The third wave of coffee is a term that was coined in a newsletter by the Specialty Coffee Association of America back in 2002, and essentially means that we are entering a phase of coffee production where it is becoming more artisanal and a craft coffee type of conception. We have so much control over a huge variety of coffee beans, and a wide range of places to grow them, ways to clean them and roast them, different waters to influence it just so. Coffee is entering the same arena that craft beers and micro breweries recently started dominating, and that wines have been in for quite some time.
The first wave of coffee is essentially getting access to it. The first wave for most of America was when Folgers first came around in 1850 (although, as we stated before, George Washington and many other founding fathers were quite big on coffee too). Coffee has been around for about 1000 years now, starting in Ethiopia, but it slowly started trickling into consciousness (in the US at least) around that time.
The second wave of coffee refers to its massive proliferation. This is when giant companies started arising. This is when coffee became a commodity and really took root in our culture. Lots of people link this with advances to the coffee roasting process itself, as most people roasted coffee beans at home up until the 1900s, because green coffee lasts a very long time whereas roasted coffee does not, and since mass amounts of coffee could not be made and distributed easily a long time ago it just made more sense to do it yourself.
Buying pre-roasted coffee overtook home roasting a few decades into the 20th century. Not too long after that, in the 1960s Peet’s Coffee started touching upon crafted coffee, essentially being a prelude to it. But, even when Starbucks came around and made coffee a part of everyone’s lives all across the world, they still were more about mass distribution and creating a uniform coffee experience, rather than enabling small batch crafted coffees. It’s really not until this last decade or so that we have been so inundated with varying coffees that we really see people crafting coffees in different ways to stand out from one another, that we can truly say we have entered the third wave of coffee.
And, really, when you have coffee box subscriptions to coffees grown in various parts of the world in various altitudes and farms, and then different ways to clean coffee beans that influence flavor, plus not just roasts influencing flavor but even your water type changing things… Well, it’s hard to argue that we’re not breaking through that third wave of coffee right now.