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Why You Need To Understand Third Wave Coffee

If you love coffee like us, chances are you have heard the phrase third wave coffee. For a term that’s become synonymous with specialty coffee shops and earned its spot in modern coffee lingo, we have found too many folks don’t know what the heck it actually means. So, we are here to help. But, in order to understand the third wave world we are currently living in, we need to look at how we got here.

First Wave: Pot Coffee With Cream and Sugar

With first wave, coffee was really just a commodity – a vehicle for caffeine that was becoming mass produced and gaining popularity. First wave coffees were usually blends of low-quality beans, often pre-ground and roasted very dark (burnt and lacking any flavor complexity). While some coffee drinkers are still consuming coffees produced in a similar manner (yes, we are looking at you Folgers drinkers), this marked the beginning of mass coffee consumption that laid a foundation for modern advancements.

Coffee Culture 101: Understanding Third Wave And What Came Before It?

Second Wave: Caramel Soy Latte

The coffee shop experience was really cemented during the second wave. Coffee choices were no longer limited to hot black sludge (like first wave), and consumers started becoming interested in things like coffee origins, freshness, and brew methods like the French press. This is when Americans developed their love for espresso, including fancy milk-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos that are now commonplace, but before this, virtually unknown. That chain of “S” named coffee shops really allowed this movement to spread and changed the entire gourmet coffee experience – this is when people became willing to spend $3-$5 on a unique coffee drink from their green-aproned barista.

Coffee Culture 101: Understanding Third Wave And What Came Before It?

Third Wave: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Pour Over

This marks the elevation of the coffee experience to mirror that of a fine wine or craft beer. Third wave coffee shops and enthusiasts recognize, and more importantly appreciate, the nuance and complexity in coffee. Third wave roasters tell the coffee’s story – not just the origin but the farm itself, the methods of growing and processing, the cupping score, and the degree of social and environmental sustainability. We have seen a rise in preference for light to medium roast profiles that showcase a coffee’s unique, innate flavors more so than the flavor of the roast itself (dark roasts). New brew coffee methods have been developed, and many consumers are appreciating the romance of the coffee experience with manual methods like pour overs. The meticulous attention to detail at every step of the process, from farm to cup, is really what makes this current wave so special. We are happy to be living in this third wave and can’t wait to see what wave we’ll be riding next. 

Coffee Culture 101: Understanding Third Wave And What Came Before It?


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