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What is Third Wave Coffee?

Updated: Apr 13

If you recently picked up a coffee magazine or had a somewhat technical conversation with your barista, chances are you might have heard or seen the phrase Third Wave Coffee - or even Specialty Coffee - which does somewhat overlap. Now there are a variety of definitions out there doing a great job at explaining this sophisticated term, so we thought we would add a brief one for good measure!


The recent history of coffee has seen quite a lot of changes. Now imagine identifying a few points on that timeline where significant changes occurred in the industry. For coffee specialists, that timeline can be split into three segments or waves as we like to refer to them. These waves are considered to be more like paradigm shifts, where things like transparency, roasting, innovation, farming, all took on a whole new role in the bean-to-cup chain.


The First Wave


The first wave of coffee originated back in the 1800s when people realized that coffee could become a commodity sold on the market. And it was seen as exactly that - merely a commodity. This wave is known for its lack of quality and taste. Convenience and Mass production was considered to be more of a priority, and for this reason, coffee for the first time became widely accessible to the public.


"The new modern lifestyle of the mid-1900’s would give instant coffee its spotlight. By the 1970’s almost one-third of imported roasted coffee was processed into instant coffee..."

The Second Wave


The Second Wave initiated when people started voicing their opinions on the bad taste of coffee. Things like the origin of the coffee bean and roasting became something they wanted to be informed about. This added to the overall coffee experience. Quality in coffee got a big improvement with companies like Starbucks Pioneering this new wave. Starbucks created a new cafe culture where strong emphasis was placed on flavored drinks and on customer experience - coffee became much more of a luxury than a necessity.


The Third Wave


Coined in 1999, Third Wave Coffee has come a long way. As a brief description, here are a few things this wave is known for:

  • Micro roasteries

  • Alternative Brewing Methods

  • Science of Coffee

  • Transparency of origin

  • Fair Trade

  • Quality

  • Different Roasting styles

  • Innovation, Creativity, Design

  • Latte Art

  • Coffee Cupping/Tasting

The list can go on and on. The coffee industry has made a big imprint on our day-to-day with Coffee Shops popping up so quickly and offering a unique coffee experience. The Third Wave is also known for its teaching. Various courses are taught by coffee professionals giving you the opportunity to become accredited as a barista, roaster, taster and many more! Plus you get to showcase your skills at different coffee competitions happening throughout the year on the continent and abroad.


Coffee has also made a big leap towards giving back to the heroes of the industry, the farmer. More and more light is shown upon the realities of being a coffee farmer and the compensation they receive for their products and efforts, all in the hope that the industry will grow and improve without leaving part of it behind.



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