The third-wave coffee scene is a movement that started in the 1990s and has been gradually taking over the world of coffee.  The third wave coffee scene no longer sees coffee as a commodity. It focuses on the growing process, sustainability, flavor, and taste – just like wine. 

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What is Third wave coffee?

The Third-Wave Coffee scene emerged before the 20th century, taking the whole production process in mind to improve coffee quality and taste.

From how beans are sourced and grown to roasting and brewing: Third-wave coffee is about understanding the entire process and chain of supplies that ends with a luxurious cup of coffee.

The term “Third Wave” was coined by a professional barista named James Freeman in 1999. Freeman had noticed that the first wave of American coffee drinkers favored low-quality robusta beans and instant coffees. In contrast, the second wave preferred arabica beans but still used low-quality roasting techniques. The third wave involved lighter roasts of higher quality arabica beans and a focus on freshness and new brewing techniques.

What are the 3 waves of coffee?

First-Wave Coffee

The first wave of coffee is a historical period from 1730 to 1822 when coffee was first introduced to European society. The first wave of coffee was the simpler form of coffee, which was only enjoyed by the wealthy. The first wave of coffee is associated with colonialism and slavery. Coffee was grown in Africa and was exported to Europe by Venetian traders, who brought it from the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).

Second-Wave Coffee

Second-Wave Coffee refers to the mid-1970s to the early 1980s time frame. This was a time of coffee re-education when coffee drinkers were introduced to a new idea of what coffee could be.

The Second Wave of Coffee was a time of change and evolution in coffee culture worldwide. For the first time, coffee books were written, coffee equipment was manufactured, coffee shops were opened, and the first coffee competition was held.

Third-Wave Coffee

The third wave of coffee has gained momentum worldwide and changed how we perceive and drink coffee. During the third wave, coffee is appreciated for its quality and diversity. It creates a sense of community among coffee lovers.

The third wave of coffee introduced Specialty Coffee, a term used to describe ethically sourced, roasted, and brewed coffee. Specialty coffee is fresh and not mass-produced coffee, often roasted in small batches to preserve the quality and flavor.

Is Third-Wave Coffee different than Specialty-Coffee?

The third wave coffee scene is looking for superb coffee beans that are ethically sourced and grown. It expects these beans to be shipped, roasted, and packed flawlessly until they are finally brewed. Specialty coffee is just what third-wave coffee lovers demand.

Specialty coffee is continually evolving. Many techniques are being developed, and I can assure you that the way we source, grow, and roast coffee today will be replaced in the future.

So we know that the third wave of coffee focuses not only on the final product but also on the entire process. Now, I can only hope a brighter future awaits the farmers, mainly in Central America or Africa. These people are in charge of developing and growing the exquisite coffee available for people worldwide – they deserve to enjoy the fruit of their labor.

What makes a coffee shop Third Wave?

As mentioned, third-wave coffee shops use specialty coffee. Third-wave coffee shops are very minded about the quality and the overall process.

While some coffee shops have a roasting plantation of their own, this is inapplicable to many third-wave shops.

So, how can you identify a third-wave coffee shop? 

  • They have their own specific flavors – Many third-wave coffee shops have created their own coffee.
  • Single Origin – Beans of a single origin (Farm/Estate)
  • Proud of their origin – Third-wave cafes don’t hide their suppliers. In fact, they boast them to shop their support.
  • Lighter roast – Dark roasting is more prevalent in big companies such as Starbucks.
  • Manual espresso machines or using French Press – Manual espresso machines and French press brewing lets customers know their coffee is fresh.
  • Friendly Atmosphere  – Third Wave coffee is about an entire process, from a farmer to the consumer experience. That (should) include a good customer experience for the end-user.
  • Latte art – Speaking of user experience: Latte art is very third wav-ish.

So, what exactly is the 4th wave?

Obviously, the 4th wave of coffee would bring an upgraded quality of coffee as a small market can bring more people together. In other words, this would focus more on commercialization.

For an accessible coffee for everyone, the coffee business needs to make a fair trade or direct investment to the ones working on the grounds. And these are the farmers and their families.

Is Starbucks a second or a third wave?

Although Starbucks has its own specialty coffee, they are considered a second-wave coffee. This is because their company started when the coffee business was seeking growth. Moreover, considering that they have many branches nationwide, they have proven that they caught a large group of people nationwide.

Furthermore, their coffee prices are not that affordable. This means that they don’t really offer a need for anyone to power up and be caffeinated. And if they do, that purpose is not that higher than their way of providing luxury.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it – an overview of the third-wave coffee scene.

Third Wave Coffee is a growing approach in coffee culture, where the focus is on elevating the quality of the coffee bean and creating a truly unique experience for the drinker.

Third Wave Coffee places a significant emphasis on the quality of the coffee bean. It is unique in that the coffee beans get roasted in micro batches (typically around 15 pounds per batch). This allows the roaster to really get to know the beans and fully understand nuances in the roasting process.

We hope this article has given you an understanding of why people love third-wave coffee so much.

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