Author: Julie Terebkov
Welcome to an exciting new week in the coffee world. We're here to talk about something that is trending, confusing to many, and the reason for all the hipster coffee shops in the world.
Let's first address what all these words mean: third wave coffee, specialty coffee, and craft coffee. We'll start with third wave coffee since it takes us on a nice historical ride through coffee becoming a daily habit for people. So as the name hints at, there are three defining "waves" in coffee which are marked by moments where consumers are able to get a product, and in turn it becomes dramatically more accessible.
The Waves of Coffee
Long before anyone in the US was drinking lattes and cappuccinos, there was a time when coffee from a metal tin was the most exciting thing to happen in the coffee industry. During wartime we began to see a need to send out goods in a convenient and very easy to use manner; things like coffee. Then was born pre-ground, already roasted, ready-to-brew coffee for anyone's enjoyment. This was the first time coffee became an accessible and easy to use good. Before this, people would have to roast, grind, and brew their coffee at home on their own equipment. This new shift allowed more people to have access and enjoy coffee in their every day lives. Companies like Folgers and Maxwell house were some of the big names that began this first wave. Folgers actually began in the Bay Area, because cities that have harbors make it easy to access incoming coffee shipments. This is why many coffee companies started in harbor cities, especially before it was easy to ship things across the country.
The second wave came with the introduction of the espresso machine, to the rest of the world (not you Italy, you already had coffee). Companies like Peet's Coffee and Starbucks brought over the espresso machine and the "third place" concept. They wanted their coffee shops to be the third main space you spent your time (home, work, and coffee shops). The espresso machine brought a whole new world of coffee to the US and made drinks like, the cappuccino accessible to customers.
Finally third wave coffee is where we land, focusing on craft, specialty coffee. Places like Fourscore, Bloom, Shady, and so many others in this local area alone. This wave can be described as, focusing on the story, craft and details of brewing a cup of coffee. Being mindful of farmers and keeping fair trade standards marks the start of intentionally sharing the story of the bean and the farmers who grew it. We also see more brewing methods coming up, experimenting with coffee and really digging down in the craft aspect of coffee. We begin to focus more intentionally on roasting methods, the way they affect the taste of coffee and the way it brews in turn. Moving to the actual way we brew, making things consistent and optimizing for the best flavors for each coffee. Details are very important and third wave coffee is no joke on that end.
Now let's differentiate "third wave" from "specialty" coffee, and understand how the two are similar but, not exactly the same thing. These two phrases are used interchangeably yet, technically mean different things. The overarching meaning is there for both phrases, and most people would not correct the misplacement of either. But, for kicks and giggles let's just define the two so that we can use proper terminology. Third wave coffee is the start and mark of a historical moment within the coffee industry where the market shifts, and the approach to coffee is fundamentally changed. This is more of an attitude and approach to coffee while, specialty coffee speaks on something very specific. The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) scores coffees on a 100 point scale, and at 80 points and above, a coffee is considered a specialty coffee. So, specialty coffee quite literally refers to a high scored coffee(s) rather than an entire wave of coffee.
I mentioned a bit about the care and detail that goes into third wave coffee. There seems to be a trend on the rise for specialty and craft anything; food, coffee, beer, you name it. Even things that were previously shunned by craft coffee are coming back but, in updated ways. With first wave came the ease and accessibility of coffee and that is coming back with the rise of third wave instant coffee. I was previously hesitant of this idea because, my only experience with instant coffee has been terrible moments of desperation and caffeine deficiency. A few coffee companies are doing a great job of putting out great specialty instant coffee. James Hoffman is an informational and highly entertaining voice to listen to if you're interested in learning more about specialty instant coffee.
There are tons of other trends that pop up in specialty coffee, and even new ideas on brewing methods. Keep checking back here with us and we'll keep on bringing new ideas, fun stories, and all things related to coffee.
Stay classy coffee tribe.