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What is Third Wave Coffee And How Is It Different?

What Is Third Wave Coffee And How Is It Different?

You might know all there is to know about coffee, but have you heard about third wave coffee?

It’s become a buzzword in the coffee industry, and for good reason.

What, exactly, is third wave coffee?

Third wave coffee is coffee that’s focused on the consumer – it’s all about making the best quality coffee!

If you’re a coffee lover, that will surely sound good to you. You’ll probably want to learn more about the third wave and what it’s all about, though, because it’s changing the coffee industry in big ways.

So we’re going to go all the way back and look at the storied origins of coffee and jump into the first, second, and third waves.

How Did Coffee Come About?

Although coffee is so popular, it’s worth wondering how it became such a household name. Let’s explore coffee’s colorful history.

There’s an interesting Ethiopian legend about coffee. Centuries ago, a goat herder by the name of Kaldi discovered coffee because his goats had consumed berries from a tree and were seen to have lots of energy as a result.

He told the abbot of a local monastery about what had happened, who decided to try to make a beverage with those berries from the tree.

He soon discovered that he felt energized after drinking them just like the goats had. He reported back to Kaldi about what happened and soon the news about the berries spread, causing them to become more popular.

Do we have a goat herder to thank for discovering the amazing coffee berries that help us to stay awake and energized nowadays?  

Maybe, but we can trace coffee back to the 15th century where it was grown by people in the Yemeni district of Arabia (via National Coffee Association USA ). By the 16th century, it took hold in other areas, such as Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Persia.

By the 17th century, coffee had spread to Europe, where its interest was also sparked. This was as a result of travellers from Europe who had brought back stories from the Near East about the beverage we now call coffee.

During this century, coffee became a replacement for other breakfast beverages, such as wine. Halfway into the century, there were more than 300 coffee houses in London, which shows how quickly coffee was growing in popularity.  

Quite notably, during this century the Mayor of Amsterdam brought a coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. Coffee was growing in popularity all over the world, and this was set to continue thanks to that plant.

Seedlings from the tree were taken by a naval officer called Gabriel de Clieu who took them with him to Martinique, where they caused the growth of 18 million coffee trees on the Martinique island over the next half a century, as the NCA reports.

Interestingly, the popularity of Brazilian coffee specifically is as a result of a man called Francisco de Mello Palheta who went to the emperor of French Guiana to get coffee seedlings (via NCA).

He wasn’t allowed to take seedlings, but his attractive looks were what persuaded the French governor’s wife to steal some for him – she hid them in a bouquet of flowers she sent him home with as a gift.

These seedlings further enabled travellers, traders, and colonists to bring coffee into new territories, and ensured that coffee plants could take root all over the world. 

What Were The First And Second Coffee Waves?

While we might have a better idea about what third wave coffee is now that we’ve defined it, what were the first and second waves? Let’s break them down and see what they were all about.  

The First Coffee Wave

The first wave of coffee occurred back in the 1960s when coffee started to become popular as well as much more accessible to the masses.

There wasn’t much attention paid to ensuring different coffee flavors or intriguing roasts, though – coffee was all about making the delicious beverage and ensuring it would become an item in every household.

The Second Coffee Wave

The second wave happened more recently, when companies such as Starbucks began running coffee shops and this, again, caused coffee to become much more accessible for people to enjoy.

It also encouraged café culture because coffee now became more social – people could sit together in a coffee shop and enjoy their delicious brews together.

The second wave also included an increased attention to where coffee originated from, with the intent to have increased transparency.

What’s Third Wave Coffee All About?

The coffee waves have been like a relay race – both the first and second waves have set a foundation for third wave coffee to take the stage. Not only is third wave coffee more accessible and transparent, but it has built on those ideas.

Third wave coffee is focused on greater appreciation of coffee as well as increased coffee quality. It looks at all aspects of coffee, from how it’s brewed to how it’s enjoyed by consumers.

So, third wave coffee increases the value and quality of coffee, increases its sustainability (that’s where transparency comes in!), and features creative new ways to brew coffee.

Consumers want to have more distinct, complex, and interesting coffees to enjoy and they’re willing to pay more money to achieve this.

But there’s more to third wave coffee…

Earlier, we mentioned that third wave coffee is focused on the consumer, and it achieves this by offering great customer service as well as sharing stories about coffee with customers.

For example, importers, baristas, and roasters will explain the story behind their coffee, thus adding a more meaningful element to the coffee-drinking process.

This also ties in with the increased need people have to know where their coffee beans come from and how their aromatic cups of coffee have been produced.

Coffee shops that are focused on third wave coffee will sometimes also design their shops in such a way that customers can watch baristas make their coffee drinks. This puts the customer at the front of the process and lets them into the secret of how coffees are blended and brewed.  

What About Third Wave Coffee Roasting?

Third wave coffee roasters are doing things differently. Here is what to know about how third wave coffee is being roasted and why it’s such a coffee game changer.

  • Third wave coffee ideally ensures that coffee beans are sourced from coffee farms to ensure that the beans can release their unique traits. It’s all about avoiding mass-produced coffee in favor of something more unique.

  • It also pays more attention to lighter coffee roasts. These are packed with flavors that sometimes have gone unnoticed or unappreciated in the past. By giving them more attention now, this celebrates their various flavor profiles.

Pros of light coffee roasts

  • They contain more flavor. This is because light roasts preserve more of their natural flavor and aroma during the roasting process.

  • They are more complex. They have various flavor profiles: sweet, floral, and fruity, making the coffee much more layered and interesting.

  • They offer transparency because roasters don’t have to roast the beans for extremely long times to mask unappetizing flavors.

Third Wave Coffee Brewing Methods

Third Wave Coffee Brewing Methods

New, innovative – or simpler – brewing methods are the main aim of third wave coffee roasters as they try to find ways to get as much flavor out of those coffee beans as possible.

This is why some coffee brewing methods have started to become more popular than others. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular brewing methods.


The pour-over brewing method is focused on going back to a simpler, effective way of making coffee. It makes use of manual devices or machines that enable you to soak the coffee grounds in water to extract their flavor and aroma.

It usually makes use of a filter to trap any unwanted oils from getting into the final product and changing its flavor.

French Press

The French Press makes use of hot water in a beaker, in which coffee grounds are steeped. Then, you simply press a metal mesh filter all the way to the bottom of the beaker.

This brew gives you a full-bodied cup of coffee. It doesn’t create a very clean cup, though – its metal filter lets some oil and sediment enter your cup, which contributes to its heavy, rich flavor.


The AeroPress brewing method is a full-immersion coffee method that’s easy to use and brews one cup at a time.

How it works is that it’s a piston-style of coffee brewer that pushes coffee through a paper filter into your mug or cup. It has a clear, flavor-rich taste as the filter blocks sediment from entering your cup.

By focusing more on the craft of how to brew the tastiest coffee instead of relying on automatic machines so much, this has enabled third wave coffee to allow for various coffee flavors to shine through.

This is especially important for baristas, who have gained lots of knowledge and techniques when it comes to the craft of making coffee.

Why Does The Third Wave Focus On Single-Origin Coffee?  

Third wave coffee pays tribute to single-origin coffee in a much bigger way than before. As we mentioned earlier, consumers have an interest in where their coffee comes from and what makes it special – that whole “story behind the coffee” idea.

In addition to this, single-origin coffee is about exploring the delicious flavors and what causes them. For example, if you purchase Guatemala coffee, you’ll be interested to know that volcanic soil has contributed to a specific flavor profile in your coffee.

You’ll likely want to trace your coffee to a specific region in the country to learn more about it and how it was produced.

What does single-origin coffee mean?

Now, you might be wondering what single-origin coffee refers to. Basically, it means that the coffee can be traced back to one region of the world, instead of coffee blends whose origins can’t be traced because they’re a mix of different coffees.

There’s also the trend for coffee providers, such as cafes, to provide consumers with something exclusive, so single-origin coffee can also refer to “single estate” coffee.

This traces the coffee all the way to a specific place or farm where it was produced. Incredibly, you might even be able to learn about the specific land where the coffee trees were grown, which makes the coffee feel even more special and meaningful. 

Third Wave Coffee Vs. Specialty Coffee

Some people confuse third wave coffee with specialty coffee, but there are some important differences between the two even though they are very closely related.

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) rates coffees according to a scale that has 100 points. If a coffee manages to achieve 60 or more points, then it’s regarded as commercial-grade. If a coffee scores 80 or more points, it’s a specialty coffee.

Commercial Vs. Specialty Coffee

  • Commercial coffee is coffee you can buy from large brands in almost any type of shop. These coffees are roasted and then sold in bulk.

  • Specialty coffee, on the other hand, is sold as beans so you’ll have to grind it up before brewing it according to your preferences. It is also sold in bulk, but you can usually buy it in smaller quantities from coffee specialty shops or coffee merchants. This type of coffee is a product of careful processing practices and a focus on how the coffee is grown, such as with specific soils.

Now, third wave coffee is focused on enhancing the coffee-drinking experience of the customer, but specialty coffee plays a role in ensuring a better experience because it boosts the quality of the coffee, therefore making it more aromatic and delicious.

To put it another way (via Perfect Daily Grind), specialty coffee is basically how we can achieve third wave coffee because it ensures that people are served the third wave coffee that boosts their sensory experience.

What About Sustainability In Third Wave Coffee?

What About Sustainability In Third Wave Coffee?

In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in sustainable and organic coffee. Research (via Statista) has found that in 2007 sales of organic coffee in the U.S. reached $154 million, and this number steadily increased to $525 million by 2016!

Sustainability is a big part of third wave coffee. It makes sense why because, as we’ve already seen, there is a need for greater transparency when it comes to coffee and how it’s produced, as well as how farm workers are treated.

This is why sustainable coffee has become more popular. At its core, sustainable coffee can be described as coffee plants that are grown to preserve the environment and provide healthy livelihoods for farmers.

By being more interested in how their coffee is sourced and how the farmers who tend to the coffee plants are treated, consumers are changing the coffee industry by making it more sustainable.

What’s The Most Sustainable Coffee?

What’s The Most Sustainable Coffee?

You might be wondering what coffee you should order from a café or make at home so that it’s as green as possible. Here are some tips.

Choose French press

There’s another good reason why the French press is popular in third wave coffee: it’s the least wasteful because of how it doesn’t make use of a paper filter.

While your coffee grounds will go to waste, those can easily be reused by being put in the compost heap, thus making your coffee habit sustainable at home.

Use resource-friendly brews

On the subject of being more sustainable in the home, sustainable coffee can also refer to coffee that doesn’t consume many resources, such as electricity. Pour-over and French press coffees are excellent examples of the least-intensive coffee brews.

Purchase fair trade and organic coffee

Whether beans or grinds, make sure that your coffee is sustainable. To ensure this, you might think it just has to be listed as fair trade. But you’ll often find that fair trade coffee is also listed as organic and this is not a coincidence.

When used together, both certifications ensure that farmers are treated fairly by being provided with fair wages for their labor-intensive work (that’s the fair trade certification part) and that they work without being exposed to chemicals, such as pesticides that are used in non-organic coffee farming, which can be harmful to their health (that’s why organic certification matters).

Is Latte Art Third Wave Coffee?

Is Latte Art Third Wave Coffee?

Since third wave coffee is all about ensuring greater focus on the craft of coffee making, you might wonder if latte art is part of it.

It is, and that’s because coffee has become more artistic, with greater emphasis on how it looks as well as how it tastes. One of the best things about latte art is that it contributes to the overall experience of drinking coffee

While the coffee will have a delicious smell and taste, latte art provides a feast for the eyes, thus helping you to increase your enjoyment of it.

It also shows attention to detail and creativity in the coffee-making process, and those intricate latte art designs that leave you gobsmacked might also make you feel that the cup of coffee you’re getting in a café or restaurant is of a higher quality.

You’re not just getting an average cup, but a unique coffee that was made just for you, and that’s what makes it so special.

Is Third Wave Coffee Already Coming To An End?

Is Third Wave Coffee Already Coming To An End?

It might surprise you to find out that there’s a fourth wave of coffee we can expect!

While that doesn’t mean that third wave coffee is necessarily coming to an end, it does point to how the coffee industry is evolving all the time. We must also bear in mind that the third wave coffee term originated in 2002 so it’s certainly nothing new.

So, what does the fourth wave have in store for us?

It’s been said that the fourth coffee wave has already been taking form in various places, such as big cities around the world.

The fourth wave of coffee is all about the science of coffee, so it focuses on achieving the perfect taste and it’s meticulous about detail, as the Barista Institute reports.

This can include activities such as tweaking the water chemistry involved in making the best-tasting cup of coffee, finding the best measurements and ratios when it comes to brewing coffee, and developing new brewing equipment.

Related Questions

Who coined the “third wave coffee” term?

Trish Rothgeb is a roastmaster and coffee teacher who coined the term “third wave coffee” back in 2002. 

What are some third wave coffee brands?

Two brands that are focused on third wave coffee are Philz Coffee, which provides creative and complex coffee flavors and was considered to be one of the main players of third wave coffee, and Blue Bottle, that sells single-origin coffee.


What is third wave coffee?

Now you know that the third wave of coffee is making changes in the way coffee is grown, produced, and sold to the public. Gone are the days when producing loads of coffee for the masses was all about using cheap and fast methods.

Nowadays, the third wave coffee movement is focused on quality and innovation, and excellent customer service that’s as transparent as possible. There’s no doubt about it: it will be interesting to see where the fourth coffee wave takes us!

Last Updated on May 15, 2021

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