What Is Third Wave Coffee?

What Is Third Wave Coffee?

The journey of coffee from a humble breakfast staple to a thriving global industry has been nothing short of remarkable. Over the centuries, coffee has undergone significant transformations, leading to the emergence of distinct waves that reflect changes in the industry and the evolving coffee culture worldwide.

Today, we find ourselves amidst the third wave of coffee, a period characterized by a heightened focus on coffee origin, production methods, and a growing preference for specialty coffee served in artisanal coffee shops.

But what exactly does the term "third wave coffee" mean, and how can you identify it? And what about the first and second waves?


The concept of coffee waves was first introduced by Trish Rothgeb in an article published in the Roasters Guild around 2002. Rothgeb defined a coffee wave as a period marked by significant changes in the coffee industry.

There have been three distinct waves in the history of coffee, each representing a unique set of philosophies and consumer experiences. Each new wave builds upon and reacts to the previous one, signifying a significant shift in the industry.

The third wave of coffee began around the early 2000s and continues to the present day. This wave places emphasis on sustainability, coffee quality, the sourcing of beans, and innovative brewing methods. These elements are at the core of the third-wave coffee movement.

Gone are the days of bitter, low-quality coffee. Today, millions of consumers are abandoning cheap options in favour of the elevated taste of single-origin beans. They are willing to pay a premium for a cup of coffee that meets their discerning standards.

Customer service also plays a vital role in the third-wave coffee movement. Baristas and coffee roasters go the extra mile to educate customers about the coffee supply chain. It's not uncommon to discover fascinating stories behind each bag of coffee beans.

The essence of the third wave can be summarized as making the consumer feel special. This is achieved by sharing the unique story behind each cup and educating the consumer about the specific flavors they can taste and the meticulous process involved in producing high-quality coffee.

In essence, the third wave represents an innovative evolution of what the second wave had already set in motion.


The evolution of the coffee market is undeniable. Prior to the third wave, there were two notable movements in the coffee industry, and there will likely be more in the future.

The first wave of coffee emerged around the 1960s, focusing primarily on convenience, affordability, and availability. Instant prepackaged coffee gained popularity during this period, with companies like Maxwell House and Nestle introducing vacuum-packed coffee to homes and offices across America.

The second wave began in the late 1960s as a response to the perceived lack of quality in the coffee industry. Pioneering brands such as Starbucks and Peet's Coffee revolutionized coffee distribution by offering fresher options. They popularized espresso, lattes, and the concept of baristas, while also educating consumers about the origin of their beans and the art of roasting.

This wave paved the way for other coffee brands to prioritize customer satisfaction, introducing a wider variety of coffee options. It wasn't long before premium whole beans found their way onto supermarket shelves.


The terms "third wave coffee" and "specialty coffee" are often used interchangeably, but there is a distinction between the two.

Specialty coffee is the result of the third wave movement. The third wave represents not just a cup of coffee but also the mindset and experience that accompany it.

For instance, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) uses a 100-point scale to score coffees.

Coffees that score 60 points or above are considered commercial.

In conclusion, the third wave of coffee has ushered in a new era of appreciation for the art and science of coffee. With a focus on sustainability, quality, and innovation, this movement has transformed the way we experience and enjoy our daily cup of joe. From the careful selection of single-origin beans to the dedication of passionate baristas, third-wave coffee has elevated the entire coffee industry and created a truly unique and personalized experience for coffee enthusiasts.

While the fourth wave of coffee may be on the horizon, let us savour and relish in the delights of the third wave, knowing that we are part of a coffee culture that continues to evolve and delight our taste buds. So go ahead, take a sip, and join the journey of coffee exploration in this exciting third-wave era.

Back to blog