If you are a regular coffee drinker like me, whether it’s before work to get your creative juices flowing, after the gym, or that espresso shot after dinner; you have probably noticed the term “Third Wave” around the internet and coffee shops. I’m going to explain it all right now.
The Third Wave is a movement to produce high quality coffee from harvest to roasting; and a call to consider coffee as a artisanal beverage and/or craft beverage. The origin of the term dates back to 2002 when Trish Rothgeb coined the term.
In the article Rothgeb divided the evolution of consumption of coffee into three “waves”; the third focusing on quality of the coffee like a fine wine. This means more focus on the production, transparency in processing methods, and less emphasis on marketing efforts which coffee giants like Starbucks and The Coffee Bean Tea and Leaf have done so masterfully.
But how did we get to the Third Wave? Why didn’t we just focus on making artisanal coffee from the beginning? To understand this, we must delve into the First and Second Wave movements.
The First Wave
The First Wave dates back to the 1800s when it was realized that packaged homemade coffee could be a profitable business. Pioneers of this movement were Folgers and Maxwell house using “vacuum packaging” (The removal of air from packaging bags or tins to provide a fresher product) and making products for affordability and convenience.
While this brought coffee to every household around United States, it became clear to many that it was purely profit driven. Many felt that quality was sacrificed in exchange for mass production and sales, which led to the Second Wave.
The Second Wave
The Second Wave was mostly brought upon customer’s desire to consume higher quality coffee, dissatisfaction with the First Wave’s focus on driving profits, and become more educated drinkers. Words such as “espresso”, “cappuccino”, and “caffè latte” emerged in the coffee consumers vocabulary.
This brought upon the beginning of treating coffee less of a commodity and more of a artisanal beverage. Due to the demand of treating coffee like fine wine, coffee shops began to arise all around the world; some of those shops which previously existed, and become large world wide chains. Coffee companies which are characterized as a part of the second wave include Starbucks, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and Port City Java.
The Second Wave was brought to an end because of consumers’ reaction to lack of care of coffee production from major coffee chains. Consumers again want to be more educated knowing about the country, soil, altitude, and trading practices of coffee beans.
Third Wave locations may include small business owned coffee shops, roasters, and cafes. Each Third Wave space may have a distinct ambiance with brick walls, cozy coffeehouse furniture, or a small warehouse characteristics.
All in One ‘Shot’
So which wave to you identify with? Personally, I love coffee and if you haven’t already I guessed it, I am interested in the details of production. It is fair to say I am a Third Wave type of guy.
Maybe like a second wave person, you appreciate a good coffee but learning about coffee origins doesn’t get you excited. Either way the next time you stroll by a coffee shop try to see if you can tell the difference.