Explanation of "3rd wave"? And what were the first two?

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Postby Mark08859 » Aug 06, 2010, 1:07 pm

For a few years I have been reading posts/topics that mention "3rd Wave". But, I must admit that I have no idea as to what the term really means. Is it the Starbuck's era and beyond (since *$ has fallen from grace) of espresso/coffee where folks became more aware of what they were drinking?

For that matter, what were the first two waves - pre and post pump?

Thanks for any insight.


Postby Beezer » Aug 06, 2010, 1:56 pm

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, like wheat. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee bean growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers and coffee 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, bean varietal, and growing region - similar to other complex culinary 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 of the beans, and latte art. It also sometimes includes naked portafilters, and revivals of alternative methods of coffee preparation, such as vacuum coffee (sometimes called "siphon") and individual drip brew.

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

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.

Lock and load!

Ken Fox

Postby Ken Fox » Aug 06, 2010, 9:47 pm

It's one of those haughty but essentially meaningless labels that people like to throw around to make it look like they know something that other people don't.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955


Postby Nick » Aug 07, 2010, 2:06 pm

More commonly, it's one of those terms that certain people out there seem eager to discredit in order to make it look like they're somehow more insightful than they actually are. a.k.a. "player haters"

Simply put:
1st wave = coffee to consume (freeze-dried, commodity, lots of cream & sugar, 'acquired taste,' morning pick-me-up, etc.)
2nd wave = coffee to enjoy (espresso-drinks, beginning to identify and prefer certain coffee regions, frappuccino, flavored lattes, etc.)
3rd wave = coffee to appreciate (like wine/music/art appreciation, terroir, desire for seed-to-cup knowledge, etc.)

It's an oversimplification to be sure, but point is, folks are approaching coffee in a deeper way than before, and there are certain times when it's helpful to distinguish the different approaches.

Ken Fox

Postby Ken Fox » Aug 07, 2010, 2:47 pm

Nick wrote:It's an oversimplification to be sure, but point is, folks are approaching coffee in a deeper way than before, and there are certain times when it's helpful to distinguish the different approaches.

Very heavy, Nick. Thanks for clarifying it for us dummies.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

User avatar

Postby Psyd » Aug 07, 2010, 6:31 pm

Ken Fox wrote:It's one of those haughty but essentially meaningless labels that people like to throw around to make it look like they know something that other people don't.

C'mon Ken, it isn't either. It's a commonly held term used to distinguish one form of coffee consumption/distribution/thinking from it's predecessors. It has the nifty added attribute that it sound spiffy, but it's real benefit is that it wraps up a whole sentence worth of explanation into one tight, useful word.
Is it abused in the manner which you describe? Youbetcha.
No reason to toss out a perfectly good phrase 'cause of some idiots.
Toss the bathwater, not the baby.
Espresso Sniper
One Shot, One Kill

LMWDP #175

Ken Fox

Postby Ken Fox » replying to Psyd » Aug 07, 2010, 7:18 pm

Every person you know who knows what this term means would also understand a simple universally understood several word descriptor that means the same thing. Something like "a high end cafe-roaster," for example. No normal non-coffee aficionado to whom you would try to explain this term will learn anything from your explanation. Rather, they will consider you some kind of a nut case.

So the use of the term is itself rather self-congratulatory, since only those who already know what it is supposed to mean would use it in conversation with similarly effected people.

So, it is useless.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

da gino

Postby da gino » Aug 07, 2010, 8:10 pm

So Ken, you prefer terms that are used by people who don't have any idea what they mean?

I do agree that only nut cases use the expression "third wave," but then again only nut cases read message boards about coffee or buy insanely expensive espresso machines and grinders. Anyone know a good espresso addiction therapist?


Postby frankmoss » Aug 07, 2010, 8:12 pm

So is all technical or specialty knowledge useless? All fields have specialized terms that non-specialists don't understand. These terms help us understand specialized techniques and the progression of our our hobby in a highly specific way. Should we toss out all terms that laymen don't understand, such as ristretto, portafilter, etc. Should we reduce our language to the smallest group of words possible like Big Brother in Orwell's 1984? Of course not.

Ken Fox

Postby Ken Fox » replying to frankmoss » Aug 08, 2010, 12:50 am

This is the classic straw man argument; I never said anything remotely like this.

But "Third Wave" is a term of conceit, a self-flattering term developed by those who would promote that what they are doing is truly unique and special. It isn't, with the possible exception of going to origin and promoting the production of special coffees (which is truly peripheral to the idea of a "Third Wave Cafe").

Some of this is the misguided approach of some, to try to turn the idea of the job of Barista as being a true "career path," outside of Italy. The only way that being a barista could be a real lifetime job is if the barista owns the cafe. Of course, that is what they do in Italy.

My whole approach is just the opposite. I try not to hide behind specialized terminology that other people don't understand. Of course, if you don't know the name for the basic parts of an espresso machine then you are on your own. Some terminology is necessary.

What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955