number of roasters and some stand-alone coffee shops or small chains roast their own coffee; compare brewpub. There are a few larger businesses, more prominent in roasting than in operating – the "Big Three of Third Wave Coffee"[14][15] are commonly held to be Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea of Chicago, Illinois; Stumptown Coffee Roasters of Portland, Oregon; and Counter Culture Coffee of Durham, North Carolina, all of which engage in direct trade sourcing. Intelligentsia has seven bars – four in Chicago, three in Los Angeles, together with one "lab" in New York.[16] Stumptown has 10 bars – five bars in Portland, two in Seattle, two in New York, and one in Los Angeles.[17] Counter Culture has eight regional training centers – that do not function as retail stores – one in each of: Chicago, Atlanta, Asheville, Durham, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. By comparison, Starbucks has well over 10,000 locations.

Earlier history[edit]

Important earlier influences are Peet's Coffee & Tea of Berkeley, California, which in the late 1960s began artisanal sourcing, roasting, and blending, and the Seattle coffee scene of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, which saw the birth of artisanal American espresso bars, some of which evolved into nationwide chains, notably Starbucks, which are retrospectively titled "Second Wave". (Peet's primarily retails beans for home brewing, features dark roasts, and did not serve espresso until 1984.) These in turn were predated by Italian American espresso bars, primarily serving immigrant communities, and 19th century "First Wave" coffee importers.

Another important milestone was the 1982 foundation of the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Other early importers included George Howell's The Coffee Connection of (founded in Boston in 1974, following influence by Peet's)[18] and Dallis Coffee (founded 1980s).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Norway and Coffee, The Flamekeeper, Spring 2003
  2. ^ Nicholas Cho (April 1, 2005). "The BGA and the Third Wave". CoffeeGeek. 
  3. ^ Stuart Cohen (March 10, 2005). "Coffee Barista Preps for National Competition". NPR. 
  4. ^ Hannah Wallace (May 29, 2008). "Do I Detect a Hint of ... Joe?". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Gregory Dicum (March 9, 2008). "Los Angeles: Intelligentsia". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Ted Botha (October 24, 2008). "Bean Town". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b Jonathan Gold (March 12, 2008). "La Mill: The Latest Buzz". LA Weekly. 
  8. ^ Jonathan Gold (December 31, 2008). "The 10 Best Dishes of 2008". LA Weekly. 
  9. ^ Jonathan Gold (August 20, 2008). "Tierra Mia Explores Coffee for the Latino Palate". LA Weekly. 
  10. ^ Amy Scattergood (October 25, 2006). "Artisans of the roast". Los Angeles Times. 
  11. ^ Cyndia Zwahlen (September 15, 2008). "Coffeehouse Serves the Latino Community". Los Angeles Times. 
  12. ^ Yolanda Arenales (September 7, 2008). "Cafe Gourmet Pese La Crisis". La Opinion (in Spanish). 
  13. ^ Stuart Jeffries (March 16, 2009). "It’s the third wave of coffee!". The Guardian. 
  14. ^ The Decade's Top Ten in Specialty Coffee, Nick Cho, Dec 31 2009; also references Michaele Weissman's "God in a Cup," which features the group collectively.
  15. ^ Monica Bhide (June 30, 2008). "Good to the last drop". Salon.  Elaborates that these three were widely cited in the industry as most influential.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Stumptown Coffee locations
  18. ^ All About George

Further reading[edit]