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.
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.
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.