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 is a movement to produce high-quality coffee. It considers coffee an artisanal food, 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[1].

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, and chocolate. 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.

Third wave coffee refers chiefly to the American phenomenon, particularly from the late 1990's and continuing today, but with some effects from prior decades. The term "Third Wave" was coined in 1999 by Timothy Castle referring to a focus on quality[2]. Globally, third wave coffee can be seen as part of the specialty coffee movement.


Antecedents of third wave coffee include 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. The latter saw the birth of artisanal American espresso bars, some of which evolved into nationwide chains, notably Starbucks, which are retroactively 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.

Other milestones include the 1974 founding of George Howell's Coffee Connection in Cambridge, Massachusetts (influenced by Peet's);[3] the 1982 foundation of the Specialty Coffee Association of America; and the 1980s movement of Dallis Bros. Coffee in New York towards specialty roasting.[4]

The third wave of coffee was heavily influenced by the coffee culture of Australia and New Zealand, countries that have primarily served espresso since the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to high levels of post-war Italian migrants[5]. While the 'third wave' term is rarely used[6], specialty coffee is mainstream in Australia and New Zealand, with major specialty wholesalers like Campos Coffee trading since the mid 1990's[7][8].

Use of the term[edit]

Trish Rothgeb (formerly Skeie) of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters first wrote about the "third wave of coffee" in a November 2002 article of The Flamekeeper,[9] 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,[10] and earlier in his interview in March 2005 on National Public Radio's All Things Considered program.[11] More recently, the third wave of coffee has been chronicled by publications such as The New York Times,[12][13][14] LA Weekly,[15][16][17] Los Angeles Times,[18][19] La Opinión[20] and The Guardian.[21]

In March 2008, Pulitzer Prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold of 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.[15]

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.[22]

Current status[edit]

In the US, there are a large number of third-wave roasters, and some stand-alone coffee shops or small chains that roast their own coffee. There are a few larger businesses, more prominent in roasting than in operating – the "Big Three of Third Wave Coffee"[23][24] are Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea of Chicago; 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.[25] Stumptown has 10 bars – five bars in Portland, one in Seattle, two in New York, one in Los Angeles, and one in New Orleans.[26] 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 over 23,000 cafes worldwide as of 2015.[27]

Both Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea and Stumptown Coffee Roasters were acquired by Peet's Coffee & Tea (itself part of JAB Holding Company) in 2015.[27] At that time, Philz Coffee (headquartered in San Francisco), Verve Coffee Roasters (headquartered in Santa Cruz, California) and Blue Bottle Coffee (headquartered in Oakland, California) were also considered major players in third wave coffee.[27]

In 2014, Starbucks invested around $20 million in a coffee roastery and tasting room in Seattle, targeting the third wave market.[27] Starbucks' standard cafes use automated espresso machines for efficiency and safety reasons, in contrast to third-wave competitors.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Video, Eater (2016-01-08). "What Is Third Wave Coffee and How Did We Get Here?". Eater. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  2. ^ "The Future of Specialty Coffee and the Next Wave – coffeetalkMAGAZINE". Retrieved 2017-07-30.
  3. ^ All About George
  4. ^ Dallis Bros Coffee
  5. ^ Milkman, Arielle (2016-02-19). "Australian Coffee Culture Is Inspiring a New Wave of American Cafes". Eater. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  6. ^ "What Exactly Is 'Third Wave' Coffee And How Is Australia Paving The Way?". The Upsider. 2017-08-14. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  7. ^ "Secret to Campos Coffee's success". NewsComAu. 2017-05-18. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  8. ^ "Campos Australian coffee". 2018-08-09. Retrieved 2019-07-04.
  9. ^ Trish R Skeie (Spring 2003). "Norway and Coffee". The Flamekeeper. Archived from the original on 2003-10-11.
  10. ^ Nicholas Cho (April 1, 2005). "The BGA and the Third Wave". CoffeeGeek.
  11. ^ Stuart Cohen (March 10, 2005). "Coffee Barista Preps for National Competition". NPR.
  12. ^ Hannah Wallace (May 29, 2008). "Do I Detect a Hint of ... Joe?". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Gregory Dicum (March 9, 2008). "Los Angeles: Intelligentsia". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Ted Botha (October 24, 2008). "Bean Town". The New York Times.
  15. ^ a b Jonathan Gold (March 12, 2008). "La Mill: The Latest Buzz". LA Weekly.
  16. ^ Jonathan Gold (December 31, 2008). "The 10 Best Dishes of 2008". LA Weekly.
  17. ^ Jonathan Gold (August 20, 2008). "Tierra Mia Explores Coffee for the Latino Palate". LA Weekly.
  18. ^ Amy Scattergood (October 25, 2006). "Artisans of the roast". Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ Cyndia Zwahlen (September 15, 2008). "Coffeehouse Serves the Latino Community". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ Yolanda Arenales (September 7, 2008). "Cafe Gourmet Pese La Crisis". La Opinion (in Spanish).
  21. ^ Stuart Jeffries (March 16, 2009). "It's the third wave of coffee!". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "Are Your Small Batch Coffee Beans Special?". Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Monica Bhide (June 30, 2008). "Good to the last drop". Salon. Elaborates that these three were widely cited in the industry as most influential.
  25. ^ "New York Training Lab - Intelligentsia Coffee". Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  26. ^ "Stumptown Coffee Roasters - Coffee Shop Locations". Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  27. ^ a b c d e "Peet's rides coffee's 'third wave' with stake in Intelligentsia". Reuters. 2015-10-30. Retrieved 2015-10-31.

Further reading[edit]