For those new to the concept of Third Wave Coffee, you may wonder what it really means. Pulitzer Prize winning food critic Jonathan Gold said the following on this subject back in March of 2008, “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 connoisseur-ship, 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.”
Essentially, it’s the idea that our understanding, appreciation and ability to source coffee has progressed through several evolutions. The first period we experienced, the first wave of coffee, enabled the spread of coffee around the world, most often in the freeze-dried variety popular back in post-World War II America. The next period, the second wave of coffee, is defined most through chains such as Starbucks, which mass-marketed higher quality Arabica coffees and specialty drinks. Patrons of chains such as this were able to identify the regions from which some of their beans were grown and had greater variety than previously available in terms of roasts. The current period we now find ourselves in has been dubbed the third wave and thus its coffee, Third Wave Coffee.
Today’s true coffee lovers are more connoisseurs than enthusiasts, as they are becoming highly educated, expert judges of all things coffee-related. They wish to treat coffee as one would wine, with a desire to know everything from what date it was roasted on to the exact farm on which it was grown.
The Third Wave Coffee movement began about 10 years ago by those with a true obsession regarding every step on a coffee bean’s journey from planting to brewing. They searched out “single origin” beans harvested in specific conditions varying from soil type to altitude; climate to the manner in which they were picked.
Third Wave Coffee is a very different animal than the dark roasts made popular during the second wave—creating a perfectly brewed cup is broken down into a science. Third Wave Coffee roasters typically take the raw green beans and lightly cook them, which results in the ability to bring forth their unique qualities. The degree to which a strain of coffee been should be coarsely or finely ground is carefully analyzed to provide the best flavors once brewed. Of course water-to-coffee ratios and brewing temperatures are approached just as seriously. The result of all this time and consideration is a cup of coffee with so much depth and complexity that Third Wave Coffee connoisseurs believe there is no need to muddle it with the addition of cream or sugar.
In the end, Third Wave Coffee, such as the Stumptown Coffee served at Thinking Cup in Boston, is the result of an incredible degree of time, research and resources poured into bettering each stage of coffee production—much to the appreciation of those that have become a part of this new evolutionary stage in mankind’s relationship with coffee.