Third Wave Coffee: A History

Waves of coffee

…There seem to be three movements influencing what [has been] termed Specialty Coffee. Each approach has its own set of priorities and philosophies. Occasionally, the waves overlap; and one inevitably spills over to influence the next.

The First Wave culminated in post World War II freeze-dried instant coffee (there were patents for instant coffee as early as 1893, but the technology that enabled freeze-drying was only discovered through research done during wartime). This vacuum-packed form had a long shelf-life, which made the coffee readily available, and was cheap.

The Second Wave mapped from the opening of Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Berkeley, California in 1966, to the Starbucks boom of the 90s.
Second Wave cafes relied heavily on the espresso machine, drawing from what was seen as an artisan craft from countries like Italy and France. They did something right: by offering people a wider variety of coffee drinks (cappuccino, mochaccino, latte etc.) and flavour profiles, these cafes became as popular and omnipresent as the preceding grocery market big-brand coffee producers like Folger’s or Nescafé. Mass consumption, as during the First Wave, remained a strong focus. For Second Wave cafes, this secured maximum profit for time and baristas didn’t require much training to operate the machines. What this meant is that, in terms of coffee origins and roasts, yes, quality had improved vastly from the First Wave, but it hadn’t yet improved as much as it could. Eventually creative and curious roasters and baristas had to take things to the next level.

Third Wave is the response, the level up. It picked up where the Second Wave left off in terms of quality control – e.g., origins and roasting styles – but went deeper. This is called ‘Seed-to-Cup’, which  means being aware of where coffee comes from, and most Third Wave roasters are committed to knowing exactly where they source their beans.

Seed-to-Cup supports direct-trade rather than fair-trade. That is to say, sourcing beans from the growers instead of through a third-party co-op, and thereby directly supporting the farmers. Coffee is actually a fruit and in the roasting lighter coerces the natural flavours out of the bean, whereas standard darker roasts heavily caramelise the bean’s sugars and can burn out more nuanced flavours.

On top, the barista’s role being between you and the roaster is clearer. They know the beans’ origin (place, elevation, season, growers), and the roast. They are dialling in the grind, the extraction pressure and time; and they are monitoring the water quality and temperature.

Third Wave has not only moved away from the semi-automatic espresso systems, but also away from electric drip brews; that is to say, how to prepare the regular cuppa’ Joe.

So Third Wave is not simply some new espresso drinks with funny names or some kind of absolutist fascism for drinks you “shouldn’t” add milk and sugar to. It is, simply, really good coffee, ethically sourced and made so you can actually taste the actual coffee. The focus is on authenticity as opposed to speed; the product is seen as an artisanal food rather than a commodity. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee bean growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers and coffee traders and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting, at times called microroasting (by analogy with microbrew beer), to skilled brewing.

Simply put:
1st wave = coffee to consume (freeze-dried, commodity, lots of cream & sugar, ‘acquired taste,’ morning pick-me-up, etc.)
2nd wave = coffee to enjoy (espresso-drinks, beginning to identify and prefer certain coffee regions, frappuccino, flavored lattes, etc.)
3rd wave = coffee to appreciate (like wine/music/art appreciation, terroir, desire for seed-to-cup knowledge, etc.)

(from Elizabeth Childers)

Fuckkkk I love Logan square I’m so glad I found a place to live in it. I’m at new wave and I had this weird realization that I probably look cool/hip enough to be here with my shaved head and blue lipstick but in reality, I am listening to one direction on my headphones and am a huge fraud mwahahahaha they have all been duped
Cafe Mustache: Best Nontraditional Music Venue

Well deserved.

If you happen to be in Logan Square and don’t want to go to a coffee shop that makes you feel weird, has arrogant tag lines in their menu that are meant to be “cute”, has a bathroom that looks more like it should be in a dive bar where you may or may not get knifed, and a stifling contract with neighboring locally-owned bakery which restricts them from selling croissants, you may have to look elsewhere from the boulevard. Not naming any names here.

Fortunately, a brisk walk down Milwaukee Ave. and you’ll find yourself at Cafe Mustache, easily the best shop in Logan Square, if not one of my favorites in Chicago. Provided that you aren’t happy with the above coffee environment, this is your place. Music on vinyl, good vibes, good art, no attitude, nice, quaint, genuine, I could go on forever.

I know this post may have a little attitude attached to it, but it is with the best of intentions. Let’s not fuel attitudes and arrogance with our well-earned cash. Let’s visit more coffee shops that tend to employ nicer, more humble employees that just want you to enjoy your coffee and stay, and not feel put-off the entire time.

And let’s not forget, Music on Vinyl.

So, where is your local-good-vibe-good-coffee-coffee-shop?