What is Third Wave Coffee?

One of the most common topics of discussion I have with people is: what is third wave coffee? Is it a specific type of coffee? Is it the coffee shop defines third wave coffee? The definition of third wave coffee can vary between individuals, but the overarching theme is the same. I think to really understand third wave coffee, we need to take a step back, and understand what the first, and second wave were.

First wave can be defined as the point coffee made its way into homes. Think about Folgers. It WAS the best part of waking up. Emphasis on “was.” It focused on convenience, opening up the doors for home coffee brewers like Mr. Coffee to have a special spot on our kitchen counters. Once enough momentum built up, the second wave came upon us.


Second wave coffee will always be connected to Starbucks. It gave consumers access to lattes, cappuccinos, french press coffee, and allowed people to find their social niche. I like to see the second wave as the pioneer that allowed coffee to be part of our culture, and daily lives. Beans were sourced with a purpose to allow customers to taste what various regions offered. Coffee became an everyday affair.

Then the ideology that coffee is a craft allowed for more precision and care in farming, roasting, brewing, and serving. Roasteries, and cafes became more specific about what coffee farms they would source from. Farming practices became more efficient, technical, and specific in coaxing out the optimal flavor, and sweetness from a coffee cherry. Roasters had the technology to produce consistent flavor profiles. Baristas started to weigh their coffee doses, and extractions, allowing for another level of precision, and excellence. For me personally, third wave coffee is about the producers of coffee across the entire spectrum. There is a focus on hospitality, but third wave has selfish roots for baristas, roasters, owners, and farmers. I am using the word selfish with a positive connotation. This selfishness allows these individuals to work with amazing technology, and product, knowing that they are doing their very best, allowing them to have pride in their work. This leads to the question: what is the fourth wave? We will discuss that in the near future.


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