Third Wave Coffee

Well, Costa have said that Third Wave Coffee is going to be the next big thing on the high street - it was announced as news for the whole sector, but is it really that new??!

Can Third Wave Coffee really be a success to a mass market in a store selling espresso based drinks? Or are they just talking about focussing more on the coffee blends as espresso based drinks than the V60, Chemex, Aeropress, et al??

Now I am aware that I might be starting in the wrong place to discuss some of the questions raised by the (re)surgence of 'Third Wave Coffee', so let me start with a summary of the first, second and third wave to set the scene...

FIRST WAVE: this goes back to the 1800's where entrepreneurs saw a market for providing coffee that was both affordable and easy to make. This first wave is often criticised for sacrificing taste and quality to promote convenience and mass production. Many well known coffee brands can trace their origins to the mass market (instant coffee) innovations of the first wave. Say what you like about first wave coffee, but arguably without the mass market product we wouldn't be drinking quite so much espresso just now...

SECOND WAVE: this can be seen largely as a reaction to the “bad coffee” of the first wave. Consumers expressed a desire to know the origin of their coffee and understand the unique roasting styles of what will now be called “specialty coffee” beans. This not only takes in espresso, but french press (immersion brewing) and filter methods (drip brewing). Unfortunately second wave arguably lost it's way as coffee shops as the 'third place' became more about the experience of the coffee shop environment than the experience of the coffee being sold. 

THIRD WAVE: A reboot of the second wave to once again put the coffee and the nuances of the processes involved prior to drinking the finished cup at the forefront. Production and marketing take the back seat, and the product takes centre stage.

'The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee.' – Trish R. Skeie, Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

With a new emphasis of transparency within the coffee industry, consumers can trace the heritage of their favorite coffee to the very farm from which it was harvested. The soil, altitude, and method of processing become important factors to the discerning pallet.

The majority of roasters and coffee shops associated with third wave are small businesses, independently owned and operated. Roasters and coffee shops who roast beans in-house, represent entrepreneurs who love great coffee and have created a business to share that coffee with their communities.

However, even the most ardent Third Wave proponent would admit that to survive on Third Wave alone is hard without the expected espresso based beverages as the main stay on most menus. 


So as you can see Third Wave is a very open ended term and can mean many things at the high street level. But the best customer proposition will be from those who are passionate about their product and can educate their consumer in the way a particular origin will taste great as say a drip coffee, but will not fair so well as an espresso or moka pot.

The challenge in making this a mainstream money maker is to standardise the knowledge so that t is easy to impart, but you just can't teach passion in a worforce of 1,000's - undoubtredly some will have it but I would suggest many will not!

Therefore, the small coffee shop business has an inbuilt advantage when it comes to really understanding and promoting Third Wave coffee, and you don't need to roast your own coffee to push it - start with passion for the product and get the right location and you'll find that the field of dreams will come true... as long as you have a supplier who actually gets what you're trying to do! 


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