Third Wave Coffee 101: Everything You Need to Know

May 20, 2019

With every cup of coffee we drink, there are values and attitudes that define the beverage as more than just a morning pick-me-up. When talking about the history of coffee consumption, Trish, formerly Skeie, Rothgeb of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters is often credited as being the first to write about it in “waves,” from first to third, for The Flamekeeper, The Roaster’s Guild newsletter.

Third Wave Coffee

Rothgeb dubbed the era just after World War II, as the world struggled to return to some semblance of normalcy and peace, as the First Wave. Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Award-winning food critic, describes this period as “the 19th century surge that put Folger’s on every table.” With food in limited supply, war technology that was used to help preserve food and beverage for soldiers in the army trickled down to the commercial space. Instant coffee came to be, along with vacum packed and freeze dried coffee meant for long term storage.

Starbucks, established in 1971, was part of the Second Wave.

The rise of the espresso machine in the 1960s marked the beginning of the Second Wave. The year 1974 was when the term “specialty coffee” was first coined by Erna Knutsen, a Norwegian immigrant to the United States, to describe the different flavors of coffee beans that resulted from being grown in different climates. Coffee beans began to be categorized according to flavor and region (such as Sumatran, African, Barako, etc). This was the era of cappuccinos, lattes, and a Starbucks or something like it on every corner. Interestingly enough, Nespresso’s capsules are also considered a part of the second wave of coffee for its line of specialty coffee flavors used in their capsule-fed coffee machine, despite its introduction in the year 2000.

“Occasionally, the waves overlap; and one inevitably spills over to influence the next. What have we chosen to accept as conventional coffee wisdom? What have we rejected? What does the next wave have to offer?” wrote Rothgeb.


Third wave coffee is a fairly recent movement, starting in the early 2000s in Europe and the US. Where the first and second wave centered on coffee for mass consumption, third wave coffee focuses on the art of brewing and the ethics behind their supply sources.

“For every outlet that opens with a semi-automatic espresso system, there is a Third Waver, working overtime, staining her hands brown with coffee as she handcrafts the perfect shot. The Third Wave is a reaction to those who want to automate and homogenize Specialty Coffee,” writes Rothgeb.

The Third Wave operates on a much smaller scale to better emphasize coffee connoiseurship.

If second wave coffee focused on commecializing coffee, the Third Wave operates on a much smaller scale to better emphasize coffee connoiseurship. As of writing, the top names in third wave coffee in America are Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea in Chicago, Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Oregon, and Counter Culture Coffee in North Carolina. On the local front, we have a number of establishments that adequately fit the bill.

Operators of third wave coffee shops deal only with fair trade coffee, sourcing beans directly from farmers or agricultural communities instead of middleman merchants. In sourcing directly, it ensures that the farmers themselves are duly compensated for their labor instead of being forced to split their income with a third-party reseller.


Third Wave cafés usually have a layout that allows customers to watch baristas prepare their drink. Third Wave baristas also do more than just prepare coffee as ordered. Their roles share some similarites to that of a wine sommeliers, they blend and brew according to their own opinion and experience to bring the best out of their beans. While Second Wave coffeeshops just memorize a recipe and remember which buttons to push on the machine, Third Wave coffeeshops have a more intimate approach to their brew.

Some wonder if Third Wave coffee shops can truly abide by their promise to only serve ethical coffee

Some critics fear, however, that this handcrafted boutique style may become the very thing that keeps the movement from flourishing further, in contrast to the legion of commercial coffeeshops that blossomed during the second wave era. Others wonder if third wave coffee shops can truly abide by their promise to only serve ethical coffee in the face of big bucks should they choose to compromise their beliefs. Some skeptics also wonder if there really is more to making coffee by hand, or if this is all just yet another hipster thing.


In our own country, many are hoping that local Third Wave coffeeshops thrive and succeed. Should the trend take off, the big winners would be the coffee growing farmers themselves, assuming that proprietors abide strictly by the principle of the movement. It’s also a chance for our baristas to up their game and create a local coffee culture unique and separate from the chain stores.

Philippine coffee is in need of a break, we provide less than 1% for world coffee production. Neighboring Indonesia, on the otherhand, is the fourth largest coffee producer in the world. Thankfully, local players are making an effort to turn things around. EDSA Beverage Development Group and Yardstick Coffee are just two of several Third Wave coffee establishments that, in addition to serving quality drinks to guests, offer resources to educate and train people on the art of brewing and roasting. When it comes to ethical beans, Cordillera Coffee in Xavierville is kicking things up a notch in regards to the beans they procure in Baguio. They go up the mountain twice, once to help plant the beans with the local community, and again to later harvest them.

As noble the goals of the Third Wave Coffee movement may appeart to be, however, in the end it’s still us, the consumers, who will determine whether or not it succeeds. Frequenting these establishments, and voting for their products with our wallets, will go a long way towards making sure that this wave doesn’t ever get to break.


Mia Marci Mia Marci

Mia Marci likes sampling street food, even if she doesn't know what's in it. She's gotten sick to her stomach on occasion because of this hazardous curiosity, but even the strictest of doctors couldn't stop her. Mia also writes about video games, travel, and girly issues for other publications. She also teaches English and Creative Writing. In the little spare time she has left, she catches up on film and TV shows, while cuddling up to her dog and cat.

5 comments in this post SHOW

5 responses to “Third Wave Coffee 101: Everything You Need to Know”

  1. Noni Cabrera says:

    “Coffee beans began to be categorized according to region (such as Sumatran, African, Barako, etc)”

    But Barako (Liberica) isn’t a region. It’s a varietal. Sumatra is also not a region. It’s a type of roast, and also, varietal that grows in Sumatra’s estates (Mandailing, Lintong and Garundang).

    Growers and traders use the growing regions, i.e. Asia (Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia), the Pacific (Papua New Guinea), North America (Hawaii, Mexico), Central America (Guatemala, Costa Rica), South America (Brazil, Colombia), Africa and Arabia (Yemen, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ivory Coast).

    • coffee dude says:

      Sorry, but Sumatra is not a roast. It is a place! There are these things called “maps” where you can find “places”.

  2. Aziel says:

    I enjoyed this article.Furthermore, I adore your writing style. You are my favorite pepper.ph writer. I read all your articles in one go. You write so informatively but you also paint a very fluid and imaginable picture. Good job!

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